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U.S. Official Says Warned Turkey F-35 Jet Sales Jeopardized By Russian Deal

A Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jet
A Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jet

A top U.S. State Department official says Turkey has been warned that its purchase of F-35 stealth fighter jets is in jeopardy unless it drops a plan to buy S-400 missile defense systems from Russia.

Turkey, which is a NATO ally, also is in danger of violating U.S. sanctions against Russia's defense sector if it goes through with the purchase, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell testified on June 26.

"We've been very clear that across the board, an acquisition of S-400 will inevitably affect the prospects for Turkish military-industrial cooperation with the United States, including F-35," Mitchell told a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing on U.S. relations with Europe.

Legislation has been moving through Congress to block transfer of the F-35 jets, manufactured by Lockhead Martin, to Turkey because of its plan to purchase the Russian missile system.

Legislators have said they fear Russia will gain access to the sensitive F-35 stealth technology if Turkey uses the jets alongside the missile systems provided by Moscow.

Mitchell said President Donald Trump's administration believes it has the legal authority to withhold the transfer of the military jets to Turkey if it chooses to do so, without Congress passing legislation.

Last week, Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli slammed the U.S. demand to give up the S-400 deal as "blackmail." He said that Turkey "is fulfilling all its commitments" to NATO and expected "timely deliveries of F-35 fighter jets" from the United States.

Ties between Washington and Ankara have been strained recently over a growing number of issues, including Turkey's warming ties with Russia, U.S. policy in Syria, and Turkey's jailing of two dozen U.S. citizens, including a pastor, on terrorism charges.

But Mitchell also praised Turkey, whose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was resoundingly reelected over the weekend, as "a crucial ally and partner," citing Ankara's support for the Pentagon's campaign against the Islamic State extremist group.

Separately, Trump congratulated Erdogan by telephone on June 26 on his election victory and the two leaders agreed to improve bilateral defense and security ties, Erdogan's office said.

On another issue, Mitchell said the administration was concerned about China establishing potentially strategic ties with allies in Eastern and Central Europe, often as part of its so-called Silk Road initiative establishing a network of rail and shipping lines between China and Europe.

China has also been actively purchasing property and companies in the region.

"The Chinese investment in Central and Eastern Europe is serious, it’s strategic and it’s growing," Mitchell said, adding that between 2005 and 2017 China invested more than $24 billion in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

"They’re competing for influence" with Russia, the European Union, and the United States, he said.

The administration is "in active, ongoing dialogue" with allies in Central and Eastern Europe to find a way to differentiate between investments that are commercial and those that create national security concerns, he said.

With reporting by Reuters and TASS
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