Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday reiterated his call for the US government to lift sanctions on Turkey’s defense industry during his visit to New York for the United Nations General Assembly.
During his speech at the 13th Turkish Investment Conference in New York, Erdoğan highlighted the importance of economic and trade interactions between Turkey and the United States in the context of their bilateral relations. He pointed out that over the past decade, bilateral trade between the two countries increased 1.5 times, with Turkey being the second largest destination for US exports and the fifth largest source of imports last year. . Erdoğan also noted that by the end of 2022, bilateral trade volume increased by more than 15 percent, exceeding $32 billion.
There is, however, a message that Erdoğan sought to convey through his speech. He called for the removal of U.S.-imposed barriers to arms sales.
Turkey’s most significant procurement challenge is acquiring new F-16 fighter jets from the United States to modernize its outdated fleet. In 2021, the US administration officially withdrew Turkey from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program due to Ankara’s purchase of a Russian S-400 missile system in 2017.
In February, U.S. senators from the Democratic and Republican parties wrote a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to delay the $20 billion sale of F-16s to Turkey until Sweden and from Finland to NATO be approved. Finland officially became NATO’s newest member on April 4.
In his speech, Erdoğan expressed optimism that problems related to unilateral actions, such as the imposition of additional tariffs on steel and aluminum exports from Turkey, will be resolved. He said: “In addition, we anticipate the rapid removal of obstacles hindering the progress of our cooperation in the defense industry. »
Erdoğan emphasized that Turkey has started to resolve its problems in troubled countries and stressed that it has shown strong determination to resolve problems with two countries that have significant lobbying power, especially in the United States, namely Israel and Greece. However, no reference was made to Sweden joining NATO.
At a press conference at the G20 leaders’ summit in New Delhi on September 10, Erdoğan expressed his displeasure with the United States, reacting to the link between F-16 sales and approval by the Turkey from Sweden’s membership in NATO. “Unfortunately, when it comes to F-16s, our friends take matters into their own hands and say ‘Sweden, Sweden,'” he said.
“You keep saying ‘Congress, Congress’ about everything. I also have a congress, my congress is the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM),” he added.
Erdoğan stressed that he is not solely responsible for the decision to join NATO and suggested that Sweden must fulfill its obligations in this regard.
Turkish media interpreted Erdoğan’s failure to hold a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden in New York after the G20 summit in India as a message from the United States that there would be no progress in the bilateral relations, including the sale of F-16s. without concrete measures from Turkey regarding the accession of Sweden. However, Erdoğan also said in New York that Turkey was not currently ready to approve Sweden’s membership.
Turkey faces difficulties in sourcing the materials needed for its ambitious defense industrial projects. Nordic Monitor previously reported that in a interview with a Turkish TV channel on September 4, 2022, Ismail Demir, the former head of the Defense Industry Presidency (Savunma Sanayii Baskanligi, SSB), admitted that the agency faced challenges in developing powertrains, including engines and transmissions, for various defense projects. It’s not just spare parts, but also the lack of qualified engineers that is hampering progress, he said.
“The engine problem is a known (problem). When it comes to trained staff and expertise, we also don’t have extensive experience. There are a limited number of experts (in Turkey),” said Demir, who was sanctioned by the United States over Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 long-range missile system.
Turkey has several domestic aircraft and tank projects, but they have suffered setbacks due to difficulty finding engines and transmission systems to power the equipment. Erdoğan’s government has invested heavily in engine manufacturing domestically, with limited success so far in the testing and integration stages.
In May, Muhsin Dere, a former Turkish deputy defense minister, admitted that the government could not fully meet the army’s needs in terms of supplying new equipment and weapons due to the poor state of the Turkish economy, during a meeting of a pro-government commercial platform group managed by members of the Erdoğan family and which brings together industrialists from around Istanbul.