Turkish leader defiant on Russian system but wants US jets

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s president has criticized the United States for kicking his country out of the F-35 stealth jet program after Ankara purchased a Russian missile defense system, a move that also triggered U.S. sanctions.

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Speaking after Friday prayers in Istanbul, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey paid “very serious money” for the F-35 fighters but hasn't received them.

“This is a very serious mistake that America, as an allied country, has done to us,” Erdogan said.

“I hope with Mr. Biden assuming office and with discussions, he will take more positive steps and we can straighten this out,” he added.

Turkey was removed from the F-35 program even though it produced some parts for the jets. The U.S. said the Russian system could jeopardize the safety of the F-35s.

The U.S. halted the training of Turkish pilots and said Turkey would not be allowed to take final possession of the four aircraft it bought.

Erdogan remained defiant, saying the country was in continued dialogue with Russia about a “second package” of the S-400 surface-to-air missile system and would discuss details at the end of the month. Turkey received the first batch of the system in 2019 and tested it in the fall.

Washington also sanctioned four Turkish defense officials last month under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, a U.S. law aimed at thwarting Russian influence. The sanctions, which included a ban on issuing export licenses to Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries, were the first time the law was used to punish a NATO ally.

“No country can decide on the steps we will take for our defense industry,” Erdogan said.