Despite criticism from its NATO allies, Turkey would only give up co-producing a long-range air and missile defense system with a Chinese firm currently under US sanctions if the company decided to cancel the tender, leading Turkey to talk to other bidders, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday Today`s Zaman reported.
Speaking to journalists while returning from his Kosovo trip on Thursday, Erdogan reiterated that Turkey will go ahead with purchasing the Chinese defense system as the firm is the only one that is willing to co-produce the defense system with Turkey and is also offering the cheapest price for the tender.
"Following the Chinese defense system, co-production of France and Italy comes with an extra $1 billion dollars, followed by the US with an extra $1.2 billion dollars and Russia requires $4 billion extra and Russian's system is the best in terms of quality and range," Erdogan said.
Washington and NATO have reiterated their concerns over Turkey's decision to select a Chinese missile system for its long-term, long-range missile and aerial defense program, codenamed T-Loramids -- a move that angered the US, saying the system would not be compatible with those of Turkey's other allies.
"My answer to NATO is that nine of its members still hold Russian made missiles. They had to get those missiles out of their inventory. The Chinese system will be checked to see if it fits the NATO standards," Erdogan said.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen stated on Tuesday that arms purchases were national decisions but stressed the importance of interoperability between the systems nations plan to acquire and the systems of other NATO countries.
Another NATO official, Oana Lungescu, said at a press conference on Monday that the organization couldn't be more worried about the Chinese-made air-defense system's interoperability with the alliance's integrated defense systems.
China dismissed concerns about Turkey's decision to co-produce a long-range air and missile defense system with the Chinese firm, China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corp (CPMIEC), saying that the US and others were needlessly politicizing a purely commercial deal.
CPMIEC was sanctioned by the United States in February for violations of the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act.
"The cooperation between the Chinese firm and Turkey is normal military cooperation between the two countries. We hope that all relevant parties can objectively and rationally view this cooperation, and should not politicize normal commercial competition," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
Chunying added that there was nothing to worry about, especially as China had very strict rules on arms exports to ensure no impact on regional or global peace and stability.
Turkey's Defense Ministry said last month it favored the CPMIEC FD-2000 missile defense system over more expensive rival systems from Russian, US and European firms.
The main competitors for the tender were the Patriot missile long-range air defense system, produced by US partners Raytheon and Lockheed Martin; Russia's Rosoboronexport with its S-400 system; China's HQ9, exported as the FD-2000; and the Italian-French Eurosam and its SAMP/T Aster 30.