Washington DC, August 29: Mark Esper, defence secretary of the United States, on Wednesday said he hopes Turkey would halt its plan to purchase Russian S-400 air defence missile system, stating Ankara could roll back to America’s F-35 fighter jet programme if the nation abandons Russian deal.
Addressing an exceedingly rare media briefing at the Pentagon, Esper told journalists if Turkey completes its deal with the Russian S-400 defence systems then it wouldn’t be permitted to roll back to the F-35 fighter jets training programme.
“I’ve been very clear in both my public comments and privately with my Turkish counterpart: it’s either the F-35 or the S-400. It’s not both. It’s not park one in the garage, and roll the other one out. It’s one or the other,” Esper said.
“So we are where we are and it’s regrettable. As I’ve said, Turkey’s been a long-standing, a great partner and ally, and I would hope that they would move back in our direction and really live up to what NATO agreed to many years ago, and that was to begin divesting of Soviet-era Russian equipment,” he added. “They seem to be moving in a different direction.”
He also stressed Washington will “consider” Ankara rejoining the F-35 programme if Turkey abandons the S-400 system and “take them completely out of the country”.
Turkey had received its batch of the S-400 system deliveries in July. Prior to this, US President Donald Trump already removed Ankara from f-35 aircraft training programme.