Britain’s May visits Turkey, reaches fighter jet deal
By Jill Lawless and Suzan Fraser
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey and Britain signed a deal to jointly build fighter jets during Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit to Ankara on Saturday, even as the British leader called on Turkey’s government to uphold democracy and abide by human rights standards.
Britain’s BAE Systems and Turkish Aerospace industries signed the 100 million pounds (nearly $125.5 million) agreement establishing a partnership for the development of Turkey’s fighter jet program as May met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish officials about boosting trade between the countries once Britain leaves the European Union. The discussions also focused on increasing cooperation over security and counterterrorism.
“This agreement underlines once again that Britain is a great, global, trading nation and that we are open for business,” May said, according to a statement from her office.
“It marks the start of a new and deeper trading relationship with Turkey and will potentially secure British and Turkish jobs and prosperity for decades to come,” she added
May flew overnight to Ankara by RAF Voyager jet from the U.S., where she and U.S. President Donald Trump proclaimed a new chapter in the trans-Atlantic “special relationship.”
The visit to Turkey, an important but complicated NATO ally, came amid pressure at home to condemn Turkey’s clampdown on civil liberties since the government crushed a coup attempt in July.
“I am proud that the U.K. stood with you on the 15th of July last year in defense of your democracy,” May said, as she and Erdogan delivered brief statements to the media following their talks.
“And now it is important that Turkey sustains that democracy by maintaining the rule of law and upholding its international human rights obligations — as the government has undertaken to do,” she said.
Turkey has detained tens of thousands of people suspected of links to a movement led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government accuses of orchestrating the failed coup attempt. More than 100,000 others have been dismissed from government jobs.
The crackdown extended to other government opponents. More than a hundred journalists and pro-Kurdish party leaders are in jail.
May, who was paying her first visit to Turkey since becoming prime minister, arrived for talks with Erdogan to find her image dominating television screens in the presidential palace, which were showing footage of her visit to the White House.
May laughed when Erdogan said her trip to Washington “was well-covered in Turkey.”
In his statement, the Turkish leader said the two countries would aim to increase their bilateral trade volume from the current $15.6 billion to some $20 billion.
Earlier, May laid a wreath in the red and white colors of the Turkish flag at the tomb of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish Republic, before meeting Erdogan at the vast presidential palace.
She said Britain and Turkey should “renew our efforts to fulfil Ataturk’s vision of peace at home and peace in the world.”
Turkey has suffered multiple deadly attacks in the past two years, carried out by the Islamic State group or by Kurdish militants, including an IS raid on a nightclub in Istanbul during New Year’s celebrations that killed 39 people.
Kate Allen, head of Amnesty International, said the visit was a “vital opportunity” for May to ask “probing questions” about allegations of excessive use of force and ill-treatment in detention.
May and Erdogan also discussed the conflict in Syria and efforts to reunite Cyprus.
Erdogan said Turkey was seeking a “different concept” in its cooperation with allies, including Britain, in its fight against the Islamic State group in Syria. Turkey has criticized what it calls insufficient support from the U.S.-led anti-IS coalition in its military drive to liberate a key town in northern Syria from the extremists.