If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. It’s an old adage, that still works today, especially if you are the Turkish government and a NATO ally, and you’ve angered Washington with a military purchase from Russia.
The fact that Turkey is a sovereign nation, and should be able to buy what it wants to defend itself, has no bearing whatsoever — it’s the US forces that give the nod, or not.
A fact that Turkish government officials are all too familiar with, which is why they have hired a law firm in Washington on its behalf, Al-Monitor reported.
The idea is to seek rapport with the Biden administration amid a continuing dispute over Ankara’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense system.
A defense company owned by Turkey’s main defense industrial agency signed a contract with the Arnold & Porter law firm to provide “strategic advice and outreach” in a bid to persuade US policymakers to readmit Turkey to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, Reuters first reported.
The US expelled NATO ally Turkey from the F-35 program in 2019 after the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan purchased Russia’s S-400 air defense system, Al-Monitor reported.
US officials insist the S-400’s radar could expose to the Kremlin sensitive details about the F-35’s advanced technology.
Biden administration officials have also reiterated the stance put forth by the Trump administration: Turkey cannot obtain the F-35 unless it moves the S-400 out of its country.
Senior Turkish officials have publicly rejected that option, instead floating far more modest compromises, Al Monitor reported.
Defense Minister Hulusi Akar earlier this month likened Turkey’s possession of the Russian system to Greece’s continued ownership of an older S-300, and said Turkey does not need to utilize the system all of the time.
Akar also said that the NATO allies should “find a solution” to the dispute, but that none remains possible until the United States addresses its support to a Kurdish-led militia in Syria in the fight against the Islamic State.
Turkey considers the Kurdish-led fighters to be inextricable from the Kurdistan Workers Party, which is designated a terrorist organization by Ankara and its Western allies, Al Monitor reported.
Following Akar’s comments, US State Department spokesman Ned Price quickly signaled the Biden administration was not interested in compromise.
Arnold & Porter was hired by the Ankara-based SSTEK Defense Industry Technologies, which is owned by Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries.
The Trump administration targeted Presidency of Defense Industries with limited, last-minute sanctions in December over the S-400 purchase, Al Monitor reported.
Ankara test-fired the system last year, drawing renewed objections from Congress.
The United States is obligated under Article 231 of a 2017 law, the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act, to economically penalize countries that complete major transactions with Russia’s defense industry.
President Erdogan had hoped Biden would see things his way, telling reporters last month:
“No country can determine the steps we will take toward the defense industry, that fully depends on the decisions we make.
“Despite having paid a serious fee on the F-35s, the F-35s still have not been given to us. This is a serious wrong the United States did against us as a NATO ally,” he said.
During this week’s annual NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels, Akar said sanctions against Turkey only serve to weaken the alliance.
At his first summit, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III stressed the importance of working across the alliance to improve early adoption of emerging and disruptive technologies, as well as the need to protect supply chains, infrastructure and technologies from strategic competitors — that means Turkey.
He also emphasized the department’s commitment to working with NATO to ensure democratic nations remain global hubs for innovation.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon isn’t quite sure what to do with those F-35s that were bound for Turkey’s defense forces.
According to a report in Military.com, Congress offered the Defense Department the option to purchase Turkey’s F-35s and giving the defense secretary discretion to spend up to US$30 million to store the fifth-generation jets until someone gets an idea on what to do with them.
Then DoD was given the green light to spend funds “to be appropriated for fiscal year 2020 to conduct activities associated with storage, preservation, and developing a plan for the final disposition of such F-35 aircraft and Turkish F-35 aircraft equipment, including full mission simulators, helmet-mounted display systems, air system maintenance trainers and ancillary mission equipment.”
In any case, the transition to a new White House administration has not changed anything, and the hired lobbyist faces a tough audience.
“Turkey is a longstanding and valued NATO ally, but their decision to purchase the S-400 is inconsistent with Turkey’s commitments as a US and NATO ally,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said earlier this month.
“Our position has not changed. The S-400 is incompatible with the F-35 and Turkey has been suspended from that program. We urge Turkey not to retain the S-400 system.”
Much of the language used by Kirby was identical to how Pentagon officials characterized the decision to ban Turkey from the multi-billion-dollar project in July 2019, Defense One reported.
“Turkey had multiple opportunities over the last decade to purchase the Patriot defense system from the United States and instead chose to purchase the S-400, which provides Russia revenue, access and influence,” Kirby said.
They certainly did, and they decided the S-400 was battle tested and better priced. But apparently, you don’t go against Uncle Sam, even if you are a NATO ally.