May Focuses on Mideast With Turkey Defense Deal After U.S. Visit

  • U.K.’s BAE Systems enters Turkish fighter jet development pact
  • Trade the focus of talks, but human-rights issue is raised

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May announced a defense deal between BAE Systems Plc and Turkish Aerospace Industries to develop Turkey’s first home-built fighter jet, calling it a step to expand trade with the nation.

“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,” May said as she arrived Saturday in Ankara, a day after meeting U.S. President Donald Trump. May was to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim later in the day.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Theresa May in Ankara on Jan. 28.

Photographer: Okan Ozer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

This first agreement, worth 100 million pounds ($125.6 million), could facilitate “multi-billion pound” deals between the two countries in the future, the government said in its statement. The fighter project was said to have been delayed after a coup attempt against Erdogan last year.

The U.K. is hoping to agree on a “jumbo” post-Brexit trade deal with Turkey, Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said last year. While talks between May and her Turkish counterparts are to focus on trade, the prime minister urged Erdogan in a joint appearance to honor Turkey’s human-rights commitments.

Human Rights

“I am proud that the U.K. stood with you on July 15 last year in defense of democracy,” May said. “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.”

Erdogan’s government has come under fire for the hard line it took with the many soldiers, teachers, judges and business leaders it holds responsible for last summer’s failed coup.

The U.K. and Turkey also are connected through their respective relations with Cyprus, an island nation divided since a Turkish invasion in the 1970s.

Britain ruled Cyprus until a war in pursuit of unification with Greece led to independence in 1960. The three so-called guarantor nations -- Greece, Turkey and the U.K. -- met with Cypriot officials earlier this month seeking an accord on security and property rights as Turkey maintains a military presence on the island.

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