Murat Yetkin

Journalist-Writer

The US had delivered the first F-35 jet to Turkey but on its own soil in 2018. It still holds eight fighter jets dedicated for Turkey in retaliation to Ankara’s purchase of Russian missile systems. (Photo: Twitter)

The U.S. has expelled Turkey from the F-35 program, despite it was a production partner, and seized eight of its already purchased jets in retaliation to Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile systems.

Former U.S. Donald Trump, who Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan “my friend,” even introduced sanctions on the Turkish Defense Industry Presidency (SSB). Upon this, Erdoğan focused on options ranging from buying Su-57 jets from Russia to asking the U.S. to pay back the money deposited in the F-35 project, and announced the TF-X plane, a project with the U.K. However, this attitude started to change after Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said “We want to return to the F-35 program.” And it emerged that Turkey has signed a contract with a lobbying firm in the U.S. for its return to the F-35 program.

The purpose of the contract with the lobbying firm

According to www.foreignlobby.com, a website publishing reports of lobbying activities, Turkey’s Savunma Sanayii Teknolojileri AŞ (Defense Industry Technologies – SSTEK), signed a contract with U.S. lobbying company Arnold and Porter for $750,000, a deal valid for 6 months effective from Feb. 1.

The contract covers “strategic advice and outreach to US commercial partners and stakeholders in the program,” according to the report.
Turkish defense sources confirmed to YetkinReport that the agreement was made by the SSM, and informed that “Turkey will at least try to persuade the U.S. on the production of F-35 parts by Turkish companies”. SSTEK is an affiliate of the Turkish SSB.

The $750.000 fee for six-month lobbying is not that high when compared to similar contracts. However, what is noteworthy is not the fee but Turkey’s eagerness to return to the U.S.-led F-35, which it was a part of until buying S-400 missiles.

Problems with the US linger

The S-400s are considered the most advanced air defense system and F-35s are still the most advanced warplanes in the world.

U.S. continues its sanctions threat on NATO member Turkey’s strategic arms purchase from Russia because it is concerned that the artificial intelligence of the S-400 systems could steal F-35 secrets, in addition to concerns over losing market.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who had his first meeting with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu last week, also raised the sanctions threat.

Like Akar, Çavuşoğlu also says that Turkey is ready for talks with the U.S. over S-400s.

Blinken’s phone came after the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned US Ambassador to Ankara David Satterfield over a “conditional condemnation” of the PKK for killing 13 kidnapped Turkish citizens in Iraq’s Gara. U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price had said in a statement that “If reports of the death of Turkish civilians at the hands of the PKK, a designated terrorist organization, are confirmed, we condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.”

After the phone talk, Price made another statement and Turkish media said he “corrected the mistake.” However, the second statement still did not say “the PKK killed” the Turkish citizens, but instead, expresses distrust with a more complicated language and left a margin of caution by saying that they “affirmed our view that PKK terrorists bear responsibility.”

US followed Turkey’s Gara operation live

Price is a diplomat with 11 years of CIA background. He is a strong Democratic Party member who would quit rather than working with the Trump administration. In other words, his first statement reflected Washington’s attitude rather than a blunder.

Let’s see what’s behind it.

The Gara operation took place in Iraqi territory. The Iraqi air space is completely under U.S. control. Therefore, it was not possible for Ankara to carry out the operation that included air forces without informing the U.S. as well as Iraq. Defense Akar already said that the operation was initiated in contact with the allies.

Therefore, we can assume that the U.S. was watching the operation live through satellites, spy planes and UAVs, and also recorded all electronic communications including helicopters talking to commandos on the ground. Thus the initial condemnation of the Gara massacre on condition that “if” it was carried out by the PKK, which triggered righteous reactions in Turkey, is not a random bureaucratic blunder, but rather a sign of distrust and a need to “check our own records.”

The government is tough in but…

Apparently, this environment of distrust will continue for a while. Sanction decisions that would hurt the Turkish economy are not expected in the short term from the U.S. or the EU, which has already said it would take its strategic decisions on Turkey with Washington.

In line with that, the S-400 issue was not on the table during the NATO defense ministers’ meeting on Feb 17 and 18, and new tasks for Ankara were discussed.

One of the objectives of such a stance by the U.S. and EU was to see if Turkey’s steps to ease tensions with NATO member Greece in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean were tactical or sincere. And the same goes for Greece.

Both Erdoğan and Greek Prime Minister Kriyakos Mitsotakis are tough against each other. However, it was not brought to public attention but Greece and Turkey have already started working together on a NATO basis. No, I am not just talking about the resume of the “exploratory talks” that were halted since 2016. Did you know that Turkey’s Gaziantep frigate, has been carrying out joint NATO patrols in the Mediterranean with Greek navy’s Kountouriotis and Spain’s Cristobal Colon?

Yes, Biden continues his sanctions threat but he also does not want to lose the minimum common ground with Turkey. Erdoğan does not want it either. The sharp statements are rather for domestic policy purposes.

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