VOA’s Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.
U.S. President Donald Trump said Thursday that he was not considering sanctions against Turkey for purchasing Russian air defense systems, one day after the U.S. retaliated by removing Turkey from its F-35 stealth fighter jet program.
“We’re not looking at that right now,” Trump said during an Oval Office celebration of the U.S. Special Olympics team.
A spokesman for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan expressed “unease” about being removed from the program in a telephone conversation Thursday with White House national security adviser John Bolton, according to broadcaster CNN Turk.
The U.S. cut Turkey out of the program after Ankara accepted delivery of some Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems.
“Unfortunately, Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian S-400 air defense systems renders its continued involvement with the F-35 impossible,” White House officials wrote Wednesday. “The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities.”
U.S. officials believe NATO ally Turkey’s decision to use Russian advanced radar technology could compromise the alliance’s military systems in the country. The S-400 could potentially be used to target NATO jets in Turkey, including the U.S.-made F-35, which is NATO’s newest stealth fighter jet.
Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters at the Pentagon Wednesday that the U.S. and its other F-35 partners “were aligned” in the decision to suspend and begin formally removing Turkey from the program.
“Much of the F-35’s strength lies in its stealth capabilities, so the ability [of the S-400] to detect those capabilities would jeopardize the long-term security of the F-35 program,” she said.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry, dismissing the Pentagon’s concerns, said the decision to exclude it from the F-35 program was a mistake.
The ministry’s statement also warned that the U.S. decision would irreparably harm Washington-Ankara relations.