In this July 25, 2018 photo, Andrew Craig Brunson, an evangelical pastor from Black Mountain, N.C., returns to his home in Izmir, Turkey. A Turkish-American diplomatic dispute that entangled the F-35 fighter aircraft program appears one step closer to a resolution with Turkey’s rellease of Brunson on October 12, 2018.
A Turkish-American diplomatic dispute that entangled the F-35 fighter aircraft program is one step closer to resolution with Turkey’s release of American Pastor Andrew Craig Brunson on Friday.
A Turkish court convicted Brunson, who’s been held since 2016 on terrorism charges, which he denied, however the court released him from house arrest and allowed him to leave Turkey. The case become a contributing factor among Christian evangelicals as well as a priority for President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence as a source of friction between the two NATO allies.
Tension remains high following Turkey’s decision to deploy the Russian-made S-400 air- and missile-defense system, its refusal to adhere to U.S. sanctions on Iran, and U.S. support for Kurdish militants fighting the Islamic State, among other issues.
Senate Armed Services Committee member Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said Friday he was “grateful Pastor Brunson’s wrongful detainment is coming to an end,” but Brunson is “just one of the Americans, U.S. State Department employees, and Western nationals Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will continue to hold hostage.”
“There is still work to be done and President Erdogan has a long way to go before acting like the NATO ally we expect him to become,” Sasse said in a statement.
Senator Lindsey Graham, chairman from the Senate subcommittee on appropriations handling U.S. foreign assistance along with a SASC member, expressed caution following the news.
“I’m pleased, however I will not celebrate until he returns home,” Graham, R-S.C., commented in a tweet. “I want to thank the Trump administration, President Trump and Vice President Pence.”
The United States has relied on Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base to conduct its air campaign against the Islamic State in Syria.
Lawmakers made the Lockheed Martin F-35 a bargaining chip inside the complex relationship between the two allies. The annual defense policy and appropriations bills, signed into law in recent weeks, included language to delay sales from the fighter aircraft to Turkey over Brunson’s detainment as well as promises to buy the S-400 system.
Turkish pilots and maintainers arrived in July at the F-35 international partner exercise program in Arizona, however the first two jets will remain in U.S. custody for the next year, the Pentagon said. Washington has expressed concern if Turkey obtains possession of the F-35’s, Russia could gain sensitive technical information about the aircraft through sensors in the S-400 system.
While Defense Secretary Jim Mattis acknowledged concern for Turkey’s “authoritarian drift,” he lobbied up against the legislative language, arguing a disruption within the Turkish supply chain would bring about a jet production break, delaying delivery of 50-75 F-35s. That would take approximately 18-24 months to re-source parts and recover, he told lawmakers.
Turkey is a partner inside the program since 2002 and possesses promises to acquire 100 in the fighters.
Pentagon plans require obtaining a total of 2,456 F-35s. Allies are anticipated to acquire hundreds of additional F-35s, and eight nations, including Japan, South Korea, Denmark and Norway, are cost-sharing partners inside program while using United States.
Turkish officials have threatened reprisals if the U.S. cuts it off from your F-35 and also have defended careful analysis purchase the S-400 as the second-best option only because NATO allies declined to offer Western hardware.