British PM May Visits Turkey, Reaches $125M Fighter Jet Deal

January 28, 2017 Updated: January 28, 2017

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-pound (nearly $125.5 million) agreement establishing a partnership for the development of Turkey’s fighter jet program after 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 two countries agreed to start preparatory work for a future free trade agreement and also talked about increasing cooperation in 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 of the fighter jet deal, according to a statement. “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.”

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, poses for the photographers with British Prime Minister Theresa May, prior to their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey on Jan. 28, 2017. (Pool via AP)
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, poses for the photographers with British Prime Minister Theresa May, prior to their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey on Jan. 28, 2017. (Pool via AP)

May flew overnight to Ankara by RAF Voyager jet from the U.S., where she and U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday 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.

British Prime Minister, Theresa May, stands after laying a wreath at the mausoleum of Turkey's founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, in Ankara, Turkey on Jan. 28, 2017. (Rasit Aydogan/Pool via AP)
British Prime Minister, Theresa May, stands after laying a wreath at the mausoleum of Turkey’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, in Ankara, Turkey on Jan. 28, 2017. (Rasit Aydogan/Pool via AP)

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 ISIS terrorist group or by Kurdish militants, including an ISIS raid on a nightclub in Istanbul during New Year’s celebrations that killed 39 people.

Kate Allen, head of Amnesty International UK, said the visit was a “vital opportunity” for May to ask “probing questions” about allegations of the Turkish government’s excessive use of force and ill-treatment of detainees.

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 ISIS terrorists in Syria.

Turkey has criticized what it calls insufficient support from the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition in its military drive to liberate a key town in northern Syria from the extremists.