ANKARA, Turkey -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dismissed U.S. threats to cancel the sale of high-tech F-35 jets to Turkey, saying his country will move ahead with the purchase of Russian S-400 air-defense missiles.
In an interview with Kanal 24 television late Wednesday, Erdogan also said Turkey could consider purchasing the more advanced Russian S-500 system in the future.
This week, the top U.S. military commander for Europe, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, told Congress that NATO member Turkey should reconsider its plan to buy the S-400 from Russia or forfeit other future American military aircraft and systems. He said Turkey's use of the Russian surface-to-air missile defense system would be a threat to the F-35.
The U.S. fears the Russian system could be used to collect intelligence on the jet's stealth capabilities, but Erdogan said, "We've researched it. There is no such thing."
It was the latest in a series of warnings the U.S. has made to Turkey over its plans to buy the S-400. The U.S. and other NATO allies have repeatedly complained about the purchase, saying it is not compatible with other allied systems and would represent a security threat.
"The S-400 is a done deal, there can be no turning back. We have reached an agreement with the Russians," Erdogan said. "We will move toward a joint production. Perhaps after the S-400, we will go for the S-500."
The U.S. had agreed to sell 100 of its latest, fifth-generation F-35 fighters to Turkey, and has so far delivered two of the aircraft. But Congress last year ordered a delay in future deliveries.
In December, the State Department approved the sale of a $3.5 billion U.S. Patriot missile-defense system to Turkey.
Erdogan said Turkey could still purchase the Patriot system "if the conditions are suitable, the prices are suitable [and] if we can conduct a joint production."
Erdogan added that first delivery of the S-400 would be made in July.
Ties remain strained between the NATO allies even after Turkey defused a showdown last year by freeing long-held U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson. President Donald Trump on Monday stripped some Turkish exporters of their preferential trade status, and the U.S. warned of penalties against any government entities, private businesses or individuals involved in the purchase of the missiles from Russia.
Another major rift with the U.S. is over Washington's support for a Syrian Kurdish force that Ankara regards as a mortal enemy. To keep the Kurdish fighters away from its frontier, Turkey wants to secure a Syria safe zone along its border rather see that job done by a multinational force.
Washington allied with the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces militia in the battle against the Islamic State group, and wants an international armed presence stationed in a future safe zone to protect them from Turkey.
"We can't say 'yes' to giving control of the safe zone to anyone but Turkey," Erdogan said. "Otherwise, we would be facing the threat of an attack from that area any moment."
Despite the grievances, Erdogan also struck an optimistic note by speaking favorably about Trump. The Turkish president said the two leaders may soon talk on the phone and added that his son-in-law, Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, was also in touch with Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to defuse the tensions.
"I don't find any of these serious," Erdogan said. "I believe discussions that I will hold with him, and discussions between Mr. Berat and Kushner, will put things back on track."
Information for this article was contributed by staff members of The Associated Press; and by Selcan Hacaoglu of Bloomberg News.
A Section on 03/08/2019
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