US Senators have voted to block the sale of F-35s to Turkey, slamming their NATO ally for plans to buy Russian S-400 missile batteries. Ankara warned of “an alternative” should the deal be called off.
The first of the 100 US-made F-35 fighter jets were to be delivered to Turkey on June 21 but now the whole deal might be off as the US Senators voted to kill the sale. The bill, which is yet to be approved by President Donald Trump, passed the Senate floor on Monday, with 85 votes in favor and 10 against.
Lawmakers chose to remove Turkey from the F-35 program, citing two reasons – the first is Turkey’s plans to purchase S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries from Russia. The adopted bill states that such a deal “is sanctionable under current United States law.” The agreement to deliver two S-400 batteries was concluded between Moscow and Ankara last year, and the prospects of a key NATO ally in the region buying Russian arms immediately unnerved the US politicians.
The second reason is the detention of a pastor Andrew Brunson by Ankara. Brunson, who is a US citizen, is being held on charges of espionage and assisting the plotters of an unsuccessful 2016 military coup attempt. Brunson denies all allegations, and his prosecution continues “unlawfully and wrongfully”, argued Senator Jeanne Shaheen, one of the authors of the bill targeting Ankara.
The US Senate’s move was met with fierce criticism from Turkey. Prime Minister Benali Yildirim called the bill a “very unfortunate development” in the relations between the two nations. “This initiative goes against the spirit of strategic partnership,” he said on Tuesday, adding that Turkey will have an “an alternative” ready if the US goes on to call off the F-35s deal. As the US lawmakers began rallying against the sale, top Turkish officials have been warning that they will consider getting the required planes elsewhere.
As for buying the Russian missile systems, the Turkish Foreign Minister confirmed Ankara’s stance. “We’re getting the S-400s, and it’s a done deal,” Mevlut Cavusoglu said as quoted by the Turkish media.
Arms trade and the ‘Brunson case’ aren’t the only points of contention between the US and Turkey. Ankara demands the US to hand over Fethullah Gulen, a prominent dissident cleric, who currently resides in Pennsylvania. Turkey considers him and his followers to be terrorists who tried to overthrow the government two years ago.