US clears $3.5bn Patriot missile sale to Turkey

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The United States has said it approved a sale of $3.5bn in missiles to Turkey amid tensions between the NATO allies over Ankara’s plans to buy them from Russia.

The State Department on Wednesday said it had informed the US Congress of plans to sell Turkey a Patriot package that includes 80 Patriot missiles, 60 PAC-3 missile interceptors and related equipment.

“The proposed sale will increase the defensive capabilities of the Turkey military to guard against hostile aggression and shield NATO allies who might train and operate within Turkey’s borders,” a statement said.

Ankara a year ago announced a deal to buy S-400 missiles from Russia, drawing rebuke from its allies in NATO, a bloc originally formed as a bulwark against the former Soviet Union.

A State Department official, talking to the AFP news agency, said Turkey was jeopardizing participation in another US military program – the coveted F-35 fighter jets – if the country still went ahead with the S-400 sale.

Turkey could also face sanctions on defense purchases under the US law if it goes ahead, the official reportedly said, on condition of anonymity.

A purchase from Russia “would have serious ramifications for US ability to do business with Turkey across the defense trade spectrum,” the official said.

“It is important that NATO countries procure military equipment that is interoperable with NATO systems. A Russian system would not meet that standard,” he added.

The announcement came hours after President Donald Trump said the US had defeated the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group in Syria, leading to the withdrawal of US troops, which are located in the Kurdish-controlled north of the country.

There was no immediate indication that the two announcements were linked, although Trump has made it clear that arms sales are a top priority for him.

The US is supporting Kurdish forces east of the Euphrates, where People’s Protection Units, or YPG, troops have been fighting against the ISIL.

But Ankara has voiced frustration about what it says are delays in the implementation of a deal with the US to clear the YPG from the town of Manbij, located west of the Euphrates in YPG-controlled areas.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday vowed to “remove” the Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, if necessary. He said he had spoken by telephone with Trump and agreed on cooperation in Syria.