- REUTERS/Umit Bektas
British Prime Minister Theresa May has made her first state visit to Turkey, announcing a £100 million fighter jet deal as she called on the country to maintain human rights and the rule of law – alluding to the arrests and sackings of thousands of people following last year’s failed coup.
May, visiting Turkey after a trip to Washington where she met U.S. President Donald Trump, is making her first foreign visits as Prime Minister, promoting trade deals to strengthen her hand in negotiations to leave the European Union.
Speaking to reporters at the presidential palace in Ankara after meeting President Tayyip Erdogan, May called Turkey one of Britain’s oldest friends and briefly touched on human rights, a sore point for Erdogan, who accuses the West of not showing show enough solidarity following the July 15 military putsch attempt.
“I’m proud that the UK stood with you on the 15 July last year in defense of democracy 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.
More than 100,000 people have been sacked or suspended following the failed coup and some 40,000 jailed pending trial. The scope of the crackdown has worried rights groups and some of Turkey’s Western allies, but Ankara says the moves are necessary to root out supporters of the attempted putsch.
May said the two countries had agreed to form a joint working group for post-Brexit trade and would step up an aviation security program.
The Guardian reports that the two countries are working together on a £100 million fighter jet program – something a government spokesperson defended in the context of Turkey’s crackdown on political opponents. “I think those are separate issues; Turkey is an important Nato partner, so our cooperation on both security and defence is in line with that,” they said. The PM’s approach is quite clear: she thinks it is important and in the UK’s interests to engage with Turkey.”
BAE Systems and TAI (Turkish Aerospace Industries) are working together to develop the TF-X Turkish fighter programme, according to Reuters.
At Saturday’s press conference in Ankara, Erdogan told reporters that he discussed steps toward defense industry cooperation with May, and that he hoped to increase annual trade with Britain to $20 billion from $15.6 billion now.
Following her meeting with Erdogan, May was due to hold talks with Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.
Erdogan and May did not take questions from the press.