Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz has said that Turkey's missile deal with China will not create any problems between Turkey and the US, citing statements made by United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on Thursday, while Republicans in the US Senate have reportedly urged the US administration to pressure Turkey to abandon its decision to purchase the Chinese missile system, Today's Zaman reported.
Speaking in the northwestern province of Bolu on Saturday, Yilmaz commented on Turkey's recent decision to select a Chinese company to produce its long-range air and missile defense system. Responding to criticism over the missile defense deal, Yilmaz referred to recent statements made by Hagel and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen underlining that the decision was up to Turkey and added that the decision made by the Defense Ministry is in Turkey's national interests.
"The American secretary of defense made a statement saying: 'We don't have any problem with Turkey. Turkey is our friend and ally in NATO. We cooperate with it so the purchase of missile systems won't create any problem between Turkey and the US ' The NATO secretary-general also said: 'This is a national decision of the state. We have to respect its decision.' We considered what was in Turkey's interest and took the best decision. We believe that the best is this," Yilmaz said.
Saying that Turkey's interests are the government's priority, Yilmaz said that out of the offers made by the four firms bidding in the Turkish tender, China's bid better suited Turkey's needs, namely the transfer of technology, co-production, delivery in short time and a reasonable price. The defense minister claimed that the ministry chose China as it was in Turkey's interests and the decision was not another country's business or problem.
Last week, Hagel avoided criticizing Turkey over its decision to favor a Chinese firm to co-produce a missile defense system.
In remarks at a dinner with reporters in Washington on Thursday, Hagel noted that the US values Turkey very much as a friend, as a partner and an ally, and especially as a NATO ally. Noting that the US will continue to work with Turkey on mutual security interests, Hagel said, "Each nation has its own decision making process," regarding Turkey's decision to favor China and maintained, "We are working with our allies and we are working with the government of Turkey on all the issues."
Senators call for pressure on Turkey
Hagel's remarks came after the State Department expressed concern over the Turkish decision. State Department officials have said the issue was being discussed with Turkey.
Meanwhile, the Global Security Newswire website reported on Friday that Republican lawmakers had urged the US administration to step up pressure on Turkey to take a step back from the missile deal with China, in a letter addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry and Hagel.
According to Global Security Newswire, the letter, signed by six senators, states: "We strongly urge you to exert all available diplomatic pressure to prevent Turkish procurement of a missile defense system and ensure NATO will never allow such a system to be integrated into NATO's
security architecture." The letter was expected to be proposed on Friday but there is no exact information on whether it was submitted or not.
Senators are concerned about the possible security ramifications of the weapons deal.
The report says that even if the missile system could be integrated with NATO assets, there are still some concerns in Congress that software would be used by Chinese developers intent on gaining access to alliance data.
"Since Turkey is fully integrated into NATO's missile defense network, such as the NATO Air Defense Ground Environment, we are concerned about the risk of third-country access to NATO and US classified data and technology," the letter to Hagel and Kerry reads, according to the report.
The news of the deal between Turkey and China is defined as "a chill through the spine of members of Congress who care about NATO and Turkey's alignment with the West" by House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Mike Rogers.
Rogers believes that the Chinese missile system could never be integrated with the rest of NATO's defense capabilities and Turkey would be weakening its hand for little gain.
Turkey announced on Sept. 26 that it had chosen the FD-2000 missile defense system from China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corp, or CPMIEC, over rival systems from Russian, US and European firms. However, the Chinese firm is under US sanctions for violations of the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act. Washington recently expressed its concerns to ally and NATO member Turkey over its decision of the missile defense system.
Following criticism of its missile system choice, Turkey had said it will likely sign the deal with the Chinese firm, though its decision is not yet final. Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arınc said the main reason why Turkey had chosen the Chinese bidder was because it offered the lowest price and because they had reached an agreement to co-produce the missile systems in Turkey. China's bid was the lowest, at $3.4 billion.