US planning how to punish Turkey

WASHINGTON — The U.S. edged closer to crisis Friday with NATO ally Turkey, which began receiving components of a Russian-made air defense system in defiance of Trump administration warnings that the deal would mean economic sanctions and no access to America’s most advanced fighter jet.

Despite the warnings, the administration was publicly silent on how it would respond to Turkey’s announcement Friday that it received the first shipment of the S-400 system. After saying it would hold a news conference Friday morning to discuss the issue, the Pentagon later told reporters that it had been postponed “indefinitely.”

The acting secretary of defense, Mark Esper, spoke by phone with his Turkish counterpart for 30 minutes, but the Pentagon declined to discuss the call.

Members of Congress, however, were quick to condemn.

“That a NATO ally would choose to side with Russia and Vladimir Putin over the alliance and closer cooperation with the United States is hard to fathom,” the Democratic chairman and the ranking Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said in a joint statement.

“Turkey and Erdogan must face stiff consequences for this decision,” the joint statement by Reps. Eliot L. Engel, a New York Democrat, and Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Repub­lican, said, referring to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

For months, Washington urged Turkey to buy the American-made Patriot air defense system instead and has insisted that buying from Russia would result in economic and military penalties.

Among the U.S. penalties would be cutting Turkey out of the multi-national F-35 production program, depriving the Turks of the sophisticated stealth aircraft and the economic benefit of helping to build them.

The U.S. concern is that the S-400 could be used to gather data on the capabilities of the F-35, and that the information could end up in Russian hands. But more than technology is at stake. Turkey has long been a key to the defense of NATO’s southeastern flank, and some believe its willingness to buy key weaponry from Russia — long identified as NATO’s main adversary — suggests the possibility that its alliance status is in jeopardy.