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US notifies Turkey of its exclusion from new F-35 consortium agreement

The US government has reportedly notified Turkey of its exclusion from the new F-35 memorandum of understanding (MOU) after its acquisition of the Russian anti-aircraft weapons system, the S-400.

The official Turkish news agency, Anadolu, reported on Wednesday that the Pentagon had informed the Turkish government of its removal from the new agreement reached between the eight countries in the F-35 consortium, which effectively replaces the 2006 MOU that had included Ankara.

The signatories to the new deal are the US, Australia, Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Norway and Denmark.

A US Defence Department official did not comment on the new MOU, but confirmed the process of expelling Turkey from the F-35 consortium has been under way since July 2019.

“We continue to move forward with the process of formally removing Turkey from the F-35 partnership, as announced in July 2019,” Pentagon spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell told The National.

Ms Maxwell said Turkey’s purchase and deployment of the S-400 system is to blame for triggering the process.

“Our position has not changed. The S-400 is incompatible with the F-35 and Turkey has been suspended from the programme,” she said.

Turkey joined the US F-35 consortium in 2002 and had planned to buy 100 of the fifth-generation fighters before buying the S-400 missile system from Russia.

Read more: House of Reps begin investigation of skills acquisition programme funds

Each F-35 costs about $90 million.

US officials have said they fear Russia could use the S-400 to acquire intelligence on the F-35 and Nato members’ defence systems.

The S-400 acquisition was also deemed a breach of Congress’s Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) that passed overwhelmingly in 2017 and sanctions any significant transactions with Russia.

While Turkey has lost access to the F-35, it continues to manufacture parts for the programme that are then purchased by the US.

The manufacturing contract ends in 2022.

Aaron Stein, research director at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said the news on excluding Turkey from the latest MOU is not a surprise.

“It’s nothing new for Turkey, rather a continuation of what has been happening since 2019,” Mr Stein, an expert and author on Turkish politics, told The National.

“What it shows is solidarity across to the F-35 programme, that all the multinational partners have basically put in writing that they are pushing forward without Ankara.”

Despite a recent increase in co-operation between the US and Turkey on Afghanistan, and a meeting between their top diplomats in Brussels, US President Joe Biden has still not called his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Turkish president is expected to attend the US-hosted virtual climate summit on Thursday.

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