The US is considering sanctions against Turkey if Ankara goes ahead with plans to purchase S-400 air defense systems from Russia, and may also stop delivery of F-35 jets, a senior State Department official told Congress.
“We made it clear that if Turkey buys S-400s… there will be consequences. We will introduce sanctions within Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA),” Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs A. Wess Mitchell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.
Washington could also hold off on delivering any more F-35 stealth fighter jets to Ankara, though Turkey has been part of an international consortium working on the fifth-generation fighter with Lockheed Martin.
“We believe that we have the existing legal authorities that would allow us to withhold transfer under certain circumstances, including national security concerns,” Mitchell said.
The first two F-35s were ceremonially handed over to Turkish pilots last week, but only for training inside the US. First deliveries to Turkey are not expected until 2019.
Visiting Washington earlier this month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Ankara will not tolerate any pressure regarding the purchase of military equipment. He also said the delivery of F-35s has not been postponed or delayed, contradicting Mitchell’s statements.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also criticized Washington’s attempts to block the purchase of S-400s.
“We say that the US is our strategic partner. As our strategic partner, the US should not say we should knock on another door,” Erdogan said earlier this month.
Under CAATSA, passed last year over President Donald Trump’s objections, the US is obligated to sanction anyone in the world who engages in a “significant transaction” with Russia’s defense industry. Turkey’s planned purchase of the S-400 is major test of the law.
Back in January, when US officials first raised sanctions threats against Turkey over the S-400, a Russian official said that Washington was welcome to buy the missile system too.
“The S-400 is not an offensive system; it is a defensive system. We can sell it to Americans if they want to,” Sergey Chemezov, head of the state consortium Rostec, told the Wall Street Journal.
In service with Russia’s Aerospace Defense Forces since 2007, S-400 Triumf is one of the most advanced air defense systems in the world.
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