Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says it would be “robbery” if the United States refused to deliver the F-35 stealth fighter jets purchased by Ankara.
Turkish media cited Erdogan as making the remark on Thursday after US officials said the administration in Washington still had plans to impose sanctions on Ankara and remove it from an F-35 development program if its NATO ally acquired the Russian S-400 missile defense system.
“If you have a customer and that customer is making payments like clockwork, how can you not give that customer their goods? The name of that would be robbery,” Turkey’s English-language Hurriyet Daily News newspaper quoted Erdogan as telling reporters during a visit to China on July 2.
The Turkish president said his country had so far paid 1.4 billion dollars for the F-35s and received four out of 116 jets, with Turkish pilots going to the United States for training.
“We have made an agreement to buy 116 F-35s. We are not just a market, we are also joint producers. We produce some of the parts in Turkey,” Erdogan added.
After a meeting with US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Japan’s Osaka on Sunday, Erdogan said Ankara would be spared the US sanctions.
But then a Reuters report cited US officials as saying that Washington still planned to go ahead with the bans.
Turkey and the United States have been at loggerheads for months over Ankara’s purchase order for the S-400, which the US claims is incompatible with NATO systems and the Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 stealth fighters.
Ankara has repeatedly said that the S-400 purchase is a “done deal” and that there is no setback in the deal, warning that it will also retaliate if Washington imposes sanctions over the purchase.
Washington has given Ankara until the end of July to abandon its purchase of the Russian missile defense systems or see a deal for the purchase of F-35s from the US canceled.
The US has already suspended training Turkish F-35 pilots over the issue.
The S-400 is an advanced Russian missile system designed to detect, track, and destroy planes, drones, or missiles as far as 400 kilometers away. It has previously been sold only to China and India.
Ankara is striving to boost its air defense, particularly after Washington decided in 2015 to withdraw its Patriot surface-to-air missile system from Turkish soil.