Turkey, France and Italy to strengthen cooperation on missile defense: sources

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey signed a letter of intent with France and Italy on Wednesday to strengthen cooperation on joint defense projects including air and missile defense systems, Turkish defense ministry sources said.

As a first step, the Franco-Italian EUROSAM consortium and Turkish companies will look into a system based on the SAMP-T missile system produced by EUROSAM and determine the common needs of the three countries, the sources said.

NATO member Turkey says it plans to buy Russian S-400 surface-to-air missiles, a decision which has been seen in some Western capitals as a snub to the alliance, given tensions with Moscow over Ukraine and Syria.

The Russian deal also raises concern because the weapons cannot be integrated into NATO defense.

“That deal has not been consummated. There are no S-400s in Turkey as we speak,” U.S. Air Force General Tod Walters, head of NATO Allied Air Command, told Reuters in Berlin.

He said he would continue to press Turkish air force officials to buy weapons that could work together with NATO systems, which the S-400 could not.

“We obviously have systems in the region now that possess that capability and demonstrate a high, high degree of interoperability,” Wolters said.

Raytheon, which builds the Patriot missile defense system, had also put in offer before Turkey chose the S-400.

Turkey has continued talks with the EUROSAM consortium, which came in second in the tender.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg last month said Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan had told him that Ankara was discussing buying air defense systems from France and Italy in addition to the S-400s.

The defense ministry sources said Turkey, France and Italy would strengthen cooperation on joint production of military electronic systems, software and simulation systems and warfare equipments, as well as air and missile defense systems.

The letter of intent was signed in Brussels, where Turkey’s Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli was attending a meeting of NATO defense ministers.

Reporting by Tulay Karadeniz; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Berlin; Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Dominic Evans and Robin Pomeroy