By BURAK EGE BEKDIL, ANKARA And UMIT ENGINSOY, WASHINGTON
Turkey’s defense procurement office has informally asked top U.S. arms suppliers to help Ankara mend its deteriorating ties with Washington, Turkish officials said.
In April, Murad Bayar met in Ankara with senior officials from Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon. Bayar heads Turkey’s main defense procurement office, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, or Savunma Sanayi Mustesarligi (SSM).
An SSM official said Bayar asked the U.S. companies to lobby in Washington to improve U.S.-Turkish relations, which have deteriorated since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003. “Although the company officials said their powers to enhance U.S.-Turkish ties were limited, they pledged to do their best,” the official said May 9.
One U.S. company official in Ankara confirmed that the meeting took place. “The Turkish authorities requested our support in good faith,” he said. “At this stage we are not sure what we can really do.”
“I am aware that Turkey has asked some U.S. defense companies to use their influence in Washington to promote Turkey’s case,” an industry source in Washington said.
Lockheed Martin, Bethesda, Md., and Boeing, Chicago, both are involved in large-scale contracts with Ankara.
Turkey last month signed an agreement with the U.S. government for the upgrade of 117 Turkish F-16 fighter jets by a group of companies led by Lockheed, which will receive some $800 million from the $1.1 billion deal. Turkish officials said a follow-up accord to modernize another 100 F-16s is likely next year.
Boeing is building airborne early warning and control aircraft for the Turkish Air Force under a 2003 deal worth about $1.5 billion.
Few Sympathetic Ears
But a joint lobbying effort is out of the question, because a number of U.S. firms who have dealt with Ankara already are frustrated about unfulfilled business.
The latest casualty is General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, San Diego, which last month lost a $183 million Turkish contract for unmanned aerial vehicles to an Israeli rival. General Atomics officials blamed Turkey’s bidding rules for the loss. “General Atomics … competed on this program but found it impossible to comply with the extremely unrealistic terms and conditions demanded by the Turkish government as a condition for accepting a contract,” said Thomas Cassidy, the company’s chief executive.
Another frustrated company is Bell Helicopter Textron, Forth Worth, Texas. Turkey in 2000 selected Bell to jointly produce 50 AH-1Z attack helicopters for its Army. But after four years of fruitless talks that failed over price and technology transfer disputes, Turkey last year canceled the program, launching a fresh international competition this year. Bell said it will not compete this time.
A third company, General Dynamics Land Systems, Sterling Heights, Mich., was angered by Turkey’s 2003 decision to upgrade 170 aging M60 tanks for $668 million in Israel. General Dynamics complained that the decision on the M60s — built by their company in the 1960s and donated to Turkey by the U.S. government in the early 1990s — was unfair.
“I don’t think that any of the U.S. companies badly disappointed by Turkish deals will lift a finger for Turkey,” said the industry source in Washington.
Traditionally close U.S.-Turkish ties were badly damaged two years ago when Turkey’s parliament refused to allow U.S. forces to use Turkish territory to attack Iraq from the north.
Turkey believes that U.S. policies are responsible for the growing autonomy of Iraqi Kurds, which could galvanize separatist movements by Turkish Kurds.
In an effort to mend fences, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington. After keeping Erdogan waiting for seven weeks, the White House last week gave him a June 8 appointment.