Mark Esper also stressed that the US will “consider” Turkey rejoining to the F-35 programme if Ankara gets rid of the S-400 system and “take them completely out of the country.”
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper voiced hope Wednesday that Turkey would abandon the S-400 air defence system, saying Ankara could return to the F-35 programme if it does so.
Esper told reporters at the Pentagon during an exceedingly rare news briefing that short of completely doing away with the Russian S-400 system, Ankara would not be allowed to return to the F-35.
"I’ve been very clear in both my public comments and privately with my Turkish counterpart: it’s either the F-35 or the S-400. It’s not both. It’s not park one in the garage, and roll the other one out. It’s one or the other," Esper said.
"So we are where we are and it’s regrettable. As I’ve said, Turkey’s been a long-standing, a great partner and ally, and I would hope that they would move back in our direction and really live up to what NATO agreed to many years ago, and that was to begin divesting of Soviet-era Russian equipment," he added.
"They seem to be moving in a different direction.”
Esper also stressed that the US will “consider” Turkey rejoining to the F-35 program if Ankara gets rid of the S-400 system and “take them completely out of the country.”
The Trump administration has already suspended Turkey from the F-35 system over Ankara's receipt of the S-400, but some hopes centred on a compromise wherein Turkey could keep the Russian air defence system, but keep it turned off in order to return to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
US President Donald Trump has repeatedly voiced reluctance to penalise Turkey over its purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defence system, doing so when announcing Ankara's suspension from the program in July.
The Trump administration has maintained that the S-400 system could expose the advanced fighter to possible Russian subterfuge and is incompatible with NATO systems.
Turkey, however, counters that the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance.
Trump blames the Obama administration for the current row over its refusal to sign a deal with Turkey to sell it American defence firm Raytheon's Patriot missile system.
Turkey received the second batch of the S-400 on Tuesday, and the delivery is slated to continue for one month, according to Turkey's defence ministry.
Ankara received its first supply of S-400 missiles in July. The delivery of the first battery was completed on July 25.
Sensing that its protracted efforts to purchase an air defence missile system from the ally US was not heading towards success, Turkey in April 2017 signed a contract with Russia to acquire the S-400.
Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, said Wednesday that if Ankara does not get F-35 fighter jets the country will look for alternatives. But Cavusoglu said that is not the preferred option.
Regarding a safe zone in northern Syria, the US and Turkey agreed to establish, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said Washington is seeking to strike a balance between "continuity" in the anti-Daesh campaign and Turkey's "legitimate concerns."
"We’ve also made agreements to immediately address some of the threats along the border between Turkey and Syria, removal of heavy weapons and those kinds of things," he said.
Dunford noted the establishment of a joint operations centre in Ankara, wherein he said United State European Command, Central Command and the Turkish General Staff are continuing to coordinate efforts.
He further said joint patrols in northern Syria are "being worked out" at the centre, but did not have a date for when they may commence.