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ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey has hired a Washington-based law firm to lobby for its readmission to the U.S. F-35 fighter jet programme after it was suspended over its purchase of Russian air defences, a contract filed with the U.S. Department of Justice showed.

Ankara had ordered more than 100 stealth fighters and has been making parts for their production, but was removed from the programme in 2019 after it bought the Russian S-400 missile defence systems, which Washington says threaten the F-35s.

It has now hired law firm Arnold & Porter for “strategic advice and outreach” to U.S. authorities, in a six-month contract worth $750,000 which started this month.

Ankara has said its removal from the programme was unjust, and President Tayyip Erdogan has said he hopes for positive developments under U.S. President Joe Biden.

The contract was signed with Ankara-based SSTEK Defence Industry Technologies, owned by the Turkish Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB), Ankara’s main defence industry authority.

Arnold & Porter will “advise on a strategy for the SSB and Turkish contractors to remain within the Joint Strike Fighter Program, taking into consideration and addressing the complex geopolitical and commercial factors at play,” the contract said.

Despite Turkey’s removal from the programme, and sanctions imposed on Turkey’s defence industry in December, the Pentagon has said it will continue to depend on Turkish contractors for key F-35 components.

Turkey’s communications director Fahrettin Altun said Turkey had already paid for some F-35 jets. “Even a hangar fee was taken from Turkey for the jets it could not take delivery of,” he told a NATO-related event on Thursday.

Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, speaking after a NATO defence ministers’ meeting, said he had “brought to the clear attention of our allies that licensing restrictions, attempts for sanctions or even the threat of sanctions against Turkey” only weaken the alliance.

Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans

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