Turkey is hoping to finalise negotiations to acquire its first long-range anti-missile system from China in six months' time, the head of the country's procurement agency said Thursday.
"The immediate goal for us is in about six months to come to a reasonable level in our contract negotiations and to understand whether it's possible to implement this program," Murad Bayar, head of undersecretariat for defense industries, told reporters in Istanbul.
In September, Turkish decision-makers gave the greenlight to begin contract negotiations with the China Precision Machinery Export-Import Corporation (CPMIEC), which is under US sanctions for selling arms and missile technology to Iran and Syria.
CPMIEC, which makes the HQ-9 missile system, beat competition from a US partnership of Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, Russia's Rosoboronexport, and Italian-French consortium Eurosam for the deal, estimated at $4 billion (2.9 billion euros).
Bayar said if negotiations with the Chinese company that made the top of the Turkish list failed, the authorities would then evaluate the other bidders. "If there are difficulties that we may have not foreseen, if this is not possible then we will go down" the list, he said.
The decision to go with CPMIEC irritated Turkey's NATO allies, particularly the United States, which voiced "serious concerns" and sent delegations for expert-level discussions with Turkish authorities.
NATO has said the missile systems within the transatlantic military alliance must be compatible with each other.
Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, has defended its decision to enter into talks with the Chinese company, but said it is open to new bids should the negotiations collapse.