ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s defense minister said on Thursday the country does not plan to integrate a new missile defense system with NATO infrastructure and officials said a $3.4 billion deal with China was still under consideration.
NATO member Turkey chose China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corp as a preferred bidder in 2013, prompting U.S. and Western concern about security and the compatibility of the weaponry with NATO systems.
Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz, in a written response to a parliamentary question, indicated Ankara planned to go ahead with the Chinese system, saying the evaluation of bids had been completed and no new offers received.
“The system in question will be integrated with the national system for Turkey’s defense and will be used without integrating with NATO,” Yilmaz said.
However, other government officials later made clear that did not mean a final decision had yet been reached.
“We are continuing discussions with all the bidders,” the undersecretariat for defense industries said in a statement.
U.S. and NATO officials are unhappy with Turkey’s choice of the China Precision Machinery, which has been under U.S. sanctions for selling items to Iran, Syria or North Korea that are banned under U.S. laws to curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Eurosam, which is owned by Franco-Italian missile maker MBDA and France’s Thales, came second in the tender. U.S.-listed Raytheon Co also put in an offer with its Patriot missile defense system, which is now operated by 13 countries around the world.
Tim Glaeser, vice president with Raytheon’s Integrated Defense Systems business, said that Turkey had recently asked for additional clarifications about Raytheon’s proposal.
“It’s our understanding that they are continuing to evaluate proposals from the French and the United States,” Glaeser said. “There’s renewed interest. We’re still in the game.”
Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun and Humeyra Pamuk, and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by David Dolan, Angus MacSwan and Lisa Shumaker