Both branches of U.S. gov't agree Turkey's S-400 purchase won't go unpunished - Dunford
By Ilhan Tanir
Both the executive and legislative branches of the United States government will have a hard time reconciling the presence of both S-400 Russian air defence systems and the latest generation F-35 U.S. fighter aircraft in Turkey, said General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Thursday.
Turkey, a part of the U.S. fifth generation F-35 fighter jet project since 2002, decided in December 2017 to purchase the Russian S-400 air defence system. As the S-400's reported delivery date in July draws closer, U.S. officials' warnings to Turkey have become louder and sharper.
In a very short answer to a question on the issue during an event at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, Dunford said the U.S. government's "position is being made clear to Turkey" but that they were still hopeful they could find a way to resolve the issue.
Reuters ran an exclusive interview with U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Katie Wheelbarger on Thursday, in which she made clear the reasoning behind U.S. objections to Turkey's S-400 purchase.
“The S-400 is a computer. The F-35 is a computer. You don’t hook your computer to your adversary’s computer and that’s basically what we would be doing,” Wheelbarger said.
The same report said U.S. officials had acknowledged that Washington could soon halt ongoing preparations to deliver F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, in what would be the United States’ strongest signal yet of its opposition to Ankara’s purchase of the Russian systems.
Dunford on Thursday reiterated that Turkey is a very important ally that has "many more areas of convergences than divergences" in its relations with the United States.
Turkey became a NATO member in 1952, following its decision to send troops to Korea to fight along with the NATO allies.
Dunford said he had visited Turkey 12 times since he became the head of the U.S. Army, more than any other countries in the world. The top general added that the S-400 is a "tough issue" without elaborating further.
Turkey and Russia finalised an agreement worth a reported $2.5 billion on the sale of the Russian missiles, but economists say the real cost of the system would be much higher once likely U.S. sanctions are counted.
Despite these high costs, earlier this week Erdoğan repeated his assertion that there would be no turning back on the deal.
U.S. Congress has already placed a temporary ban on delivering F-35s to Turkey until November. In the case of an actual transfer of the Russian system, the U.S. government's various branches, including the legislative and executive branches, are almost certain to bring their own sanctions on Turkey.
If Turkey is removed from the F-35 program, it would be the most serious crisis in the relationship between the two allies in decades, according to Bülent Alirıza, director of the Turkey project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"Turkey is not acting like an ally. It is reasonable to expect an ally to avoid purchasing an air defense system from the preeminent military threat to the alliance." said Bradley Bowman, senior director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power, and FDD Senior Fellow Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish Parliamentarian, in an email to reporters.
"It is also likely that Erdogan’s acquisition of Russian military hardware could trigger sanctions against Turkey and undermine U.S.-Turkish cooperation in the defense sector." they added.