Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the United States of engaging in 'robbery' over its continued foot-dragging on F-35 deliveries.
"If you seek a customer, and a customer comes forward and makes payments like clockwork, how can you not give that customer their goods? This would be robbery," Erdogan said, speaking to reporters during a state visit to China, Hurriyet has reported.
According to Erdogan, Turkey had already paid $1.4 billion for the planes. However, the four jets formally 'handed over' to Ankara remain stranded at a base in the US, and Turkish pilots were recently barred from training aboard the aircraft.
"We have made an agreement to buy 116 F-35s. We are not just a market, we are also joint producers. We produce some of the parts in Turkey," Erdogan stressed.
Washington has repeatedly threatened to drop Turkey from the F-35 programme and slap Ankara with sanctions unless the country rejects delivery of its Russian-made S-400 air defence systems. Last week, US President Donald Trump told Erdogan that Washington had treated Turkey "unfairly" in the missile purchase squabble, but blamed his predecessor Barack Obama for the situation.
On Monday, anonymous Turkish officials speaking to US media said Ankara would consider buying Russian-made fighter jets if Washington continues to refuse delivery of the promised F-35s.
Earlier, a US State Department spokesperson told Reuters that Turkey would face "very real and negative consequences if it proceeds with its S-400 acquisition, including suspension of procurement and industrial participation in the F-35 programme and exposure to sanctions under the Countering America's Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA)."
Russia and Turkey penned a $2.5 billion contract on the delivery of four battalion sets of S-400s to Turkey in December 2017. In late 2018, the US cleared a $3.5 billion Patriot missile deal for Turkey, but Ankara has yet to accept, saying the terms proposed by the US aren't as good as its deal with Russia. Turkey expects to receive the first of its S-400s later this month.
US officials have repeatedly commented on the S-400's alleged 'incompatibility' with NATO air defence standards, and warned that the Russian system would pose an unspecified "threat" to "the security of platforms like the F-35." In May, a senior Pentagon official said that Turkey's acquisition of S-400s would be "devastating, not only to the F-35 programme," but to "Turkish interoperability with NATO."