Amid fallout with Turkey, Trump blocks transfer of F-35 fighter jets

As Turkey strengthens ties with Russia, Washington takes steps to roll back the sale of critical defense assets to Erdoğan’s regime.

By Jackson Richman, JNS.org

U.S. President Donald Trump signed appropriations legislation late last week that blocks the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey.

The transfer of these fighter planes to Ankara will not proceed until the U.S. Secretary of State and U.S. Secretary of Defense provide an update to Congress related to Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 missile-defense system from Russia.

The Pentagon, reporting to Congress in late November, noted that Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400 missile systems from Moscow could enable Turkey’s potential ejection from the F-35 program, in addition to purchasing other weapons such as Lockheed’s F-16 fighter, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and Boeing’s CH-47F Chinook helicopter.

“We will not stand idly by while NATO allies purchase weapons from our adversaries,” said U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday in a warning to Ankara. “We cannot ensure the defense of the West if our allies grow dependent on the East.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirmed on Monday the purchase and said that there would be no undoing of the decision.

“Having the S-400 from Russia is an outcome of this pursuit,” Erdoğan declared to supporters Monday. “Now [Washington], you tell us to give up purchasing the S-400 [but] … don’t provide us joint production and financial support.”

Aykan Erdemir, former Turkish parliament member and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JNS that the Trump administration’s attempts persuade Turkey to turn away from the Russians have largely failed.

“Washington’s attempt to use positive incentives to encourage Ankara to choose Patriot air defense system over the Russian S-400 system has failed to deliver results,” he said.

“The language in the spending bill signed by Trump will likely trigger U.S. sanctions against Turkey and block the transfer of F-35s, as Washington’s policy moves from positive incentives to negative incentives,” he continued.

“At this point, Erdoğan seems to be strongly committed to his deepening partnership with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, and is unlikely to be swayed by Washington’s positive or negative incentives,” added Erdemir. “Erdoğan has been pivoting Turkey away from the transatlantic alliance and its values, putting U.S.-Turkish relations on a crash course, and 2019 might therefore mark the lowest point in bilateral relations.”

Diliman Abdulkader, director of the Kurdistan Project at the Endowment for Middle East Truth, told JNS: “I don’t think this is anything new coming from the administration or Congress. The plan was always to have Turkey cancel the S-400 missile purchase from Russia.”

“Obviously, Erdoğan is looking for further gains despite his harsh stance. But ultimately, Turkey knows they will not receive the F-35 fighter jets if they go through with the Russian purchase,” he continued. “It’s also important to note that this is not just America’s position but other NATO allies as well, Turkey is [endangering] the security bloc.”

Last August, Trump signed the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which included barring Turkey from acquiring the F-35 from the U.S.