Pompeo dismisses Turkey’s call for missile defense system working group

Pompeo dismisses Turkey’s call for missile defense system working group

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo isn’t interested in forming a “technical working group” to discuss whether Turkey’s purchase of major Russian weaponry could endanger Western militaries.

Turkey has sparked an international uproar by insisting on the purchase of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile defense systems, which the NATO ally wants to deploy alongside Western military systems. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu dismissed U.S. assessments that the deal would help Russia learn how to target the American-made F-35 and called for a working group to discuss the issue, but Pompeo’s team thinks that would be a waste of time.

"The U.S. and Turkey have already held a defense and security working group on Feb. 5 to discuss the S-400 issue set,” a State Department official told the Washington Examiner. "Our position on this issue is very clear, that the F-35 and S-400 are incompatible, and we raise it at every opportunity, including in conversations at the highest levels.”

U.S. officials maintain the deployment of S-400s alongside F-35s would give Russia an invaluable opportunity to learn how to track and target the fighters. That reply is an unceremonious rebuff of Çavuşoğlu, who called for such consultations on Wednesday.

“It doesn’t have to be integrated to the NATO system,” Çavuşoğlu said while traveling in Washington for the 70th anniversary of the alliance. “We made it very clear that this system will not see any NATO system, including F35s, as an enemy. And, therefore we proposed the United States to establish a technical working group to make sure that this system will not be a threat, neither to F-35s nor to NATO systems.”

He also downplayed the value of President Trump’s offer to sell Patriot missile defense systems to Turkey and suggested the United States doesn’t have the right to deny them the F-35s.

“Turkey is part of this [F-35 program] and we have [been] introducing many parts of this F-35,” he said at NATO Engages, a series of discussions hosted by the Atlantic Council, the German Marshall Fund, and the Munich Security Conference. “So this is not like U.S. is producing something and U.S. is selling to NATO allies, including Turkey. So, we are part of this program, so it shouldn’t be that simple.”

Turkish pilots are being trained in Arizona to fly the two F-35s planes that Turkey paid for before the dispute escalated. Lockheed Martin, which manufactures the fighter jets, has been planning to sell as many as 100 of the warplanes to Turkey.

Çavuşoğlu argued that President Trump has a “responsibility” to help Turkey convince Congress not to pass legislation that would block the transfer of those planes, regardless of the S-400 controversy. But Vice President Mike Pence countered “Turkey must choose” between military cooperation with Russia and NATO allies. A pair of key lawmakers echoed that message after a Wednesday afternoon meeting with Çavuşoğlu.

“There is no middle ground where Turkey chooses significant defense cooperation with both Russia and the United States,” Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said in a joint statement with ranking member Michael McCaul, R-Texas. “Deepening ties with Moscow will risk sanctions and Turkey’s involvement in the F-35 program.”

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