The U.S. Senate passed a $716 billion defense policy bill on Monday with an added bipartisan clause that blocks the transfer of F-35 fighter jets, considered one of the most advance warplanes in the world, to Turkey.
The Republican-controlled Senate voted 85-10 in favor of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act H.R. 5515 (NDAA) that ramps up defense spending for the military in areas such as warships, fighter jets and a pay raise for the troops.
An added clause in Monday’s bill prohibits the sale of F-35 Lightening II fighter jets made by Lockheed Martin Corporation to Turkey, a move that has the potential to cause further tensions between the U.S. and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally.
The amendment “would prevent the transfer of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft to Turkey until the F-35 program in Turkey is re-evaluated,” Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire said, according to a statement on her official website.
Shaheen and GOP Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina “felt it inappropriate and dangerous to send Turkey F-35 planes at this time,” the statement continued.
The amendment, initially proposed by Shaheen and Tillis in May, would remove Turkey from the F-35 program over Turkey’s imprisonment of an American citizen and its intention to acquire Russian-made air defense systems.
Turkey and Russia signed a deal in December 2017 in which Moscow would supply Ankara with S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries, a move Pentagon officials say threatens the security and data collection of the F-35. (RELATED: Turkey Turns To Russia’s Most Advanced Air Defense System Instead Of Buying From NATO)
Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said in a live interview on Tuesday that he expects to still receive the warplanes at a planned ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 21, despite the Senate’s actions, according to the Hürriyet Daily News.
“As always, Lockheed Martin will comply with any official guidance from the United States Government,” a Lockheed Martin spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The House of Representatives passed a version of the NDAA in May, and the two arms will decide on a final version of the bill in a joint conference committee.
The evolving situation comes days before Turkish elections, in which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will face his toughest battle so far in his 15-year term, according to several Turkish opinion polls.
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