- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2019

The Defense Department’s top spokesman minced no words on Thursday, saying the Pentagon will pull the plug on sales of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Turkey if the NATO ally closes a major weapons deal with Russia.

Turkey is a very important ally and we are working very hard with them to get beyond this issue,” acting Pentagon spokesman Charles Summers told reporters, in the wake of Ankara’s insistence that it will buy and field the Russian-made S-400 missile system.

“If they get the S-400, the F-35 will not go forward,” Mr. Summers said.

The Trump administration, with bipartisan backing on Capitol Hill, has strongly opposed the S-400 deal, citing fears that mixing of the Russian weapon systems and the F-35 could give Moscow critical intelligence on the new jet’s capabilities and features. The Defense Department has already canceled all transfers of critical equipment for the F-35 related to the sale.

The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the S-400 system would not compromise NATO security and has offered to set up a working group with the Trump administration. But it insists the Russian purchase is a “done deal.”

Despite the cancellation, Mr. Summers said that training of Turkish pilots on the F-35 at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona would continue. The Pentagon will also not take back the four Turkish-owned F-35 fighters being used for training, he added.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday dismissed White House efforts to kill the F-35 deal, which would provide 100 fighters to Ankara, as punishment for proceeding with the S-400 missile buy.

“The S-400 deal is a done deal and we will not step back from this,” Mr. Cavusoglu said during a NATO event sponsored by the Atlantic Council. But the Turkish diplomat acknowledged the Russian deal “will have a negative impact on bilateral relations [with the U.S.], which we do not prefer.”

Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has suggested Turkey would eventually abandon the Russian missile system, in favor of the American-made Patriot missile system. Turkey has said the U.S. has refused to guarantee access to the Patriot system.

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