The US military has halted a program for training Turkish pilots on the F-35 fighter jets taking place in the United States, following a warning last week from the US State Department to Ankara, giving it until July 31 to scrap a contentious deal with Russia for the S-400 missile defense system, Foreign Policy magazine reported on Tuesday.
According to the report, the US military also cut off pilots' access to the aircraft’s restricted information amid concerns that “continuing to allow the Turkish pilots access to the F-35’s most sensitive data – instruction manuals, for example – after the July 31 deadline was imposed would provide them an opportunity to take classified information out of the secure space,” Foreign Policy quoted an official as saying.
“Without a change in Turkish policy, we will continue to work closely with our Turkish ally on winding down their participation in the F-35 program,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews told the magazine.
In a related development on Monday, meanwhile, Eliot Engel, chair of the US House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee, said that “if Turkey follows through with the acquisition of the S-400, it would trigger sanctions in Congress overwhelmingly, bipartisanly passed two years ago.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is “cozying up to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, putting the security interests of the United States and the NATO alliance at risk,” Engel said, warning that is Ankara persists with plans for the S-400 system it would be doing “lasting damage to our historic bilateral relationship.”
“If Turkey decides to follow through… they must not be able to get American F-35s,” he added. “We rarely see it in foreign affairs, but this is simply a black-and-white issue; there's no middle ground.”