Middle East Defence minister says Turkey, U.S. to overcome F-35 problem

Defence minister says Turkey, U.S. to overcome F-35 problem

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Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar is seen during an interview with Reuters in Ankara, Turkey, October 23, 2019.

Turkey expects that disagreements with the United States over production of F-35 jets will be overcome, its defense minister told Reuters, adding that Ankara remained at the center of NATO despite criticism from allies of its incursion into Syria.

Washington began removing Ankara from a joint F-35 production program after Turkey bought and took delivery in July of Russian S-400 missile defense systems.

The United States says the system is not compatible with North Atlantic Treaty Organization defenses, and pose a threat to Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 stealth fighters.

Turkey, which also wanted to buy the jets, has since said it could look elsewhere.

“We hope that we will continue producing them. There are some issues right now, but I believe these issues will be overcome,” Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said.

“We are partners in the production of F-35s, and we have been investing in the project for years, around $1.5 billion… producing some of its parts in Turkey,” he added.

Turkey’s incursion this month into northeastern Syria has further strained ties between the two NATO allies, even though President Donald Trump paved the way for it by pulling U.S. troops out of the region.

Last week, Washington sanctioned some Turkish ministries and ministers over the attacks on the Kurdish YPG militia, which were U.S. allies in a years-long fight against Islamic State in Syria. On Wednesday Trump said the sanctions would be lifted after Ankara said it was making a ceasefire in Syria permanent.

Akar rejected criticism that Turkey was drifting away from its Western allies.

“We are at the center of NATO, and we remain determined to carry out all of our responsibilities fully. We are going nowhere,” he said.

Akar added that Turkey had caught around 200 Islamic State militants in northern Syria during its operations into the area.

“In various ways, we have captured 200 ISIS members,” he said. “We are preserving them in the appropriate ways in the appropriate places.”