(Andrea Shalal-Esa, Reuters) - The U.S. aerospace and defense industry is urging House of Representatives lawmakers to reject a measure that would call a World War One-era massacre of Armenians by Turkish forces genocide, warning it could jeopardize U.S. exports to Turkey.
The chief executives of Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co, Raytheon Co, United Technologies Corp and Northrop Grumman Corp issued a rare joint letter, warning that passage of the measure by the House Foreign Affairs Committee could lead to "a rupture in U.S.-Turkey relations" and put American jobs at risk.
"Alienating a significant NATO ally and trading partner would have negative repercussions for U.S. geopolitical interests and efforts to boost both exports and employments," the CEOs warned in a February 26 letter to the committee's Democratic chairman, Representative Howard Berman.
They said U.S. defense and aerospace exports to Turkey exceeded $7 billion in 2009 and were seen reaching a similar level in 2010, supporting tens of thousands of U.S. jobs. Industry executives are worried about Turkey's continued participation in several big U.S. weapons programs, including the Lockheed F-35 fighter, a $1.2 billion deal with Boeing for 14 CH-47 Chinook helicopters, and Patriot missile sales.
Turkey is one of eight international partners working with the United States on development of the $300 billion F-35 fighter, a program that has already seen some erosion of overseas amid cost overruns and delays in critical testing.
"Turkey is clearly one of the critical partners on the F-35 program and one that is buying a lot of airplanes early in the program, so it would have a corrosive effect if they pulled out," said Jim McAleese, a Virginia-based defense consultant. "It would set the stage for other allies to reevaluate their schedule or even the overall quantity of F-35 purchases."
The nonbinding resolution, to be voted on Thursday by the House panel, would require President Barack Obama to ensure that U.S. policy formally refers to the massacre as "genocide" and to use that term when he delivers his annual message on the issue in April -- something Obama avoided doing last year.
The Aerospace Industries Association, which represents more than 270 member companies, expressed concern in a separate letter, noting that U.S. exports to Turkey had more that tripled to over $10 billion in 2008, and U.S. companies were pursuing further arms sales at the moment.
"In this current economy, we cannot afford to turn our back on increasing U.S. exports and sustaining U.S. jobs by alienating one of our most important trading partners," said Marion Blakey, president of AIA, the largest U.S. trade group.
Turkey on Monday warned its ties with the United States would be damaged if the House panel approved the measure. One industry executive, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said U.S. companies fear Turkey could back out of deals with them and buy weapons form European firms instead.