Turkish, US Top Defense Officials Discuss F-35, Syria: Hulusi Akar, Mark Esper meet in NATO headquarters in Brussels
(Source: Anadolu Agency; published June 26, 2019)
By Fatih Hafız Mehmet
ANKARA --- Turkish and U.S. defense chiefs exchanged views on Syria and the F-35 fighter jet project on Wednesday, according to statement from Turkey’s National Defense Ministry.
The statement said Turkish National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and U.S. Acting Secretary of Defense Mark Esper met in the NATO headquarters in Brussels.
The officials addressed other issues regarding the bilateral security and defense cooperation during the meeting as well, according to the statement.
The meeting also underscored that it is important to continue the dialogue between the two countries.
Tensions between the U.S. and Turkey have escalated in recent months over the Russian S-400 air defense systems purchase, which Washington said will jeopardize Turkey's role in the F-35 fighter jet program and could trigger sanctions.
Following protracted efforts to purchase an air defense system from the U.S. with no success, Ankara decided in 2017 to purchase the Russian S-400s.
U.S. officials urged Turkey to buy U.S. Patriot missiles, arguing the Russian system would be incompatible with NATO systems and expose the F-35s to possible Russian subterfuge.
Turkey, however, emphasized the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance.
Turkey has urged formation of a commission to clarify any technical issues, but the U.S. has failed to respond to this proposal.
Akar also met his Greek counterpart Evangelos Apostolakis in the NATO headquarters, according to statement from the Turkish Defense Ministry.
During the meeting, the Turkish defense minister said Ankara will make no compromise on national rights and interests, and stressed the importance of avoiding provocative behaviors in Aegean and Mediterranean seas.
He also met with U.K.’s Defense Secretary Penny Mordaunt, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the head of NATO Military Committee Stuart Peach.
Readout of Acting Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper's Meetings in Brussels
(Source: US Department of Defense; issued June 26, 2019)
Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman provided the following readout:
Acting Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper met with Hulusi Akar, minister of national defense for Turkey, at the NATO defense ministerial Wednesday.
The leaders discussed the latest developments in Syria, regional security issues and bilateral relations, including defense cooperation. They reiterated their decades-long commitment as close NATO allies and strategic partners.
Because of this long-standing relationship as allies, the two leaders had a frank and transparent discussion where Secretary Esper reiterated that Turkey's purchase of the Russian S-400 air and missile defense system is incompatible with the F-35 program and that Turkey will not be permitted to have both systems.
The U.S. and Turkey defense leaders reaffirmed their strong, multi-layered and continuous military-to-military relationship and their commitment to the NATO alliance.
Earlier, in the aircraft flying him to Brussels, Esper told journalists that:
“Look, Turkey has been a longstanding and trusted partner and ally for many, many years.
“But this pursuit of the S-400 undermines that. It undermines an agreement that NATO made several years ago, to begin divesting of Russian equipment. It moves in the wrong direction. And so, as we said, the United States has said, if Turkey procures the S-400, it will mean they will not receive the F-35. It's that simple.”)
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Given that there is no provision in the F-35 program’s bylaws for the exclusion of any member nations, and that these same bylaws call for any problem to be settled by consultation of all members, it is hard to see how the US could go through with Esper’s latest threat that “Turkey will not be permitted to have both systems.”)