- The Washington Times - Monday, July 1, 2019

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is criticizing President Trump for reportedly promising Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the U.S. would not impose sanctions on Ankara for purchasing a Russian missile defense system on the sidelines of the G-20 in Japan last week.

Rep. Eliot Engel, New York Democrat, said in a statement Monday that the deal “jeopardizes NATO and our own national security. Turkey cannot operate an advanced Russian air defense system alongside sensitive NATO and American systems, period.”

The statement comes two days after reports surfaced that Mr. Erdogan said the U.S. would not impose sanctions on Turkey for purchasing the Russian missile defense system, although the Pentagon had said Turkey will be frozen out of the production chain for the new U.S. F-35 advanced jet fighter.

“We have heard from [Mr. Trump] personally that this would not happen,” Mr. Erdogan said Saturday, according to Reuters. “We are strategic partners with the United States. As strategic partners, nobody has the right to meddle in Turkey’s sovereign rights. Everyone should know this.”

Washington and Ankara have been at odds for months over competing deals for Turkey to purchase an advanced American-made Patriot missile system, compatible with existing NATO platforms and replete with communications equipment and training programs, or to buy Russia’s S-400 missile defense system. It had been expected the Trump-Erdogan meeting in Osaka was expected to be tense.

U.S. officials and lawmakers for months have demanded that Turkey not purchase the S-400 system on grounds the Russian-made platform is specifically designed to spy on U.S. weapons systems and to shoot to American fighter jets.

“President Erdogan needs to stop playing games and chose between the West or Russia,” Mr. Engel said.

Just days before the G-20 summit, the Trump administration threatened to sanction Turkey and blacklist the NATO ally from access to America’s next-generation F-35 fighter jet if Ankara follows through on its vow to buy the advanced missile system from Russia.

The Pentagon in June suspended its training program for Turkish pilots learning to fly the advanced F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, ordering all of its roughly 40 trainees to leave the U.S. by the end of July.

Top Turkish officials quickly threatened to retaliate against the U.S. over the White House’s threats to expel the NATO partner from the F-35 program.

“If Turkey operates the S-400 and the F-35, it would place the lives of all future American and allied F-35 pilots at risk,” Mr. Engel added. “President Trump ought to side with the men and women who fly these planes, not a Turkish autocrat desperate to maintain his grip on power.”

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