A bi-partisan group of US senators wants to prevent the transfer of F-35A fifth generation fighter jets to Turkey over the imprisonment of American pastor Andrew Brunson.
A bill to this effect, introduced on Thursday by Republican Senators James Lankford and Thom Hill and Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, would also block Turkey’s role as a maintenance depot for the aircraft.
Ankara has committed to buying 116 F-35A fighter jets under the US-led, multinational Joint Strike Fighter program.
Senator Lankford said that “Turkey’s strategic decisions regrettably fall more and more out of line with, and at times in contrast to, US interests.”
He noted that these factors make the transfer of sensitive F-35 technology and cutting-edge capabilities to the Turkish government “increasingly risky.”
“Furthermore, the Turkish government continues to move closer and closer to Russia, as they hold an innocent American pastor, Andrew Brunson, in prison to use him as a pawn in political negotiations,” Lankford said.
He added that Ankara’s geopolitical cooperation with Moscow and its decision to place an order for the advanced Russian S-400 missile defense system could complicate the F-35 acquisition plan.
Senator Tillis, for his part, said that Turkey was undermining bilateral relations.
US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell earlier warned that Ankara’s purchase of the S-400 missiles from Russia could reflect negatively on Washington’s decision to supply the F-35 fifth generation fighter jets to its NATO ally.
Evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson was jailed in Turkey in October 2016 on charges of aiding figures involved in the failed coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Brunson, who has spent the past 25 years living in Turkey, denies the allegations. During his trial, he said that he loves Turkey and “prays for it.”
When meeting with Erdogan in May 2017, President Donald Trump asked him to release Brunson. In September 2017, Erdogan said that if the US wants Brunson released it should extradite Fethullah Gulen, the self-exiled cleric whom Ankara holds responsible for organizing the attempted coup, even though Gulen denies any role in the botched putsch.
In the aftermath of the failed coup attempt in Turkey, an estimated 50,000 people were arrested and around 140,000 state workers lost their jobs.