U.S. Senator Graham says he is trying to get Turkey back in F-35 fold

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) holds a news conference to discuss immigration legislation and the U.S.-Mexico border on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

(Reuters) - U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on Sunday after meeting Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan that he would like to get NATO ally Turkey back in a joint manufacturing program for F-35 fighter jets, from which it was expelled in July.

“We’re trying to get them back in the F-35 program,” Graham, a close ally of U.S. President Donald Trump, said in New York, according to a video posted on Twitter and reports in Turkish media.

Ankara and Washington have clashed over Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defenses, which the United States says are not compatible with NATO defenses and pose a threat to Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 stealth jets.

Washington removed Turkey from the joint F-35 program after Turkey accepted delivery of S-400 equipment in July. Ankara also aimed to purchase some of the jets but now says it could look elsewhere.

Turkish media outlets said Graham met Erdogan in New York ahead of the United Nations General Assembly.

In the video, Graham said he and Erdogan discussed a possible free trade agreement. “Turkey is a very important ally, not just when it comes to Syria but for the whole region,” he told reporters.

Erdogan is scheduled to meet Trump in New York this week.

In an interview earlier this month, Erdogan told Reuters he would discuss with Trump buying U.S. Patriot missile defenses, adding his personal bond with the U.S. leader could overcome a crisis caused by the S-400 purchase. [nL5N2644E4]

State-owned Anadolu agency reported that Trump and Erdogan held a phone call on Sunday in which they discussed bilateral relations and regional issues.

Reporting by Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul; Editing by Peter Cooney