- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2019

President Trump and his Turkish counterpart this week reportedly agreed to form a study group examining the compatibility of the F-35 fighter jet with the Russian-made S-400 missile system — though Pentagon officials quickly shot down those reports.

For months the administration has warned Turkey that going ahead with its planned purchase of Russia’s S-400 would likely kill the potential for Ankara to also buy F-35s. The fear inside the White House and Defense Department has been that the F-35’s security could be compromised by operating in conjunction with the S-400.

But the website Middle East Eye reported Friday that the president agreed to a proposal from Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to form a joint task force examining whether there are, in fact, inevitable security vulnerabilities associated with using the two systems. While White House officials said the issue did come up during the conversation, the Defense Department and National Security Council pushed back on reports an agreement had been reached.

“We have been clear that purchasing the S-400 would create an unacceptable risk because its radar system could provide the Russian military sensitive information on the F-35. Those concerns cannot be mitigated,” said Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon. “The S-400 is a system Russia built to try to shoot down aircraft like the F-35, and it is inconceivable to imagine Russia not taking advantage of the collection opportunity.”

In a readout of the call, the White House did not say whether the two men explicitly discussed a joint study group.

“The two leaders discussed a number of bilateral issues, including their shared desire to increase trade, the President’s decision to reduce steel tariffs on Turkey from 50 percent to 25 percent, Turkey’s planned purchase of the S-400 missile defense system, and the opportunity to continue the discussion during the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, next month,” White House spokesperson Judd Deere said in a statement earlier this week.

A decision to form such a study group would put the president on a collision course with Congress. Lawmakers of both parties remain deeply concerned about pairing the S-400 and F-35, and the massive National Defense Authorization Act — currently working its way through Congress — contains language explicitly barring F-35 sales to Turkey unless the nation abandons plans to buy missile systems from Russia.

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