Pence Issues Turkey Ultimatum: "Choose Between Remaining NATO Member Or Buying Russian S-400"

Two days after we reported that the US had halted delivery of equipment related to the stealthy F-35 fighter aircraft to Turkey as part of the ongoing rift over Erdogan's plans to move forward with taking delivery of the advanced Russian S-4000 anti-air defense system, on Wednesday the US escalated the war of words with its NATO ally when Vice President Mike Pence threatened Turkey’s future role in the NATO alliance, warning it against "reckless decisions," like following through with the purchase of the Russian-made air defense system.

Russia's S-400 air defense system; photo: Reuters

“Turkey must choose. Does it want to remain a critical partner in the most successful military alliance in history or does it want to risk the security of that partnership by making such reckless decisions that undermine our @NATO alliance?,” Pence tweeted on Wednesday, after making similar remarks at a NATO summit in Washington.

Despite repeated warnings from the US, Turkey has refused to drop its scheduled purchase the Russian weapons system, which is scheduled to be delivered in July. After the Pentagon halted deliveries of the fifth-generation F-35 fighter jet and related equipment to Turkey and halted training of Turkish pilots, Ankara remained defiant with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu telling the NATO summit that the purchase was “a done deal.”

Cavusoglu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are currently meeting head-to-head at the summit to discuss the F-35 dispute.

As RT reports, the Turkish FM said that operating the two weapons systems at once "will not be a threat" to the F-35 or other NATO systems. US lawmakers and military officials disagree and have repeatedly warned that Turkey’s deployment of the S-400 would give the Russian system opportunity to learn how to track and spot the F-35, with potentially deadly consequences for the jet in future conflicts.

Despite the escalating war of words, the US has thus far failed to lure its NATO ally away from the Russian system and to Raytheon’s more expensive Patriot missile system, despite offering it to Ankara at a knock-down rate earlier this year.

Complicating matters, Turkey is a core partner in the F-35 program, which is US’ most expensive military project to date, and is responsible for the procurement of several components of the ultra modern fighter jet. If both sides cannot reach a deal, the US will need to find new suppliers for parts of the fighter’s fuselage, landing gear, and cockpit displays.

So far both Erdogan and Trump have kept a low profile on the topic, refusing to get dragged in and escalating the F-35 delivery matter into a full-blown political crisis which if left unchecked could result in a political fiasco similar to that which unfolded last summer, when Turkey's detention of US pastor Brunson led to brief US sanctions being imposed against the Asian nation and which culminated with a recession in Turkey and its currency plunging to all time lows.