Middle East Online

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Turkey tries lobbying to return to US F-35 jet programme

Unable to find a negotiated way to getting back in the US-led F-35 fighter jet programme, Turkey has hired a Washington-based law firm to lobby US President Joe Biden’s administration.

The six-month contract with Arnold & Porter — worth $750,000 (620,000 euros) and filed with the US Department of Justice on Tuesday — comes as Turkey struggle to overcome the impasse with the US over its controversial Russian missile system purchase.

The law firm “will advise on a strategy… to remain within the Joint Strike Fighter Program, taking into consideration and addressing the complex geopolitical and commercial factors at play,” the contract says.

Ankara had ordered more than 100 stealth fighters and has been making parts for their production, but was was kicked out of the F-35 programme in 2019  as punishment after it bought the Russian S-400 missile defence systems, which Washington says threaten the F-35s.

Washington slapped Turkey’s military procurement agency with sanctions after the S-400s were tested for the first time late last year.

The United States fears that the S-400 systems could help Russia gather intelligence and better shoot down NATO warplanes if fully integrated in Turkish defences.

The Pentagon confirmed earlier this month that it believed the Russian systems were “incompatible” with the F-35 jets and that the sanctions on Turkey would stay in place until the S-400s are removed.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar suggested a compromise solution earlier this month that would see the S-400s boxed up and only deployed when needed.

The State Department appeared to reject that suggestion by saying: “Our policy vis-a-vis the S-400s has not changed.”

Biden’s administration has assumed a much tougher posture with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan than Ankara enjoyed when Donald Trump was in the White House.

Biden has still not called Erdogan and the State Department has sharply rebuked Turkey’s human rights record since his swearing in last month.

US officials say the sanctions will still allow the jets’ prime contractor Lockheed Martin to honour its outstanding agreements in Turkey.