Erdoğan says Turkey will ask U.S. to return F-35 payments if it halts delivery

Turkey has paid $1.25 billion for F-35 stealth fighter jets and will turn to international arbitration to force the United States to refund the payment if Washington decides to eject Turkey from the F-35 programme, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in an interview with Japanese newspaper Nikkei on Thursday.

The Pentagon has set July 31 as a deadline to expel Turkey from the F-35 programme if Ankara accepts its first delivery for Russia’s S-400 missile defence system, set for mid-July. The president was asked how Ankara would respond if Washington went ahead with the expulsion. 

“We have already paid them $1.25 billion for the F-35 project. If they do make such a wrong move, we will take it to the international arbitration court because we will want them to pay us back the money we have spent,” Erdoğan responded. 

Erdoğan is to meet U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday during the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, to address the crisis over Turkey’s plan to acquire Russian S-400 missile systems.

“Regarding the S-400s, Mr. Trump knows Turkey's concerns, why we needed this system and how we came to this point very well,” Erdoğan told Nikkei. 

Erdoğan said derailing the process and using a language of threats was unhelpful, adding that he believed the S-400 issue would be resolved in line with the spirit of the U.S.-Turkey alliance. 

He also said that the U.S.’ Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) did not apply, because Turkey had committed to buying the S-400 before the new sanctions law came into effect. 

Also on Thursday, pro-government Yeni Şafak newspaper reported that sources in the Turkish military and Defence Ministry said that, due to technical problems and increase expense, Turkey has been reconsidering its decision to buy F-35 jets.

Turkish authorities also think F-35s will make Turkey dependent on Washington, and that  in terms of logistics and if tensions between two countries endure, there may be problems in delivery and maintenance due to possible U.S. sanctions. 

“Moreover, dependency on United States for the integration of national weapon systems to the jets is also seen as a serious security problem,” Yeni Şafak said.

According to Yeni Şafak Turkey will remain as a part of the F-35 manufacturing program, even if it cancels orders for the jets. 

The United States in April froze Turkey’s participation in the F-35 joint manufacturing programme which includes eight Turkish contractors building more than 900 parts for the stealth fighter.