US Exclusion of Turkey From F-35 Program Over S-400s Would Be Illegal – Minister

US officials have repeatedly threatened to withhold deliveries of F-35 fighter jets and to slap Ankara with sanctions if Turkey were to move forward with delivery of its Russian-made S-400 air-defence systems.

Turkey is not 'moving away from NATO' amid the current tensions between Ankara and Washington over the S-400 deal, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar has said.

Speaking to Turkey's NTV on Friday, Akar said that such claims have no basis in reality and are based on nothing but "rumours."

Akar added that excluding Turkey from the F-35 project would put "very serious" burdens on the project's eight other partner nations, and stressed that Turkey has fulfilled all of its "financial, legal and administrative responsibilities" under the program.

"There is no clause in this partnership saying 'you will be excluded if you buy S-400s'. Excluding us just because any one country wants to do so would not be in line with justice, laws or rights. This should not happen," the official said.

In this Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, file photo, an F-35 jet arrives at its new operational base at Hill Air Force Base, in northern Utah. - Sputnik International
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Akar emphasised that the Russian-made systems would "not affect" operations of F-35 "in any way," saying the Turkish military has already taken "all the necessary precautions, and are ready to receive them."

Asked about the negotiations between Turkey and the US regarding the possible sale of Patriot air defence systems to Turkey, Akar said that the US's last offer, received in March, was "more positive, moderate and closer" to what Turkey was looking for than previous offers, and is being evaluated.

On Wednesday, US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan told US lawmakers that Turkey won't be getting F-35s if it proceeds with the S-400 purchase, saying Washington has made itself "clear enough" in telling Turkey about the consequences of its actions.

Ankara, which plans to take delivery of the first of its S-400s in July, has insisted that it has the right to receive the F-35, with Turkish Presdent Recep Tayyip Erdogan warning earlier this week that the F-35 project would "collapse" without Turkey's participation.

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Turkey is thought to have invested over $1.25 billion into the F-35 program, and had planned to buy 120 of the advanced aircraft. Amid US threats not to sell the jet, Turkish officials have hinted that they might turn to Russia to provide them with new fighter aircraft.

Moscow and Ankara penned a $2.5 billion agreement on the sale of four battalion sets-worth of S-400s to Turkey in October 2017. The US has proposed Turkey a $3.5 billion counteroffer for a complement of Patriot PAC-3s late last year, with Ankara reportedly unsatisfied over US reluctance to provide Turkey a loan needed to buy the systems or organise joint production.

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