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Intel: Senators berate Pentagon failure to sever F-35 cooperation with Turkey

The Pentagon is still allowing Turkey to produce components for US F-35 fighter jets, violating a defense law that President Donald Trump signed in December.
Israeli F-35 fighter jets roll on the tarmac during the "Blue Flag" multinational aerial exercise at the Ovda air force base, north of the Israeli city of Eilat, on November 11, 2019. (Photo by Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP) (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images)

The Pentagon is still allowing Turkey to produce components for US F-35 fighter jets, violating a defense law that President Donald Trump signed in December.  

“Unfortunately, Turkish manufacturers are still producing and delivering key components of the aircraft despite the statutory prohibition on such participation in manufacturing line of the program,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., and three other senators wrote in a bipartisan letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper. “We believe more urgency is needed and hope you will accelerate the process to ensure a more prompt removal.”

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., also signed onto the letter.

Why it matters:  The United States officially kicked Turkey out of the F-35 co-production program last year over Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system. Congress included a provision to defund the transfer of F-35s to Turkey and the transfer of Turkish components to the United States as part of last year’s defense bill. The Pentagon initially said it would wind down Turkish participation in the F-35 supply chain “in early 2020,” only to extend that deadline through 2022.

The four senators accused the Defense Department of “impeding our nation’s diplomatic and geopolitical efforts to pressure Turkey to reverse course.”

“It is clear from these statutes that Congress intended for this transition to take place in a period of months, not a period of years,” they wrote. The senators added, “Based on recent revelations, it is clear that the Pentagon is not allowing its own timeline or the intent of Congress in this matter. We encourage you to reexamine the present approach and take action to ensure an expedited removal of Turkey from the manufacturing line as required by law.”

What’s next:  Turkey tested the powerful S-400 radar on US-made fighter aircraft last year, but it has delayed fully activating the missile system, citing the coronavirus pandemic. Most recently, Ankara has said it would restrict Russian access to the S-400 batteries upon activation — with several notable exceptions, including training.

Know more:  The Trump administration also appear to have backed off public sanctions threats after Turkey sentenced a US consular employee to nine years in prison, Amberin Zaman reports.  

Correction: July 7, 2020. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that a US consular employee was sentenced to three decades in prison. He was sentenced to nine years. 

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