Nuland issues ultimatum to Türkiye
The US will only allow Türkiye to return to the F-35 fighter jet program if it agrees to ditch Russia’s S-400 missile defense system, Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland has said. The American official also suggested that Washington may even lift sanctions on its NATO ally if Ankara is more amenable.
Speaking with CNNTurk television on Monday, Nuland said Ankara could be brought in from the cold on the F-35 project if it resolved the spat, after Türkiye was booted from the program in 2019 over its acquisition of the S-400 from Russia.
“If we could get through this S-400 issue, which we would like to do, the US would be delighted to welcome Türkiye back into the F-35 family,” she stated. “If we can get through this issue, then the CAATSA issue will go away, and we can get back into an F-35 conversation,” Nuland added, referring to US sanctions which target Türkiye’s arms industry.
In announcing the CAATSA penalties in 2020, Washington said it had informed Ankara that the S-400 purchase would “endanger the security of US military technology and personnel and provide substantial funds to Russia’s defense sector,” going on to remind its ally of “the availability of alternative, NATO-interoperable systems to meet its defense requirements.” It urged Türkiye to “resolve the S-400 problem immediately.”
While it remains unclear whether Ankara will accept Nuland’s offer to walk away from the Russian air defense system, officials have previously rejected the idea, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisting the purchase was a “done deal.” Turkish defense industry chief Haluk Gorgun later added that his country was “making air defense systems” of its own, saying “we don’t need S-300s [or] S-400s.”
In addition to being kicked out of the F-35 program, under which Ankara produced hundreds of aircraft parts, the White House had also declined to authorize a sale of F-16 upgrades for the Turkish air force. However, US officials greenlit a deal for 79 modernization kits last week, though it remains to be seen whether the move spells any broader change to US policy toward its NATO ally.
“The 15-day period started on Friday night. After 15 days, this notification period will end and then we will proceed with the implementation,” Nuland continued. “As I understand it, modernization begins immediately. Frankly, I do not know by heart when the new jets will be ready, but it is obvious that it is a priority for the USA for Turkey to obtain these jets as soon as possible.”
The senior US diplomat went on to suggest that Ankara’s recent vote in favor of Swedish NATO membership had sealed the deal, stating: “We are very pleased that Türkiye joined us in saying yes to Sweden.”