Pentagon Nominee Says Turkey's Russian Missile Buy 'Disappointing'

Pentagon Leadership

Pentagon Leadership

President Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, appeared to sail through Tuesday's hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee despite being grilled by a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, Sen.

In discussing North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally Turkey's purchase of the S-400 anti-air missile systems from Russia, Esper appeared to suggest that the S-400 would be effective against the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, as Moscow has claimed. In fact, talks between the US and Turkey on a potential Patriot deal during the Obama years faltered on Turkey's insistence on technology transfer rights that would have allowed it eventually to make the missiles themselves.

But in May the Pentagon said it was preparing to cut Turkey out of the network of manufacturers supplying parts to the F-35.

"We are now telling Turkey that because you have been forced to buy another missile system we're not going to sell you the F-35", Trump said. The United States warned Turkey against buying a Russian air defense system, instead pushing the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally to buy America's best alternative: Patriot missiles, made by Raytheon.

The U.S. governmen'ts concern is that the S-400 could be used by Turkey to gather data on the capabilities of the F-35, and that the information could end up in Russian hands.

"They have been a long standing and very capable North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally, but their decision on the S-400 is the wrong one", Esper said.

Later he went further, saying that although Turkey has always been a reliable North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally, it is now headed in the wrong direction. You can not have both. "We are not seeking war with Iran". "We have to get there first".

While other Democrats raised the issue of Esper's previous employment at Raytheon, most lawmakers other than Warren seemed satisfied with his commitment to abide by his ethics agreement. His confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to begin on Tuesday morning. Elizabeth Warren of MA, a 2020 Democratic presidential contender, sparred with Esper on his ties to the Massachusetts-based defense giant and implored the nominee to recuse himself from any decisions affecting the firm, which he declined to do.

In a letter to Esper she released Monday, Warren wrote, "I am troubled by your unwillingness to fully address your real and perceived conflicts of interest, and write to ask that you reconsider your refusal to extend your Raytheon recusal [as Army secretary] through the duration of your tenure at DoD".

Mattis, a retired Marine general, resigned after two years in the job after a series of policy disagreements with Trump, climaxing with Trump's since-rescinded decision to pull all United States troops out of Syria.

The move follows the formal nomination of Dr Mark T Esper to head the Department of Defense on a permanent basis.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, warned Esper of the pitfalls ahead in serving as the chief military advisor to an unpredictable commander-in-chief. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) previously said he expected Esper's confirmation before the August recess. The Air Force has had an acting secretary since Heather Wilson departed in May. "That means you should not be confirmed as secretary of defense".

Esper took over as acting secretary in June when Patrick Shanahan abruptly quit after having served as acting secretary since Mattis departed. Senators on both sides of the aisle have stressed the importance of filling a key cabinet spot that has been open for almost eight months and appear poised to promote the Army secretary to the Pentagon's top job within days.

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer took over the Defense Department on an acting basis while Esper goes through his nomination process.