Apr 02 2019

Washington expects to resolve spat with Ankara over purchase of S-400 system

The United States expects to resolve a dispute with Turkey over its planned purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defence system, Reuters quoted acting U.S. Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan as saying on Tuesday.

“I expect we’ll solve the problem so that they have the right defence equipment in terms of Patriots and F-35s,” Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon.

The statement arrives a day after Washington halted delivery of equipment related to F-35 fighter jets to Ankara amid a years-long standoff with Turkey over its plans to buy the Russian air defence system.

Washington has repeatedly said the purchase of the S-400 would compromise the security of the F-35.

The Pentagon on Monday said it had suspended delivery of equipment “pending an unequivocal Turkish decision to forgo delivery of the S-400.”

A possible follow-up move by the Pentagon to remove Turkey from the F-35 programme would be the most serious crisis in the relationship between the NATO allies in decades.

Expressing optimism that both countries would find a way out of the crisis, Shanahan pointed to persuading Turkey to purchase the Patriot air defence system instead of the S-400s.

Shanahan also said that he expected the United States to ultimately deliver F-35s currently at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona to Turkey, following the resolution of the dispute.

Turkish pilots are currently training with the F-35 jets at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.

Reuters also quoted a senior State Department official as saying that while the NATO alliance was “strong and unified,” Washington’s tensions with Ankara over its S-400 purchase plans are likely to loom large over a NATO meeting of the countries’ foreign ministers set to take place in Washington later this week.

“We have very serious concerns about its stated plans to proceed with the acquisition of the S-400 missile defence system and there will be potential consequences, within sanctions law and the F-35 program if they continue,” the official told Reuters.

The Turkish lira dropped nearly 3 percent on Tuesday after the U.S. halt of the delivery and sanctions warning, the agency noted.

The row between Washington and Ankara over the F-35 jets and the S-400 system is the latest of a series of diplomatic disputes between the NATO allies, including differences over Middle East policy and the war in Syria as well as the extradition of U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, who Ankara accuses of masterminding the July 2016 coup attempt.