The Turkish government hired a Washington D.C.-based law firm to lobby for its readmission to the United States F-35 fighter jet program after the country was suspended for purchasing Russian air defense systems, according to a contract filed with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Turkey had ordered more than 100 F-35 planes and began producing parts but was removed from the program in 2019 after buying the Russian S-400 missile defense systems, which the U.S. government says threaten F-35s.
In a six-month, $750,000 contract which began this month, Ankara hired law firm Arnold & Porter for “strategic advice and outreach” to American authorities. The Turkish government has said its removal from the program was unjust and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he hopes for positive developments under U.S. President Joe Biden.
The contract was signed with Ankara-based SSTEK Defense Industry Technologies, owned by the Turkish Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB), Ankara’s main defense industry authority.
Arnold & Porter will “advise on a strategy for the SSB and Turkish contractors to remain within the Joint Strike Fighter Program, taking into consideration and addressing the complex geopolitical and commercial factors at play,” the contract stated.
Endy Zemenides, executive director of the Chicago-based Hellenic American Leadership Council, told The Pappas Post that the contract is Turkey’s “latest shade of lipstick” intended to obscure its unreliability as an American ally.
“[This contract] is just like the other shades of lipstick or lobbying firms – on whom Turkey wasted tens of millions lobbying to get included into free trade agreements, to lobby against the imposition of CAATSA (Countering Americas Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) sanctions, to lobby against the recognition of the Armenian Genocide in the Senate and the lifting of the Cyprus Arms Embargo, or to lobby for the extradition of Fethullah Gulen,” Zemenides said.
Zemenides said the law firm’s best efforts cannot hide the fact that Turkey does not belong in an American weapons program and that the country remains a “clear and present danger” to peace and stability.
Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, called the contract “a band-aid on a bullet wound.”
“This looks to me like some clever VP over at Arnold & Porter somehow convinced Erdogan that the vast and growing U.S.-Turkey divide — driven by Erdogan himself — can be bridged – if only Ankara is willing to write some big K Street checks,” Hamparian said. “The fact is that Erdogan can’t spend his way out of the deep and lasting harm he’s inflicted in Washington.”
The Pentagon has said it will continue to depend on Turkish contractors for key F-35 components even though their country remains banned from the program with sanctions imposed as recently as December 2020.
Fahrettin Altun, Ankara’s communications director, said Turkey had already paid for some F-35 jets.
“Even a hangar fee was taken from Turkey for the jets it could not take delivery of,” he said during a NATO-related event on Thursday.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, speaking after a NATO defense ministers’ meeting, said he had “brought to the clear attention” of Turkey’s allies that licensing restrictions, attempts for sanctions or even the threat of sanctions only weaken alliances with the Eastern Mediterranean nation.
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