*UPDATE WITH MORE STATEMENTS AND BACKGROUND
By Zehra Nur Duz
ANKARA (AA) – Turkey has made all required payments and fulfilled all its obligations under the F-35 fighter jet program, and so taking it out of the program is unfair, said a top Turkish official on Thursday.
Criticizing Wednesday’s unilateral move by the U.S., Ismail Demir, the head of Turkey’s Defense Industries Presidency, said: “This decision has no place in the treaties.”
On Wednesday, Washington announced it was taking Turkey out of the F-35 stealth fighter jet program, following through on threats to do so over Ankara's purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-air system.
Stressing that the U.S. announcement used the word “suspension,” not “removal,” Demir said this warrants closer attention.
Demir warned that if Turkey is removed from the program, that will add some $7-8 million to each plane’s price tag.
How this price hike will affect other countries should be considered, he added.
Demir underlined that though the suspension could cause temporary difficulties, ultimately it will lead to a stronger Turkish defense industry.
“Turkey will continue its journey to creating its own domestic and national defense industry,” he added.
Demir also highlighted that Turkey is continuing its program to develop its own combat aircraft.
Underlining that Russia also has several proposals for fighter jets, Demir added: “Turkey will continue to evaluate alternatives. All kinds of options are on the table.”
-S-400s and defense
Following protracted efforts to purchase an air defense system from the U.S. with no success, Ankara signed a contract in 2017 to purchase the S-400s from Russia.
U.S. officials argued the Russian system would be incompatible with NATO systems and expose the F-35s to possible Russian subterfuge.
Turkey, however, emphasized the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance.
It urged the formation of a commission to clarify any technical issues, but the U.S. failed to respond to this proposal.
The U.S. threatened sanctions over the purchase, with Turkey responding that any sanctions would be met in kind.
"The U.S. and other F-35 partners agree to suspend Turkey's program partnership and to initiate an official process to remove Turkey from the program," the Pentagon's acquisition and procurement chief Ellen Lord told reporters on Wednesday.
The process will be completed by the end of March 2020, she added.
The delivery of S-400 components began last week and is ongoing, with 14 shipments of related equipment so far having landed in Turkey over the last six days.
Deliveries are set to continue through April 2020.