Department of Defense Off-Camera Press Briefing on Turkey's Participation in the F-35 Program (Transcript)
(Source: US Department of Defense; issued June 07, 2019)
Presenters: Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen M. Lord and Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy Andrew Winternitz.

STAFF: OK, so good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us. Today, Under Secretary of Defense Ellen Lord and Mr. Andy Winternitz, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe and NATO are here on the record to discuss Turkey's future participation in the F-35 program and continued military-to-military relations.

Ms. Lord has an opening statement, and then we'll go into questions. We do have a hard stop at 1:30, so please be respectful with your questions so everyone, if possible, will have a chance.

Ma'am, over to you.

UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ELLEN M. LORD: Good afternoon. Thank you for attending today.

The unit -- the United States greatly values the U.S.-Turkey dialogue and our strategic partnership. However, the United States was disappointed to learn that Turkey sent personnel to Russia for training on the S-400 system. The S-400 is incompatible with the F-35. As we have very clearly communicated at all levels, Turkey will not receive the F-35 if Turkey takes delivery of the S-400 system. Thus, we need to begin unwinding Turkey's participation in the F-35 program.

None of the steps we are taking are irreversible. If Turkey chooses to forgo delivery of the S-400, we look forward to restoring normal program activity. Consistent with our strong desire to manage the unwinding of Turkey's participation in an orderly, respectful and deliberate manner, we have charted a path that will allow sufficient time for Turkish personnel associated with the F-35 program to be reassigned and depart the United States by July 31, 2019.

To facilitate an orderly cessation of Turkish participation in the programmatic management activities of the F-35 program, Turkey will not participate in the annual F-35 Chief Executive Officer Roundtable on June 12th, and planned updates to the program's governing documents will proceed without Turkey's participation. If the United States and Turkey cannot reach a mutually-agreeable resolution to this issue by July 31, all Turkish F-35 students and instructor pilots currently in the United States will be required to depart the country.

The United States will move forward with a plan to update to the production, sustainment and follow-on development memorandum of understanding with all partners except Turkey. Cooperative project personnel at the F-35 Joint Program Office will be reassigned no later than July 31. At this point, all invitational travel orders will be canceled, and Turkish Air Force personnel will be prohibited from entering JPO facilities.

The U.S. will continue to suspend indefinitely F-35 material deliveries and activities. No new training will begin. Turkey will receive no new workshare in the F-35 program. Its current workshare will be transitioned to alternate sources as they are qualified and come to rate production. This deliberate, measured approach, intended to allow our Turkish counterparts to adjust to this transition, will be greatly accelerated if Turkey accepts delivery of the S-400 prior to July 31.

Our F-35 international partnership is strong and resilient. I most recently met with our partners in April to discuss the challenges Turkey's acquisition of the S-400 presents to our F-35 air system, and we have been working in earnest for the last six months to develop and implement changes to our supply base to accommodate the potential for Turkish suspension from the program. Cessation of Turkish participation in F-35 training activities will have no impact on the larger F-35 partnership.

These actions are intended to mediate risks posed by the S-400 to the F-35, and are separate from any congressionally-mandated, Russia-related sanctions under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA. There is strong bipartisan U.S. congressional determination to see CAATSA sanctions imposed on Turkey if Turkey acquires the S-400.

U.S. and Turkish defense officials, from the level of the acting secretary on down, continue to engage on this issue. The United States has sent technical items -- I'm sorry, technical teams to Turkey and hosted counterparts here to discuss the threat posed by the S-400; our mutual participation in the F-35 program, and the U.S. Patriot offer.

The United States has been in active negotiations with Turkey over the sale of the Patriot Air and Missile Defense Systems since 2009 to satisfy its legitimate air defense needs. Should Turkey agreed to suspend its S-400 acquisition, the United States is willing to partner with Turkey immediately to study ways to enhance Turkish security and address allied concerns with Turkey's S-400 purchase. We seek only to protect the long-term security of the F-35 program and the capabilities of the NATO alliance, including Turkey.

Let me reiterate: Turkey still has the option to change course. If Turkey does not accept delivery of the S-400, we will enable Turkey to return to normal F-35 program activities. Turkey is a close NATO ally and our military-to-military relationship is strong. We have a commitment to ensure the safety of our NATO ally and support missions benefiting regional security and stability, including current counterterrorism operations in the region. (end of excerpt)

Click here for the related press briefing, on the Pentagon website.


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