US President Donald Trump said on Thursday his administration has not ruled out imposing sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of a Russian air defence system.
“It’s a very, very difficult situation for a lot of reasons,” he told reporters in the Oval Office before a meeting with Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands. “So, we’re looking at it. We’ll see what we do. We haven’t announced that yet.”
His remarks came a day after his administration said it was removing Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet programme, a move that had been long threatened and expected after Ankara began accepting delivery of Russia’s S-400 air defence system.
The White House said on Wednesday that Turkey’s decision to buy the Russian S-400 air defence system “renders its continued involvement with the F-35 impossible”.
“The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence-collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities,” the White House statement said, referring to the S-400 air defence system as a means for Russia to probe US capabilities.
The White House, however, sought to downplay the effects of the decision on the US relationship with Turkey, saying that Washington still “greatly values” its strategic relationship with Ankara.
A spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed “unease” on Thursday over Washington’s decision to remove Turkey from the joint strike fighter programme, broadcaster CNN Turk said. Erdogan spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said relations between the NATO allies could not remain healthy with unilateral decisions, it said.
Erdogan has previously said he did not believe Washington would impose sanctions over the issue since the two countries are “strategic allies”.
Turkey, like other partners in the F-35 programme, was part of the manufacturing supply chain for the hi-tech jet aircraft, producing some 900 parts. A US official said it would cost some $500m to $600m to shift the F-35 manufacturing from Turkey.
Trump has called the situation “complex” and said Ankara was forced into buying the Russian system by former President Barack Obama.
Turkey initially sought in 2009 to buy the US Patriot missile defence system, and a $7.8bn deal was tentatively approved by the Obama administration.
But Washington baulked when Ankara, seeking to boost its own technology base, insisted on Turkey producing some of the system components itself as part of the deal.
Ankara first turned to China and then to Russia for the system.
On Wednesday, the White House said Turkey had plenty of chances to buy the US Patriot system.
“This administration has made multiple offers to move Turkey to the front of the line to receive the US Patriot air defence system,” it said in a statement.
The ongoing dispute between the countries with the two largest armies in NATO marks a deep division in the Western military alliance, which was forged after World War II to counter Moscow’s military power.