Pentagon is planning to eliminate Turkey from a programme on creating F-35 multi-role fighters over the latter's deals to buy Russian S-400 defence system, said acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan. He also underlined that Turkey remains a key "strategic US partner", however, it cannot have S-400 and F-35 "together", reported TASS on Saturday.
"I want air-tight plans that have near-zero execution risk so that we can flawlessly deliver on all the other F-35s to, you know, our other customers. So part of me going through there is, and meeting with folks is like, show me where the risk is. Let's talk about what kind of decisions we have to make to mitigate that risk. But at the same time, we are talking with Turkey," said Shanahan. "Now, S-400s and F-35s do not go together. That's a big bump," he added.
Last week, Shanahan held a meeting with the leadership of Lockheed Martin and United Technologies Corporation, US' principal defence manufacturers, to discuss the consequences of removing Turkey from the programme. Earlier Pentagon spokesperson Eric Pahon said that the US considers Russia deal with Turkey as a "strategic trick" of Moscow to disconnect Ankara from its western allies.
However, Turkey has indicated that it would not go back on its deal, regardless of the US decision. "Turkey could cooperate with any other country if the US refused to supply F-35 fighters," said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
The development would further strain the already fragile US-Turkey relations. Russia and Turkey signed a deal for S-400 in 2017 after engaging in hectic negotiations for a year. Reportedly, Turkey has already transferred the advance payment.
(With inputs from agencies.)