UPDATE – Turkey is partner of F-35 technology: Presidential aide

UPDATES WITH MORE REMARKS FROM TURKEY'S PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN

By Sibel Morrow

ANKARA (AA) – Turkey is not just a client of U.S. F-35 fighter jets but also its technology partner, Turkish presidential spokesman said on Thursday.

Speaking to the reporters following a Cabinet meeting in the capital Ankara, Ibrahim Kalin said: "Turkey is and will continue to be a partner of F-35 technology. We are not just a client or buyer of F-35s."

Tensions between the U.S. and Turkey have reached a fever pitch in recent months with Turkey set to begin receiving the advanced S-400 Russian surface-to-air missile system that Washington said will jeopardize Turkey's role in the F-35 fighter jet program and which could trigger congressional sanctions.

Turkey decided in 2017 to purchase the S-400 system following protracted efforts to purchase air defense systems from the U.S. with no success.

  • Proposed safe zone in Syria

Kalin also highlighted Turkey's concerns and expectations about Syria crisis.

"Turkey expects the U.S. pullout from Syria to continue and a safe zone to be established under Turkey's control," he stated.

Washington maintains nearly 2,000 troops in Syria following its announcement that only a few hundred would remain after withdrawal efforts of its forces.

In December, U.S. President Donald Trump suddenly announced the withdrawal of American troops from Syria, however, since then Washington has backtracked and said in February a few hundred troops would remain for peacekeeping efforts and to create the safe zone.

The U.S. has also mentioned that the safe zone would not include the YPG, the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terrorist organization.

Although the date set for the pullout has passed, the U.S. has yet to reduce its military presence in Syria.

Kalin said a "de facto" safe zone has been established within the Turkey-Syria border through northern Manbij city of Syria.

Turkey's priority in Syria is "to make Idlib agreement permanent,” he stressed.

Following a meeting last September between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Putin, the two sides agreed to set up a demilitarized zone in Idlib, Syria.

Under the deal, opposition groups in Idlib are to remain in areas where they are already present, while Russia and Turkey conduct patrols to prevent renewed fighting.

"Our works continue intensely for an end to the war and the establishment of a constitutional commission, as well as ensuring a political transition process through elections, on the basis of Syria’s territorial integrity and unity,” Kalin said.

  • 'Dialogue with Syrian regime out of question'

    On Wednesday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said he met with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday and will inform Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about the meeting.

    Asked whether any clear message came from Damascus to Ankara, Kalin said Zarif’s visit to Turkey after Syria may establish a ground for such comments, “but it is out of question for us to seek such a mediation”.

    Iran is a country Turkey cooperates with in Syria issue, but they are in dissidence over the future of Assad regime in Syria, Kalin said.

    "A contact or dialogue with regime is out of question," said Kalin. "When we need to send a message [to Syria], we do this via Iran and Russia."

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