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NATO chief hails Türkiye’s defense advancements, its role in alliance

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg acknowledged Türkiye’s longstanding contributions to the military alliance’s collective security and regional stability on Friday and also commended its investments in advanced defense capabilities.

Stoltenberg said Türkiye, which is celebrating its 72nd anniversary of joining NATO, is an “important and highly valued” ally, evaluating the place of the nation’s defense industry in the bloc’s current and future opportunities and capabilities.

“Türkiye has contributed to our shared security and collective defense in many ways. Türkiye has the second-largest army in the alliance and well-trained and well-equipped military forces,” the official said in an interview with the Anadolu Agency (AA).

“You (Türkiye) participate in NATO missions and operations, including in Kosovo and Iraq and not least, their geographic strategic geographic location of Türkiye bordering Iraq and Syria, but also the Black Sea and Russia in the north, of course, that is important for the whole alliance,” he added.

Stoltenberg emphasized that Türkiye plays an important role in the fight against terrorism, especially in the fight against Daesh.

“NATO allies and we all used bases and infrastructure in Türkiye to help fight terrorism. So, I appreciate all the efforts made by Türkiye to support the alliance and continue to be a key ally. And then, of course, no other ally has hosted more refugees than Türkiye, and that also demonstrates the importance you play for the overall efforts of the alliance,” he noted.

New high-level advanced capabilities

On the role of the Turkish defense industry in NATO’s current and future plans, Stoltenberg stressed that the war in Ukraine demonstrated the importance of having a strong defense industry.

“I welcome the efforts by the government of Türkiye and the Turkish defense industry to invest in new high- and advanced capabilities, including fighter jets. That’s important,” he noted.

Türkiye’s fifth-generation jet, KAAN, conducted its inaugural flight last month, marking the latest advancement in the country’s efforts to upgrade its air force and curb external dependency.

The warplane will make Türkiye one of the few countries with the infrastructure and technology to produce a fifth-generation combat aircraft.

It is sought to replace the aging F-16 fleet in the inventory of the Air Forces Command, which is planned to be phased out starting in the 2030s.

Stoltenberg also mentioned that Türkiye has been producing the Bayraktar drones for years, which have proven effective in many battlefields, including in Ukraine.

“They have been important for Ukrainians in defending their own country. And also welcome the fact that just recently, we have had new announcements of further cooperation between the defense industry in Türkiye and the defense industry in the rest of the alliance,” said the NATO chief.

Defense trade barriers

Türkiye has frequently complained and raised the issue of lifting the defense trade restrictions between the NATO allies.

Stoltenberg advocated for removing barriers among the member states, emphasizing the importance of unhindered defense trade within the alliance to uphold collective defense commitments.

“We are in an alliance where we are promised to protect and defend each other and ultimately die for each other. And, of course, we should also be able to trade defense equipment with each other,” said the official.

“We had a powerful statement or decision at the NATO summit in Vilnius, where allies agreed to build down barriers against trade in defense equipment,” he added.

“I also welcome the fact that we now see that allies are trading more with Türkiye, including the F-16s, other examples where Türkiye can buy key capabilities and key types of equipment from other NATO allies.”

Stoltenberg recalled that the U.S. would upgrade and deliver new F-16 fighter jets and that Canada would work with Türkiye on drone technologies.

After a prolonged process that frustrated Ankara, the U.S. Congress recently finally approved the $23 billion sale of 40 new F-16s, as well as nearly 80 kits after Türkiye formally ratified Sweden’s membership in NATO.

Shortly after Türkiye’s approval, Canada announced it had dropped weapon export controls on drone parts, including the imaging and targeting system.

“For instance, the Swedish government and Türkiye announced that they would work more closely together to develop defense industry projects,” said Stoltenberg.

“So, this is part of what Türkiye does as an individual ally, but not least, Türkiye must work with all the allies to develop and produce military capabilities.”

Cooperation, friendship with Erdoğan

Stoltenberg, former prime minister of Norway, has been serving as the chief of the alliance, consisting of 32 members, since Oct. 1, 2014.

Stoltenberg’s term has been extended four times before, the last of which was made in July 2023. Leaving nearly 10 years behind in his NATO career, he also said that he would not take part in the search for a new secretary-general of the alliance and would not seek the post again.

“It has been a privilege to serve as the secretary-general of NATO, the most successful alliance in history, at a pivotal time for our security. With Daesh taking control in Iraq and Syria, a large part of Iraq and Syria, and Russia invading Ukraine, of course, NATO proved its importance more than ever by keeping allies together. For me, being secretary-general in these times has been very meaningful,” he noted.

Stoltenberg said he “very much appreciated” his close cooperation with ally leaders.

“And I very much appreciate the friendship and cooperation I have developed over many years with President (Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan. He is a committed NATO ally, and I appreciate that we work together; I’ve been able to work with him in many different fields, including the fight against terrorism, strengthening our collective defense and supporting Ukraine,” he said.

NATO leaders are appointed by consensus, meaning all members must consent to a final decision. Following Sweden’s recent accession, the alliance has 32 members.

Diplomats have said outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was the only official candidate for the post in the behind-the-scenes contest. However, some said Romanian President Klaus Iohannis’ name had also been floated in informal discussions.

In February, the U.S., Britain, France and Germany backed Rutte to succeed Stoltenberg, putting him in a strong position to win the leadership of the transatlantic alliance.

This Tuesday, Iohannis said he has decided to run for the post, arguing that Eastern European states need better representation in Euro-Atlantic leadership roles.

Stoltenberg said he was “certain” that the Allies would find an “excellent successor.”

“I am responsible for many decisions at the NATO but not to select my successor. I’m confident that allies will find a good solution.”

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