Turkey is open to changing its mind on the recent selection of a Chinese weapons firm to co-develop a national air-and-missile-defense system amid U.S. and NATO concerns with the company, which has been sanctioned for proliferation activities, Reuters reported on Monday.
"The purchase is not definite," President Abdullah Gul was reported by the Hurriyet Daily News as saying. "There is a short list and China is at the top of it. We should look at the conditions, but there is no doubt that Turkey is primarily in NATO."
The Turkish Defense Ministry disclosed last week it had selected the FD-2000 missile defense system made by China Precision Military Import and Export Corp., which has been sanctioned by Washington for breach of a domestic law against the sale of prohibited products to Iran, North Korea and Syria.
"We have conveyed our serious concerns about the Turkish government's contract discussions with the U.S.-sanctioned company for a missile defense system that will not be inter-operable with NATO systems or collective defense capabilities," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a Monday press briefing. "Our discussions will continue."
As a NATO member, Turkey has signed on to a plan to establish a ballistic-missile-defense system to cover all of NATO territory. The United States is providing the majority of the assets for the missile shield though other NATO members are expected to pitch in by enhancing their national missile defense capabilities and connecting them with the evolving broader system.
"It is important for NATO that the capabilities allies acquire are able to operate together," an anonymous NATO official told Reuters in response to Ankara's selection of the Chinese provider.
A number of Western government personnel and analysts previously voiced opposition to the possible selection of China Precision Military, out of concern its technology could not be integrated into the NATO missile shield and that Chinese developers might build-in digital backdoors to allow them access to secret NATO data.
"How could Turkey, protected by NATO assets, ignore the alliance's concerns and opt for an air defense system to be built by a non-friendly country," a NATO defense attache in the Turkish capital told Defense News.
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc in remarks to journalists on Monday struck a different tone than Gul, saying "We do not consider anything other than Turkey's interests," Reuters reported.
"We are a member of NATO and we have had good relations from the beginning with NATO countries, especially the United States," the deputy prime minister said. "However, when it comes to the subject of defending Turkey ... we have the power to take a decision without looking to anyone else."
The Chinese firm was preliminarily chosen on the basis that it was the most affordable and because the manufacturing would take place in partnership with Turkey, he said.
An informed insider noted that Ankara had not yet signed a contract with China Precision Military and so could still reverse its initial selection.
Industry sources told Defense News that the company proposed to build missile interceptors, launchers and radar for Turkey for between $3 billion and $3.5 billion.
Should Ankara end up buying the Chinese technology, its new missile defenses will likely end up not being connected with the NATO shield, a Turkey analyst in London said.
"Member nations will refuse any cooperation with Turkey for the integration of the Chinese system into the alliance's assets deployed in Turkey," he said. "This will leave the eventual Turkish architecture in a senseless standalone position."
Roughly 50 percent of Turkey's air defenses are the result of NATO financial contributions. If the alliance does not give its permission, Ankara will not be able to connect its new national missile defenses with the existing assets, according to Defense News.