DUBAI Nov 16 The head of the Turkish air force
said on Saturday his country's decision to buy a $3.4 billion
missile defense system from a Chinese company was not final, and
could still change.
General Akin Ozturk, commander of the Turkish Air Force,
also said he did not see any linkage between Turkey's interest
in buying F-35 fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin Corp
and the missile defense procurement process.
Asked at a global gathering of air chiefs about U.S.
concerns that the Chinese system would not be interoperable with
those of NATO members, Ozturk said, "This is not the last
position of Turkey. It may change."
Ozturk told the Dubai International Air Chiefs Conference
that he was not authorized to speak more broadly about Turkey's
announcement in September that it planned to buy a missile
defense system from a Chinese firm facing under U.S. sanctions.
Turkey announced in September it had chosen China's FD-2000
long-range air and missile defense system against rival offers
from Franco/Italian Eurosam SAMP/T and Raytheon.
It said China offered the most competitive terms and would
allow co-production in Turkey, but the decision caused alarm in
NATO countries worried about China's growing clout.
Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. government
officials raised concerns after Ankara's choice of the missile
defense system built by China Precision Machinery Import and
Export Corp, a firm that is under U.S. sanctions for violating
the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act.
Ozturk told Reuters after his speech at the conference that
he did not see any link between a pending decision on Turkey's
participation in the F-35 fighter program, involving Lockheed
Martin Corp, and the missile procurement.
He said Turkey was poised to decided in December or January
whether to proceed with an initial purchase of two F-35 fighter
jets, but the exact date had not been set.
"I am very interested in the F-35," Ozturk told Reuters
after his speech at the conference. "We have enough money."
Turkey helped fund development of the F-35 and hopes its
participation results in component orders for Turkish firms.
U.S. arms makers Raytheon Co and Lockheed are
considering ways to sweeten their offer to build a Patriot
missile defense system for Turkey, two sources familiar with the
issue told Reuters earlier this week.
Both sources said no decisions had been made and it was
important to allow Turkey - a member of NATO - time to make up
One European defense official at the conference said
Turkey's move had caught many NATO allies by surprise given
concerns about the ability of the Chinese system to operate
together with NATO members' missile defense systems.
Turkish Defence Minister Ismet Yilmaz said last week Turkey
had asked bidders for the missile defence system to extend the
their bids and offer improved terms - in case talks with the
Chinese firm failed.