ANKARA — Turkish government leaders are refraining from making a hasty "final-final" decision on a multibillion dollar contract that will build the country's first long-range air and anti-missile defense architecture.
The US Congress may, for the first time, recognize as genocide the killings of 1.5 million Armenians during Ottoman Turkey in 1915-1920. April will be the centenary of the start of incidents that Armenians and several parliaments across the world have said was genocide, but the US has so far avoided to label them as such.
"Apparently, the Turks want to use the air defense contract as one of their many cards in the game [to pressure Washington not to recognize the genocide]. It may or may not work. But the success of the US contender depends first of all on this," said one London-based Turkey specialist.
The procurement official did not comment directly on whether Congress' decision would be a parameter in selecting a winner in the contract, or whether the US contender would be blacklisted for political reasons. But he said: "Our procurement decisions are not free of deliberations on foreign policy."
Both the procurement and defense officials said that although all three bidders are in the picture, they admitted that talks with CPMIEC have not been productive.
"I cannot say negotiations with the Chinese contender have evolved as we expected," the procurement official said.
Turkish procurement officials earlier admitted that technical negotiations with CPMIEC had dragged into several problematic areas and "this option now looks much less attractive than it did [in 2013]."
About half of Turkey's network-based air defense picture has been paid for by NATO. The country is part of NATO's Air Defense Ground Environment. Without NATO's consent, it will be impossible for Turkey to make the planned Chinese system operable with these assets, some analysts say.
NATO and US officials have said any Chinese-built system could not be integrated with Turkey's joint air defense assets with NATO and the United States. They also have warned that any Turkish company that acts as local sub-contractor in the program would face serious US sanctions because CPMIEC has been sanctioned under the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act.
Burak Ege Bekdil is the Turkey correspondent for Defense News.