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US Senate 85-10 moves to block F-35s for Turkey unless conditions met

Updated: Sep 11, 2018

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN


F-35s fly over Jerusalem (Seth J. Frantzman)

On June 18 the US Senate sought to block the sale of F-35s to Turkey in a sign of growing pressure and concern over Turkey's policies. The 85-10 vote in the Senate was part of the National Defense Authorization Act. The Senate, whose members sit for six years and plays a greater role in foreign policy than the House of Representatives, sent a major message by the large majority vote.


The Senate bill would make F-35 delivery contingent on Trump "certifying that Turkey is not threatening NATO, purchasing defense equipment from Russia, or detaining U.S. citizens." According to RFERL "Turkey is currently one of the partner countries in the F-35 program and had plans to buy about 100 of the stealth jets, which are manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp."


The large issue here appears to be Turkey's interest in buying S-400s from Russia, which has angered NATO. It is not about Turkey's policies in Syria and Iraq, which have also ruffled feathers in Washington. In fact the US and Turkey agreed to a road map for Manbij in Syria recently and Turkey has begun patrols in the contested area.


Daily Sabah notes: "Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu earlier said that Turkey would turn to other markets if the United States does not allow it to buy Lockheed Martin's F-35 jets."


"If the U.S. imposes sanctions on us or takes such a step, Turkey will absolutely retaliate. What needs to be done is the U.S. needs to let go of this," the Foreign Minister said in another speech.


It is now unclear what will happen and if the NDAA will pass with the F-35 Turkey sale blocked. "Lockheed Martin, the maker of the warplane, said that it still expects to hand over F-35s to Turkey in a ceremony that is set to take place in Fort Worth, Texas on June 21," Daily Sabah claims. It goes on to claim that "ASELSAN, a Turkish defense giant that developed electronic optical targeting systems and air intervention controls for F-35 fighter jets, is also of the opinion that such a move would harm the U.S." The Financial Times points out "Turkey is one of 14 Nato member countries that help construct the stealth plane, along with the UK, Norway and Israel."


The most likely result is that the sale will go through, but that the symbolism of the tough US Senate vote will not go unnoticed. The last year has been a difficult one for US-Turkey relations, not only due to Turkey's actions in Syria, but also due to an incident in 2017 in which protesters in Washington were assaulted during a visit by the Turkish president.


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