Turkey must choose whether it wants to remain a critical partner of NATO, or continue its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday.
Pence said Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 system could potentially pose a risk to NATO.
“Turkey must choose, does it want to remain a critical partner in the most successful military alliance in the history of the world, or does it want to risk the security of that partnership,” Pence said at “NATO Engages: The Alliance at 70”, an event hosted by the Atlantic Council in Washington.
“If Turkey completes its purchase of the S-400, Turkey risks expulsion from the joint F-35 program, which will harm not just Turkey’s defense capacity but it may cripple many of the Turkish component manufacturers that supply that program,” Pence added.
Pence reiterated the U.S. is suspending shipments of F-35 equipment and material to Ankara.
Turkey joined the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program in 2002 and has invested more than $1.25 billion. It also manufactures various aircraft parts for all F-35 variants and customers.
Turkish firms supply the F-35 program with key components, including airframe structures and assemblies and the center fuselages.
Two F-35s already delivered to Turkey are currently at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where Turkish pilots are being trained. These jets were scheduled to be transferred to Turkey in November.
Earlier Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the S-400 missile system would be independent of any NATO equipment, saying it would be Turkey’s own use, and recalled the proposal to establish a working group to make sure the system would not be of any threat to the F-35s.
Cavusoglu said U.S. President Donald Trump said he would take care of the F-35 deal.
“Trump himself admitted on the phone that U.S. made the mistake not to sell Patriots to Turkey and he promised Erdogan that he will take care of this issue,” Cavusoglu said.