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Trump F-18 gaffe should have been instantly corrected, says presidential candidate Vanhanen

President Sauli Niinistö should have immediately corrected inaccurate statements by US President Donald Trump about Finland’s proposed fighter jet acquisition, says former Prime Minister and Centre Party presidential election candidate Matti Vanhanen. During a joint press conference on Monday, Trump erroneously declared that Finland intended to buy "a large number" of F18 fighter jets from Boeing.

Presidentit Niinistö ja Trump pitivät yhteisen tiedotustilaisuuden Valkoisessa talossa 28. elokuuta 2017.
President Sauli Niinistö joined US President Donald Trump for a joint news conference on Monday. Image: Shawn Thew / EPA-EFE

Finnish media and politicians were bemused when US President Donald Trump announced during a joint press conference with President Sauli Niinistö Monday that Finland planned to buy "a large number" of F18 fighter jets from the US multinational Boeing.

It’s well known that the US President is trade-focused and enjoys using the glare of the spotlight to tout important trade deals with the country's international partners. However President Niinistö later took to Twitter, the US President's preferred communication platform, to refute Trump’s claim.

Finland’s Centre Party ex-Prime Minister and chair of Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, Matti Vanhanen, described President Trump’s comments about the fighter jet deal as "baffling".

Immediate correction better

Speaking to Yle’s Ykkösaamu radio programme, Vanhanen said that he believed that the fighter jet purchase may have come up in bilateral talk, even though nothing has been finalised. However he said that it would have been good for Niinistö to immediately correct the misunderstanding.

"I don’t think it was just a slip. Of course you should take up clear mistakes in a press conference. This kind of subject takes on a life of its own, because there are still years of competition left and a decision about the [final] choice. If the United States leadership has the idea that the matter is a done deal, then that’s a bad thing," Vanhanen remarked.

Meanwhile the Ministry of Defence emphasised that Finland has not made a decision on successors to Finland’s fighter jet fleet.

Defence Ministry: No decision yet about fighter jets

Defence Ministry programme director Lauri Puranen, who is responsible for strategic procurement, also pointed out that finalising the acquisition is a process that will take years.

"We have received answers to requests for information from five fighter manufacturers, but we have not even sent out invitations to tender yet," Puranen noted.

The Ministry has so far received responses to requests for information about Boeing’s F/A18 Super Hornet, Dassault’s Rafale, Eurofighter’s Typhoon, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and Saab’s Gripen multirole fighter jet.

The ministry said it will send out invitations to tender in early 2018. The new government taking up office in 2019 will make a decision about purchasing multifunction fighters to replace the current stock of Hornet jets at the end of 2021.

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