Trump raps Obama over F-35 deal with Ankara, withdraws from agreement
US President Donald Trump has criticized administration of former president Barack Obama over the F-35 fighter jets deal with Ankara after Turkey signed the S-400 missile systems with Russia saying Washington will not sell the warplanes to Turkey.
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Trump made the announcement during a cabinet meeting at the White House on Tuesday, blaming the administration of former President Barack Obama for the impasse and expressing sympathy toward Turkey’s decision.
"We have a situation where Turkey is very good with us, and we are now telling Turkey that because you have really been forced to buy another missile system we're not going to sell you the F-35 fighter jets," Trump told reporters.
"It's a very tough situation that they're in. And it's a very tough situation that we've been placed in the United States," Trump added. “With all of that being said, we’re working through it. We’ll see what happens, but it’s not really fair.”
Trump pointed the finger of blame at the Obama administration for refusing to sell Turkey an American alternative – the Patriot missile defense system – until after the S-400 purchase was complete.
"As soon as they found out that they were going to have to buy the missiles, comparable missiles, not as good a missile, but a comparable almost missile from Russia - all of a sudden everybody started rushing and saying to Turkey, 'Okay, we'll sell you the Patriot missile,'" he said.
"But by that time, Turkey had already signed and paid a lot of money to Russia for the missile system that they were not allowed to buy here, foolishly. Because Turkey is a NATO member."
Trump, however, made no mention of sanctions his administration had threatened to impose on Turkey over its Russian air-defense acquisition.
The comments were made a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed the first batch of equipment for the missile defense system was delivered from Russia.
Erdogan said all the Russian S-400s received by his country will be fully deployed in April 2020, and that Ankara seeks to produce the missile defense systems jointly with Moscow.
Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier on Tuesday, Trump's pick for secretary of defense, Mark Esper, denounced the move by the NATO ally as "disappointing.”
"They have been a long-standing and very capable NATO ally, but their decision on the S-400 is the wrong one," Esper said.
“It’s certainly disappointing. Those are my words. Very disappointing,” he added. “You can either have the S-400 or the F-35. You cannot have both. Acquisition of the S-400 fundamentally undermines the capabilities of the F-35 and our ability to maintain that overmatch in the skies going forward.”
The S-400, which the US claims is incompatible with NATO's air defenses and the Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 aircraft, is an advanced Russian missile system designed to detect, track, and destroy planes, drones, or missiles as far as 400 kilometers away.
It has previously been sold only to China and India.
Moscow and Ankara finalized the agreement on the delivery of the S-400 in December 2017 even as US officials warned that the move would damage Turkey's ability to work with NATO.
Washington is expected to level sanctions against Ankara under the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which mandates US sanctions against anyone making a significant deal with the Russian defense industry.
Washington has already halted training of Turkish pilots in the United States on F-35 aircraft.
Ankara is striving to boost its air defense, particularly after Washington decided in 2015 to withdraw its Patriot surface-to-air missile system from Turkish soil.