QUESTION: This isn’t a real question, but when you talk about subpar or – I can’t read – riskier acquisitions, can you be more specific?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: I mean, are we talking about Russia and China? Are we talking about —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, absolutely. Russia and China. And so then I’d – I mean, there’s been —
QUESTION: Anyone else?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There’s been – there have been – well, those are the two that tend to be – when we talk about a competitive marketplace. There are other states that may be in production, but they just – they’re not seeking an aggressive posture on sales. Those two are mentioned. Why? Because there are states that have said very openly, either in open fora or to us government-to-government or industry-to-industry, of we have requirements, we have been approached particularly by Beijing or Moscow, and we are looking at this.
In many cases, states tell us up front because they say we prefer to work with the U.S. And when I say states, I’m saying more at an operational level. So if – one is the requirement definer, say a service chief, say chief of the army, or chief of the air force, or a chief of defense. They’re the ones that actually have to worry about if something works and if it is interoperable with our forces and their forces or, say, another force that – of consequence.
But yes, to your question specifically, those two. Because these are two other states that are seeking to expand their markets and in a very aggressive way, but one that does not take into account sustainment, one that does not take into account the partner nations’ actual requirement. It’s a very transactional way. And as I said, we have plenty examples that I have name-checked in the past and happy to provide in the future of systems that have failed a partner upon receipt and have certainly put at risk interoperability, which we have talked about in the past. So when we talk about acquisitions of certain systems, this is where we have to address and course correct or compartmentalize a risk. And so this is when we do get into very particular acquisitions.
QUESTION: I wanted – you mentioned the Levant, and I saw – I want to ask you about the Lebanon FMF. But first, you talk about the service chiefs wanting to come to you and say – but that – ultimately the question that —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And not just to me. I mean, we say we, U.S. chiefs.
QUESTION: Well, right, right. But ultimately the purchase – who they purchase from is a political decision. Right?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It starts out as a very practical position. So when we – what we do is —
QUESTION: No, but I mean done by the political leadership.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: When we – well, eventually.
QUESTION: So the Russians or the Chinese.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It depends. It depends. Depending on some partners, the final say-so may go up at a ministerial level. Some countries, their finance ministry has a broader vote. And to your point about political, yeah, some countries it actually goes to their parliament for review, not dissimilar from our Congress having a review on a congressional notification of a sale. So it’s conditions-based on the partner as to how political it may or may not be.
QUESTION: All right. And then just on the Lebanon FMF. Are you in a position today to assure the Lebanese that this will be approved, this will be signed off on?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, the department certainly is in a position of —
QUESTION: I mean up the street.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Up the street. I can’t talk to OMB. What I can say is that the position has been that we want to support the institutions in Lebanon that are the guarantor of border security and provide an actual, credible, entity to counter terrorism. And so the Lebanese Armed Forces, the LAF, have proven themselves that, and we have advocated for supporting that institution. It is the most capable and credible institution in Lebanon to date to counter Hizballah’s terrorist activities and other terrorist activities and is also currently the most credible institution in Lebanon that is – has the ability to counter illicit trafficking and illicit facilitation of terrorism.
QUESTION: But the Lebanese army is not countering Hizballah and it is not in that position?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: From a border integrity, when we’re looking at the (inaudible) functions, I’m not talking about the politics of the party or the cabinet; I’m talking about the actual, tangible operational level of what the LAF, what the Lebanese Armed Forces, can do. What they can do is they have a disruptive function and they have a protective function. It is, for now, been assessed as the most credible entity from a security force posture available to date, for now, in Lebanon. There is certainly much more room that can be done to address that posture there. But until then, that is the entity that has the most capability.
MODERATOR: Okay. Humeyra.
QUESTION: So just to follow up on that, where are we with that now though? It’s – there is a holdup, and —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, as OMB certainly has a review on any –
MODERATOR: I think Hale talked about this yesterday in the testimony.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: On security assistance.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, yeah. So I mean, it’s –
MODERATOR: So I don’t think there’s any need for you to go beyond what he said.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. All right, all right.
MODERATOR: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On Egypt and like buying from Russia and China, you’ve got two important examples. One’s Turkey.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. That’s a good one.
QUESTION: Yeah. So they keep saying the negotiations – the meeting has gone really well and all that. But they are fundamentally at odds. What are you doing to overcome this? There was, like, some sort of a working group that was supposed to be set up, like headed by Robert O’Brien on this side and Ibrahim Kalin on the other side. What are they doing to overcome this? And the same with Egypt. That’s it.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. So we’ll start with Turkey first.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So Turkey is a good example of where certain acquisitions could have put at risk not only the bilateral relationships but interoperability with other states. First thing that we had do on the U.S. side was decouple Turkey from the F-35 program, right, khalas, like cut them off from the F-35 program in a very, very clear fashion. It doesn’t mean that we’re out of the woods yet with Ankara.
And this is when you’re talking about reconciliation is the President – when Erdogan was here, it was an opportunity for President Trump to say to Erdogan you still have to address the S-400; receipt of the S-400 is not acceptable and it’s going to put you at risk for sanctions. And the timeline on CAATSA sanctions is not prescribed or absolute. There is still plenty of scope that could be applied as to where sanctions and the breadth and depth of sanctions could be imposed upon Turkey.
However, to your – as you noted, there is room for Turkey to come back to the table. They know that to make this work they need to either destroy, return, or somehow get rid of the S-400. At the same time, we certainly have not closed the door on their ability to acquire the Patriot battery, which does address their air defense needs.
And so Turkey certainly has a very legitimate requirement when it comes to their sovereignty, their defense, and air defenses. We are not wanting to deny them that. What is clear is that the acquisition of the S-400 does put at risk the technology and the interoperability when it comes to NATO standard and, of course, NATO systems like the F-35. So that is still not closed, but to your question – and I can’t get into the details; it would not be appropriate to get beyond that – but in a very general sense, they know that they have the choice to move forward, and the choice is to rid themselves of the S-400 so that we can move forward not only in a bilateral sense but in the NATO member-state community.
To Egypt. Egypt is certainly acutely aware of what has happened in Turkey. Egypt has certainly been clear about their requirements for their self-defense, and they have also played a regional role as well on projection of security. That said, we are working with them to address their requirements, but have also been very transparent with them in that if they are to acquire a significant Russian platform like the Sukhoi-35 or the Su-35, that puts them at risk towards sanctions, and that puts them at risk from being compartmentalized in regional considerations. They know this. We’re working through it with them, and this is something that we’ve not completely reconciled yet, but they are acutely aware of what they are putting at risk. There are other states, of course, that have approached Cairo and have said, “Please do not undo all the progress that you have made in recent years.” And so it’s not just a concern of the U.S. There are other states who are also approaching Cairo on this.
QUESTION: Just on Egypt, this is a warning that has been sent to every country in the world that buys U.S. weapons, so I don’t understand why it is that – has Egypt – are they actively considering or negotiating with the Russians for these systems? Is that why it has all of a sudden come into – I mean, you guys tell the same thing to the Israelis, to the – to every – to all the Europeans: “Don’t buy this Russian stuff because, one, the interoperability; but two, you’ll be subjected to CAATSA sanctions.” So what’s the —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. And it doesn’t work that great, either, so I mean, let’s – I mean, we could talk about interoperability and – I mean, but let’s talk —
QUESTION: But I mean, you guys tell this to the Moroccans too. It’s —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, yeah. It’s like – and I do have a – I mean, what I – what we – because of open press, we have a number of examples that I can show them that aren’t classified. I’m like, “If you don’t want to believe me, let me show you this article from” —
MODERATOR: From Matt Lee.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
QUESTION: No, but I just – I’m trying to get you to make the point that this is not specific to Egypt or Turkey. This is everywhere. CAATSA doesn’t have exemptions for Turkmenistan, you know, or —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You just used my talking point. There is no blanket waiver for CAATSA, nor is there a blanket application. And I say that because there are states who’ll say, “Well, we’re good, right, because we have a tight relationship, so you’re not going to CAATSA us.” It’s like, hold on.
At the same time, we’re not seeking to punish a state with a long sustainment line. It’s the significant acquisitions that put at risk interoperability. I mentioned this in other fora: If there’s a country that has a long sustainment line on, say, the Kalashnikov, the AK-47, we’re not going to sanction them because that is the rifle of choice for their army. That would be ridiculous. And we certainly don’t want to put at risk their self-defense and their sovereignty, and so that is a legitimate concern when I hear from ambassadors here and their defense attaches and when I go abroad and hear from ministers and chiefs of defense. We’re not looking to take a light switch and turn off their ability to defend themselves, and that is a legitimate concern they have.
What we are being very clear about, what Secretary Pompeo has been very clear about on the road, is don’t get cute with CAATSA. So just because you have some old sustainment lines, don’t think that you can then go acquire a significant system like an S-400 or Su-35 and be like, “Hey, doesn’t really count because we have some earlier sustainment lines that predate 2017.” So it is a matter of having a very transparent conversation with them, face to face and in open fora, to say there are certainly considerations of your historic sustainment lines, but do not seek new significant acquisitions that will put you at risk not just with us but with other partner states that you aspire to work with.
QUESTION: Can I just pursue that? India would seem like an interesting case on this. You mentioned countries —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They are a very interesting case.
QUESTION: — mentioned countries that have historically a relationship with Russia, but even recently has had very major purchases from the United States. What’s the message that’s going to India, and where do you see them now, particularly with the potential purchase of a major system like the S-400?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. I mean, similar to what I just laid out. And when I have been in New Delhi – in fact, Secretary Pompeo and I were both in New Delhi very close to each other and had a consistent line and a discourse with our Indian counterparts at our respective levels, which is we recognize how India suffered at the fall of Soviet Union. A lot of FSUs or those who were closely aligned with the Soviet Union – when those lines essentially got turned off, there – it was catastrophic if one was serving in the Ministry of Defense in India in the early ’90s. So we get that.
It’s the – when we’re looking at defense technology and we’re looking at unique technology that is either developed in the United States or we’ve co-developed with other partners, we don’t want it stolen and we don’t want it exploited.
And so the Indians, while very interested – as they should be – in co-research, co-development, and co-production – which we are interested in, and our industry’s interested in – we don’t want it exposed because some Russians walking the shop floor decide to go walk away and put it in their handbag or knapsack and take it back to Moscow. We’re not going to allow that. And so what we have pushed with Indians is: tighten up your procurement processes, tighten up your defense technology security processes and protocols, and then you’re putting yourselves in a much more mature space to be a tighter, closer partner.
And that’s not just to India; that’s to other partners that are aspirant to doing more co-research, co-development, co-production. It’s possible; industry’s interested, the United States is interested, but we can’t do it in a fashion that will expose us as well as our industry. It’s incumbent upon not just the State Department to advocate upon defense trade, it’s incumbent upon us to protect our technology and protect what is unique about American systems and defense technology. If we don’t do that, we’re abdicating our duty and we’re exposing not only our industry, we’re also exposing our own national security.
So for India, yes, there’s opportunity, but they have got to address their protocols and their processes on protecting defense technology and procurement processes.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Sir, you said that you – in Israel, you met with your counterpart to discuss their security – the security —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Counterparts. I have many, because —
QUESTION: — counterpart, okay – counterpart to discuss the security cooperation, their posture in the region required for self-defense. Back on September 10, the Israeli prime minister said that he promised to annex the Jordan Valley because he deemed that as being vital to their self-defense and national security. I wonder if you raised these issues with your counterpart, or if you raised them, or you warned against them, or what is your position on this?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: What I can talk about in open fora is that the focus of our meeting – which had been long established – was particularly on defensive capabilities for Israel from external threats, and also on shared threats emanating from Tehran in a proxy fashion. So we’re looking at – when we say proxies, we’re talking specifically about the Houthis, we’re talking about Hizballah, we’re talking about proxies that serve as subs in Iraq. So it was a well-defined agenda that we had established as far as what we were working with on Israel to address the Iranian threat, the maximum pressure campaign, response to proxies, and working with partner states in the region who are also taking particular roles in the maximum pressure campaign. And unfortunately, I can’t go past that. But —
MODERATOR: One more. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Jackson Richman with Jewish News Syndicate, JNS.org. Do you mind elaborating on what you mean by there’s – that the timeline on CAATSA sanctions isn’t absolute? And two other questions. In light of the latest rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, is the administration trying to reduce the costs of the Iron Dome batteries, which are usually around $50,000 or so? And then regarding Lebanon, how will the U.S. ensure that any U.S. assistance to the LAF doesn’t go into the hands – doesn’t fall into the hands of Hizballah, which has a history of working with the LAF?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sure. So I’m going to go backwards. So LAF – absolutely, acutely aware and sensitive to the need to put some parameters and monitoring of how those funds are expended and applied to disrupt activities that would fall into the category of threat and terrorism. So yes, that is something that is certainly a consideration.
As to Israel’s – the strikes you mentioned, their air defense, certainly Israel has its right to defend itself and protect itself. So I mean, other than that, I cannot comment on the strikes.
CAATSA, when you ask about timeline, what I was referring to is that the statute doesn’t say that CAATSA has to occur. It’s – there’s not an absolute trigger. So when Turkey started acquiring components to the S-400, it didn’t trigger an immediate CAATSA sanction. What it did trigger, though, was an assessment of what could be applied there. And so a good example is that when we did apply CAATSA sanctions on China about a year ago, there was a nine-month process. What I’m saying is it’s not like there’s a – there’s not a 30-day requirement or a 90-day requirement; it’s more conditions-based, as in CAATSA sanctions can be applied, will be applied. Congress isn’t prescriptive as to a date. It’s that the prescription is the sanction.
MODERATOR: Okay. Abigail.
QUESTION: I just want to follow up on Turkey. The state of play that you described seems to have been the state of play for a while. And I wondered if you could just further characterize the progression of those discussions. Do you feel like you’re making headway? Do you feel confident that they’re going to be giving up the S-400?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I do not want to get outside of an open-source realm, but I would say something that we can talk about here that’s probably different mid-late November than, say, October – government to government, without – without exposing counterparts in Ankara, safe to say that where President Erdogan, his world view doesn’t always exactly align with Turkish officials’ view or Turk mil – Turkish military officers’ view —
QUESTION: That’s why he’s arrested half of them.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: If we – well —
MODERATOR: Keep going.
QUESTION: If we go back – if we go back in time – if we go back in time before components of the S-400 started to arrive, there were Turkish officials that were very concerned about that decision. There were Turkish officials that had expressed concern that they were about to put themselves at risk of being pushed out of the F-35 program and were very concerned that there would be other direct effects yet to be realized.
So I give you that as a background, in that as that story had already been going on, what had not happened up until mid-November was Erdogan essentially said, “I want to hear it – I want to hear it at my level.” Well, he did. So if one looks at – a shift is that Erdogan, one could assess, wasn’t going to take into serious consideration what had already been pronounced by Secretary Pompeo, Secretary Esper, people at my level, Ambassador Satterfield, et cetera. He now had to hear it from President Trump. That is a difference.
Now, how that manifests itself into negotiations, that is yet to be seen, but I would say if you go back to 13 November, that is different in that Erdogan was waiting to essentially – again, it’s an assessment, it’s not – one could assess he was waiting to hear it from President Trump. Well, he did.
MODERATOR: Okay. Jennifer.
QUESTION: On Turkey, what is the latest on the reported end-use violations by Turkey and TSO in Syria? And then have any formal investigations been opened, any repercussions so far?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There’s – there are – on any end-use – so I’ll start with the macro. Any end-use violation by any state will bring about several investigative – investigatory mechanisms. Some reside here at State; some reside at DOD. In fact, there are other states right now where we are working with DOD on joint investigations. Okay. So that’s – there’s that.
As far as on the TSOs, there is a significant monitoring that is taking place from an interagency standpoint, so it’s not just limited to one department or agency, and it could very well lead to what I would say formal investigations as we’ve applied in other places. That’s what I – I’d just leave it at that.
QUESTION: Can you say how close?
QUESTION: I had – oh.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can’t. Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. No, I had actually another FMF question —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Because I don’t want to get ahead of —
QUESTION: — another FMF question on Ukraine. They testified yesterday that – Cooper testified that 86 percent of the money had been obligated, but I think she was just talking about the USAI, and I wanted to know about the FMF. Has that been obligated 100 percent yet?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It should have been already. I mean, we started releasing it before the end of the fiscal year in September.
QUESTION: But there was a scramble, there was a last-minute scramble to get it all.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There was a scramble. There absolutely was a scramble because —
QUESTION: And she says only 86 percent, so they’re still missing a chunk of their money. What about your money?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I would have to go back and double-check, but I know that we – as soon as we got the green light, we were pushing out as soon as we could. Part of that, just from a boring administrative point, is the ability for the receiving state absorption —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: — as far as what they can receive. Yes, in short because it was late – I want to say it was the 12th. I remember once we got the green light – because I was actually at a similar event like this. I was at a press breakfast and we found out, like, that morning. I was like, “Oh, finally.” So we got it out, but – so I don’t want to mischaracterize. I mean, we were trying to push it all out at the same time, but I know that it doesn’t matter if it’s Kyiv, or Santiago, or Paris, or – whoever’s an FMF recipient, sometimes we have – can’t do it all at the same time, not because of us but because of the partner’s receipt. So —
QUESTION: But can we get that specified though, like, how much is still —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, we – yeah, yeah. We can – that’s an easy thing to —
QUESTION: Is there a similar danger with the Lebanon FMF or is that okay? There’s not – you’re not going to have to scramble because the – or it met the —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m not going to – I would just say it’s like – I mean, it’s kind of like with a CR. There’s nothing like waiting until the last minute in Washington.
QUESTION: Well, they’re voting on it right now, aren’t they? I think —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Wait, how many CRs have we all lived through? Let me – I mean, just – so what I’m getting at is that we are primed, as with any FMF. My directorate for security assistance is already at the ready. We’re not waiting for the last minute. We’re – we were prepared. We were prepared to release the FMFs for Ukraine as early as July. We’ve been ready to release the FMF for LAF. So once we get the green light, we go on that.
MODERATOR: Okay. Last question on —
QUESTION: On MESA, did you discuss the Middle East Strategic Alliance when you were in the region? And is it ready to defend itself? How to equip the —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We always do talk about it. The big – from our end, the discussion is the ability to address where one can fit each other’s compatibility and requirements. Without revealing capacity or gaps of partners, that is something that we have discussed, and it’s a very operational, functional part of MESA, which is actually below the policy level. So it is a discussion that I have. Why I can’t go into detail about that here is because it is talking about gaps in capacity. So if state partner A has a gap that state partner B can address, it is similar to how we, the U.S., operate in NATO, where we say we know certain NATO partners have gaps that they can’t address on their own, the other partner will address it.
That is the – that is one of the operational, what I would say, applied intents of MESA that we are working through. And it is an – it’s an edification point for these states because historically they have looked at it from just inside the (inaudible) of their capital and their borders, and we are looking to get them to look up and out of that. But I would say from where I’m having those discussions, it’s more about how to – how can one state address a gap that a state has or augment a capability a state has. I’m sorry I can’t —
QUESTION: Just – just two very quick follow ups?
MODERATOR: Oh, okay. That’s it. That’s the last one. The real last one.
QUESTION: I was just trying to – because I’ve been trying to jump in.
QUESTION: Laura Cooper also testified yesterday that the Ukrainian embassy had reached out to the State Department and the Pentagon about the hold on U.S. assistance. Can you confirm whether or not that was true in this building?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can’t confirm. I would suppose it probably was, and here’s why: On any FMF financing or grant, on any foreign military sale, on any direct commercial sale, on any kind of bilateral action that requires any kind of either funding going into an account in a partner nation’s treasury or the receipt of materiel or a system, every embassy is calling all the time. That’s normal. So yeah, they should have been. I mean, I would think if you’re a political counselor or you’re a defense attache at any embassy, if you’re not checking in on your accounts, you’re not doing your job.
So it would have been normal for them just like it is normal for us to be hearing from the Lebanese about the status of the LAF. I mean, it’s perennial, it’s normal, it’s transcendent of any administration. Depending on the capacity to some posts, some foreign embassies here have a deeper bench that they can reach to Congress, reach to the interagency. Some of your smaller embassies, it’s one guy or gal that has the entire political-military portfolio. At some embassies, it’s just the defense attache. But it would be – it would not be unusual for any embassy to call on – be it again FMS, DCS, FMF, any security assistance at any time.
MODERATOR: Okay, cool.
QUESTION: And then you mentioned that the President – what’s different now with CAATSA and Turkey is that President Erdogan has heard directly from President Trump. Why didn’t he hear that message when the two presidents met in June at the G20?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: He did. I just don’t – I just – again, this is my – Erdogan wanted to hear what he wanted to hear. It was more difficult for him to deny it when it was executed in Washington.
QUESTION: Did you see what he said when he went back?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, oh – absolutely, yes. We all —
QUESTION: Like multiple times?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We all did, yeah.
MODERATOR: All right, thanks, guys.