Major General Reha Ufuk Er makes a speech as Turkey takes delivery of its first F-35 fighter jet with a ceremony in Texas. Photo: Anadolu Agency via AFP

Tensions between the US and Turkey reached new heights this week after the Pentagon said it would halt the transfer of F-35 equipment to the key NATO ally.

But on Tuesday the acting US defense secretary, Pat Shanahan, predicted confidently that Turkey would reverse its decision to purchase an advanced Russian missile defense system.

Ankara has rebuffed persistent warnings from Washington that deploying the S-400 system would compromise Turkey’s role in the F-35 program. Defense analysts say that the Russian-made system could allow Moscow to gather critical data on the stealth fighter.

While US lawmakers have threatened in the past to block the delivery of the fighter jets to Turkey, the decision this week was the first concrete move from the Pentagon to do so.

“Pending an unequivocal Turkish decision to forgo delivery of the S-400, deliveries and activities associated with the stand-up of Turkey’s F-35 operational capability have been suspended,” Air Force Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Andrews, a Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement, as first reported by Reuters.

Shanahan said Tuesday that the two sides could resolve the issue by sweetening an offer to provide Turkey with Patriot missiles. Turkish officials have in the past decried US reluctance to offer the missile system and related technology.

“I expect them to be delivered,” Shanahan said, as quoted by Task & Purpose. “I am very confident in the Patriot proposal that we’ve delivered to Turkey, its availability, it’s pricing, and very importantly, the industrial participation that comes along with the Patriot system.”

The impasse over Turkey’s purchase of Russian missiles is only one area of disagreement between the two treaty allies. But a breakthrough might help to stabilize relations as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces an economic crisis and an accompanying setback for his party at the polls.

US support for Kurdish militias in the region has been a persistent irritant for bilateral ties, but the US administration’s decision to draw down troop presence in Syria was welcomed by Erdogan.

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