ISTANBUL (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday Turkey would turn elsewhere for fighter jets if the United States will not sell it the F-35 jets, adding that a U.S. decision to cut Ankara from the program would not deter it from meeting its needs.
The United States said last week it was removing NATO ally Turkey from the F-35 program, as long threatened, after Ankara purchased and received delivery of Russian S-400 missile defenses that Washington sees as a threat.
Washington has also threatened sanctions on Turkey, though Ankara has dismissed the warnings. It has instead put its trust in sympathetic comments from U.S. President Donald Trump, who has said that Turkey was treated “unfairly”.
Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday he does not blame Turkey for buying the Russian air defense system, but did not say when he would decide on imposing sanctions on Turkey for doing business with the Russian military, as required by a 2017 U.S. law.
“We’re looking at the whole Turkey situation,” Trump said. “It’s a tough situation ... I don’t blame Turkey because there are a lot of circumstances.”
Erdogan, speaking publicly about the strained U.S. ties for the first time in 11 days, said he hoped U.S. officials would be "reasonable" on the question of sanctions, adding that Turkey may also reconsider its purchase of advanced Boeing BA.N aircraft from the United States.
“Are you not giving us the F-35s? Okay, then excuse us but we will once again have to take measures on that matter as well and we will turn elsewhere,” Erdogan told members of his ruling AK Party.
“Even if we’re not getting F-35s, we are buying 100 advanced Boeing aircrafts, the agreement is signed... At the moment, one of the Boeing planes has arrived and we are making the payments, we are good customers,” he said. “But, if things continue like this, we will have to reconsider this.”
Russia’s Rostec state conglomerate said Russia would be ready to supply its SU-35 jets to Turkey if Ankara requested them. But, Turkish officials said on Thursday there were no talks with Moscow on alternatives to the F-35 jets for now.
Ties between Ankara and Washington have been strained over a host of issues. Turkey has also been infuriated with U.S. support for the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria, a main U.S. ally in the region that Ankara sees as a terrorist organization.
Ankara has warned that it would launch a military operation in northern Syria to wipe out the YPG if it could not agree with Washington on the planned safe zone in the region, saying it had run “out of patience.”
However, Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey is determined to destroy the “terror corridor” east of the Euphrates river in Syria no matter how talks on the safe zone conclude, as Ankara ramped up its threats of an offensive.
Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Diane Craft
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