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  • Assistant Secretary R. Clarke Cooper provides the Political-Military Affairs Bureau’s highlights of 2020 and its look ahead to 2021, focusing on why other countries should be wary of the risks of defense acquisitions from China and Russia.  Assistant Secretary Cooper also addresses how the tools of security cooperation and defense trade counter the regional threats posed by the Iranian regime and its proxies.  Finally, he will discuss how the bureau is using its tools of security assistance, defense trade, peacekeeping capacity building and humanitarian mine action to help allies and partners respond to the coronavirus pandemic and ensure that the United States remains the security partner of choice for nations around the world.


MODERATOR:  Okay.  So let’s get started.  Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome.  My name is Melissa Waheibi.  I’m the deputy director of the New York Foreign Press Center and the moderator for today’s briefing.  We’re happy to host the assistant secretary for the Bureau of Political Military Affairs, R. Clark Cooper, who will speak about the United States as the security partner of choice and who will offer highlights of the year 2020 and a look ahead to 2021.   

Now, for the ground rules, this briefing is on the record.  If you have a question, you can go to the participant list and virtually raise your hand.  When you’re called on, please unmute your microphone and ask your question.  You may also type your question into he chat box, and I will ask that on your behalf.  If you’ve not already done so, please take the time to rename your Zoom profile with your full name and the name of your media outlet.  Thank you, sir, for giving us your time today.  I’d pass it over to you for your opening remarks.  

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Great.  Thank you, Melissa.  It is really a pleasure to have the opportunity to be with you all again today albeit in another virtual format, this time from a very snowy place – my residence of Guard Hill House.  A lot of snow coming down so happy to be with you all in this comfortable space.   

There are several political-military developments since my last briefing to the Foreign Press Center and would certainly like to update you on those latest developments, not only in the security cooperation space, but also in defense trade.  To open, I would like to note that on December 14th, the United States Government imposed sanctions on Turkey pursuant to Section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or as you all commonly know it, CAATSA.   

Why we did this – this was for their knowingly engaging in transactions of a significant nature with Russia.  This is particularly with the Rosoboronexport, Russian main arms export entity.  This is for the procurement of the S-400.  It’s a surface-to-air missile system.  The Defense Industry Presidency or SSB is a Turkish Government procurement entity that purchases defense equipment and has the responsibilities for the defense industrial development of Turkey.  This was the – the target of he CAATSA sanctions.  This was a very hard but necessary choice.  And because Turkey has status not only as a bilateral ally with us but as a NATO member and an ally, the United States undertook exhaustive efforts to engage diplomatically with the Turkish Government at every level to provide an offramp from the S-400 acquisition.   

The United States made very clear to Turkey at the highest levels and on numerous occasions that its purchase and pursuit of the S-400 system would endanger the security of U.S. military technology and personnel and provide substantial funds to Russia’s defense sector.  This is to get even more granular about this, this – this is also in the frame of Russia’s access to Turkish armed forces and defense industry.  Nevertheless, Turkey did decide to move ahead with procurement and the testing of the S-400 system.  And this decision resulted in both Turkey’s suspension from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and now sanctions under CAATSA.   

Turkey procured and tested the S-400 despite the availability of the alternative.  And that alternative which many of you and I have discussed in the past was the NATO interoperable systems that are available, particularly the Patriot battery system.  This was made available to meet Turkey’s defense requirements.  Further, this step should send a clear message globally:  CAATSA is designed to impose costs on Russia in response to its malicious cyber activities, its unacceptable behavior in Ukraine, and other malign activities worldwide.   

We would caution other U.S. partners against making major purchases of Russian defense equipment in the future that would also put them at risk of sanctions.  We recognize many partners still operate historic legacy Russian systems – again something we’ve discussed in the past.  And our intent is not to deprive them of spare parts and maintenance to sustain this equipment – and we understand that that has to occur as a – as a bridge until it can be replaced with non-Russian alternatives.  We therefore do not focus our CAATSA enforcement on such sustainment transactions and have repeatedly made that clear.   

Lastly, our CAATSA implementation is not tied to U.S. arms sales or transfers.  We encourage all our partners to avoid Russian arms purchases.  They do not have to buy American, though our options provide a much better preferred choice.  Other NATO allies and partners also offer capable systems without using proceeds of defense sales to finance malign behavior.   

So moving over into some other things of interest that I know many of you will be asking about and one I will start with that’s a little bit of a retrospective looking into the next year.  The Trump administration’s pursuit of the transformative Abraham Accords have provided uniquely successful, and I am very happy to see these enforced to provide further peace, stability, and growth in the Middle East.  I would like to particularly note the recent announcement of Morocco normalizing relations with Israel under the Abraham Accords.  This achievement between the United States, Israel, and Morocco continues to transform the region’s security architecture and again is yet just another state to recognize Israel’s sovereignty and Israel’s membership in the community of states.   

So speaking of the Abraham Accords, regarding our efforts to provide the United Arab Emirates with advanced defense capabilities, I would also like to provide some updates in that space.  Just last month the Department of State and the Department of Defense formally notified Congress of our intent to authorize the UAE’s proposed purchase of several advanced capabilities that are worth a total of $23.37 billion.   

The ones of course that have been of the most interest by many parties are the 50 F-35 Lightning II aircraft – those are valued at $10.4 billion – and up to about 18 MQ-9Bs or as commonly called MQ-9 Bravos.  These are UASes, unmanned aerial systems.  And those are valued at $2.97 billion.  This also – and if we look at the total package of the cases that have been proposed are inclusive of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions, and those munitions are valued about $10 billion.  This is in recognition of our deepening relationship with the UAE’s need for advanced defense capabilities to deter and defend itself against the heightened threats emanating from Iran.   

Now, when we look at the defense cooperation not just with the UAE but the defense cooperation that comes in the wake of the historic Abraham Accords, this provides us with the opportunity to positively transform the region’s strategic landscape.  Our adversaries, especially those in Iran, know that this will – this – and it will not stop at anything to disrupt the shared success that we are enjoying with our partners in the region.  The proposed sale will make the UAE even more capable and more interoperable with the United States and our partners in a manner that is fully consistent with America’s longstanding commitment, ironclad commitment I may – I may add, to Israel’s qualitative military edge.   

The formal period on congressional review for these sales actually just concluded on December 11th.  We continue to work with the UAE on what’s called the letters of offer and acceptance or the LOAs. And those if concluded would certainly finalize any of these deals.  We also continue to engage in a very healthy and productive dialogue with our Congress.  You saw this debate play out last week as several resolutions were voted on in the Senate.  This is a sign of the process playing out as it was designed, as it should, amongst the different branches of government.   

And then looking a little bit into the – into the first quarter of 2021, I want to take some opportunity that as we approach the end of this quarter and the end of 2020 to give an opportunity to acknowledge accomplishments that have been made in the security cooperation and defense trade space.  Despite a difficult and challenging year, I am very proud to say that we were still able to adapt and to overcome challenges to meet our mission and actually expand total defense sales for fiscal year 2020.  This rose by 2.8 percent from 170.9 – $170.09 billion up to $175.08 billion.   

This added additional amount of jobs – thousands of jobs into the U.S. economy and is sustaining thousands more of jobs that could have been at risk had we not been able to proceed with these sales. The three-year rolling average – and I – I emphasize three-year rolling average because this helps paint a more accurate picture on projections on State Department authorized government-to-government foreign military sales implemented through our defense partner, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, rose to $54-point billion in Fiscal Year 2020 from $51-point billion in Fiscal Year 2019.  Now also, I want to note that the dollar value of potential FMS sales formally notified to Congress this past year rose by more than 50 percent from $58.33 billion up to $87.64 billion.  So that’s on government-to-government cases.   

Now I will turn to the commercial side or the commercial sector.  The value of department-authorized commercial export licenses via our Direct Commercial Sales, or DCS, totaled $124.3 billion in Fiscal Year ’20.  Now this was up from $114.7 billion in Fiscal Year ’19.  This represented an overall 8.4 percent increase.  This included – and as to why, this included several multibillion-dollar sales to partners like Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, and other NATO allies.  This increase in demand certainly addresses our partners’ longstanding national security requirements.  Many of these requirements are long built out and identified before coming to fruition, and also is an amplifying point as to America remains the security and defense partner of choice for nations around the world, and very much being able to overcome the competition, the authoritarian competitors of China and Russia. 

So when we’re also looking at policies that moved in a direction to help support our position globally, I do want to talk about some updates on licensing and what we were able to do in that space.  In addition to the potential Emirati MQ-9B sale that I mentioned, in June, the department approved a potential sale of MQ-9Bs – this is the UAS, the Unmanned Aerial System – to Taiwan.  This is for an estimated cost of $600 million.  These sales marked the first MQ-9B sold under the updated UAS policy, and you can expect additional sales to follow in fullness of time.   

As you may note from some previous conversations we have had back in July – this is when President Trump updated our policy governing the sale, transfer, and then of course the subsequent use of U.S. origin unmanned aerial systems.  The U.S. government’s going to now be able to take – invoke our national discretion in that space on where we can implement the MTCR, the Missile Technology Control Regime.  That’s the MTCR’s strong presumption of denial for transfers of Category I systems to treat carefully selected subset of this category, so a subset of Category I.  And that would be those systems that have a maximum air speed of less than 800 kilometers per hour, as with Category II.   

The United States remains a committed member of MTCR, and I think that’s something some of you may have asked in the past.  And we certainly complied with those regimes and encourage states that seek to procure the MQ-9 Bravo to be in compliance with MTCR.  We certainly see the regime as an important nonproliferation tool to curb the spread of high-end missile use technologies to countries such as North Korea and Iran.  We remain very laser-focused on these and other nonproliferation concerns, and future sales will certainly continue to bear this out. 

Now, I had mentioned earlier about our ability as a bureau, as a department – frankly, as a society, to adapt and overcome some of the conditions that we’ve all had to face regarding COVID.  And I do want to talk about how we’ve adapted to the impacts on the global pandemic – the global COVID pandemic.  Everything in the Political-Military Affairs Bureau portfolio – defense trade, security assistance, peacekeeping, demining, et cetera, you name it – it continues to be impacted by the pandemic.  But what has not changed are those programmatic needs that are serviced by the portfolio.  The U.S. Government and industries do continue to honor our commitments to partners, and we’ve been able to do so despite some significant logistical challenges.  Our defense industry is fulfilling contracts and timely deliveries continue despite the challenges.   

This year, PM worked across various bureaus to proactively authorize partner countries to utilize PM-funded equipment originally provided for peacekeeping, or in some cases, counterterrorism purposes and temporarily apply it for domestic COVID-19 responses.  This equipment, including field hospitals or in some cases including ambulances, were able to be reapplied in Chad, Ghana, Mauritania, Rwanda, Senegal, Uganda, and Mongolia to help boost global response to treat the infected and to slow the spread of the pandemic. 

In addition, the Department of State worked to maximize social distancing and teleworking flexibilities for our employees across not only our bureau, but of course, State and Defense industry.  It certainly helped; I would say a silver lining put forth some IT or communications modernization efforts in place for us to be able to be more expedient and responsive in our work.  We bulked up measures to safeguard national security and protect our technical data from spoilers abroad, and doing so while keeping our thousands of employees safe and healthy. 

And then some other things that we’ve also talked about in the past I’d like to revisit today, highlight some of the recent accomplishments of the interagency Targeting Working Group, the TWG that was established by State and our partners at the Pentagon.  The TWG works to ensure appropriate targeting infrastructure capabilities for certain munitions, notably the PGMs or the precision-guided munitions, which account for wherever munitions are sold or transferred via our Foreign Military Sales program or other U.S. Government security cooperation activities.   

This program works to mitigate civilian casualties as a top issue.  I’m happy to further talk about that during the Q&A, but I would offer that one of the things that have come out of the TWG has been the pursuit of the program and training elements that we provide through the FMS program to over now 10 partners to date who have voluntarily sought out the capabilities and resources to mitigate civilian casualties. 

And then also I wanted to go back and just a refresh on where we have moved forward with partners and allies in the case of burden sharing, and some of that we’ve already even touched upon today.  But in August, the United States and Poland came together for the U.S.-Poland Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.  This was signed by Secretary Pompeo in Warsaw, and it provides a mechanism for the sharing of logistical and infrastructure costs for U.S. forces that will – that are present in Poland.  Now by creating this durable framework for even closer defense cooperation and security cooperation, it’s not only through a crucial NATO ally, but it also strengthens the Eastern Flank’s security and deterrence.  So there is a much broader regional context here and a NATO alliance context here.    

And then looking over to the East, Donna Welton, who I’ve introduced to some of you, our senior negotiator, she continues to meet with her Republic of Korea counterpart, Ambassador Jeong Eun-bo, and working on negotiating an updated special measures agreement.  And those consultations are ongoing.  And then looking further over into the East, consultations just as recently as October moving into the next steps this month between the United States and Japan for renewal or the – I would say the new arrangements regarding host nation support, those are in train in the discussion as we look into 2021.  

And then – and again, finally, as I mentioned earlier, despite the challenges that no one is immune to – everyone here has had their own challenges regarding the pandemic – we have been able to execute successfully – on travel, I, amazingly, was still able to execute a number of successful trips this year, including ones to the Middle East, the Maghreb, the Gulf, Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and also to the Asia-Pacific region.  I visited a number of your countries.   

And at this point, I’m certainly happy to open the floor, handing back over to Melissa in New York to start the Q&A.  Thank you. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  That was really helpful.  So we will open this time now for Q&A.  Again, you can go to the participant list and raise your digital hand or offer up a remark in the comments section.  We will start off with James Reinl from The NationalJames, you can unmute yourself and go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Thanks, Melissa, and thank you for the briefing, Mr. Cooper, today and also for making yourself so available over the last few weeks during this F-35 to the UAE deal, which has been really useful for us, and that’s what my question is on today.   

Obviously, the deal made it through Congress, but can you give us an update as to where we are now on two points:  Are you guys working to ink the actual contracts for the deal before the end of the Trump administration?  And from where we are now, is this deal locked in or could there be changes, modifications to it under the subsequent administration of Joe Biden? 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  So I’ll start with your first – the first part of the question, which was where we are today.  So yeah, as I noted and you re-noted, we cleared the congressional process, and where we are now is the letters of offer and acceptance space or period.  That’s a bilateral consideration, so this is – this is – on any Foreign Military Sales case, the United States Government and the partner government go through line by line, make sure the parameters are understood before proceeding.   

This is not a new process for even the UAE.  I mean, they are a significant partner already, as I had mentioned earlier.  And the Secretary has said they have proven themselves over and over again in their ability to be interoperable with the United States, their capability to operate already advanced systems.  They’ve had this experience on working through the LOA process, so that is moving at a very deliberate pace, as we would at any time of the year regardless of the calendar, so yes.  And our intent is to have those done as soon as able.  But again, that’s a bilateral process; that isn’t unilateral.  That is both governments working together on the line by lines for the LOAs, but moving at a deliberate pace. 

And to your question about change of government and will there be any potential change, certainly the U.S. Government has the prerogative on addressing any kind of commitments in the security cooperation space with a partner and ally.  But when we make a decision or a commitment as a government, that holds.  I would certainly put it in the space of any other commitments that have been made bilaterally with partners.  And today we’re just happy to talk about the United Arab Emirates.  Commitments like that certainly would be – would hold in place and are transcendent of any kind of change of government. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We have a question from Islam Dogru from Anadolu Agency.  Islam, you can unmute yourself. 

QUESTION:  Thank you very much for the opportunity.  I would like to ask three question.  Maybe we can quickly – can combine all of them quickly.   

First of all, in contrary your statement, Turkish side claims that – they argue that the U.S. missile system was their first option and they did their all capacity to purchase, but U.S. refused at that time, so they didn’t have a choice to go with the S-400 after.  And what would be your respond on that?   

And second, do we have any concern that these actions may push Turkey toward – more to the Russian side?   

And thirdly, and maybe more important one, these sanctions were on the table or was such a thorn between two countries for past three years.  Now they are on the table.  And do you think this may provide sort of solid ground to solve the problem between two countries, and if I may say, have a better relation in coming years?  Thank you very much. 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Thank you.  Now, I’ll start with your question/observation about does this provide an additional dialogue platform.  So the concern and the consideration about sanctions with Turkey are not new.  And we can go back three years ago when Turkey sought to pursue the S-400, and we certainly as allies in a bilateral fashion certainly worked to dissuade that.  And that contract pursuit, of course, there were many opportunities for it to not be realized or delivered or made operable.  And we certainly sought to encourage an alternative.  I mentioned one of them in my brief regarding the Patriot battery.  

Where are we at today?  Well, the sanctions are certainly designed to actually go target a set of individuals, and I mentioned the SSB entity.  It certainly – the whole idea of sanctions is they don’t stay on infinitum.  They do provide opportunity for reconciliation.  They do provide an opportunity to identify pathways.  It is in Turkey’s best interest, it’s in the United States best interest, and it’s in the NATO alliance best interest for us to be together, and it is in our best interest to seek reconciliation in this space. 

That said, that’s going to take some effort on the part of our counterparts, our colleagues in Ankara.  They know that.  But looking at it from a long-term aspect, we want Turkey to remain in the NATO alliance.  The United States wants to remain in a close bilateral relationship.  It is – again, it is – it would be not to our benefit for us not to seek reconciliation of this space.   

That said, there remains work to be done.  And there are solutions from an interoperable standpoint and an alliance standpoint that would address not only from an air defense perspective, but an integrated air defense perspective for Turkey. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Yashwant Raj from the Hindustan Times in India.  Mr. Raj, you can unmute yourself and ask your question. 

QUESTION:  Hello, can you hear me? 



QUESTION:  Okay, thanks so much for doing this, Secretary Cooper.  I’d like to ask you about CAATSA sanctions, sir.  Could you speak a little bit about impending actions that you may be taking in the near future?  And I ask this in the context of India, which has purchased the same S-400s. 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Yeah.  Thank you, Raj.  As I mentioned in the briefing portion, a reminder essentially to our counterparts abroad on several things.   

One, the CAATSA sanctions are not designed to be punitive to a partner and ally that has got a sustainment issue or an operation or maintenance issue.  We’re certainly not looking to disrupt that.  Why?  Well, we don’t want a partner’s sovereign defense capabilities to be degraded to put their readiness at risk.  However, CAATSA the statute is designed to address new significant acquisitions, procurements of Russian systems that would put at risk anything that would be interoperable with U.S. systems or NATO systems. 

I would say that one thing, too, from an Indian perspective in particular, which is why I raised the legacy issue, CAATSA’s not, again, designed to take a punitive action in that space.  It’s to mitigate and prevent the significant addition of high-level, high-tech Russian systems.   

Also, another thing to remind is that CAATSA sanctions are of a global nature.  They’re not limited to a particular state or region, and there is no timeline.  I know that there had been questions posed to me and to other colleagues as to we thought sanctions weren’t going to be issued to Turkey because nothing had been done in the last few months.  And that’s to just remind that there’s no clock on the United States Government applying them, and there’s also no blanket waiver either.  I know some states have thought or sought that either Congress or the Executive Branch would apply a waiver on sanctions, and I just would offer that is definitely not the case. 

QUESTION:  Thank you. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  I’m going to read a question from the chat function.  It’s from China Review News Agency of Hong Kong.  “Could you please talk a little more about the arms sales to Taiwan?  Will the Trump administration have any more arms sales to Taiwan to announce?  Thank you.” 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Well, under the standard line, we don’t preview sales that we have not yet notified to Congress.  So I won’t talk about what’s in the future.  What I can talk about, which applies to the past, present, and the future, is that anything that we approve and work with our partners in the interagency to meet the defense needs of Taiwan are certainly within the frame and parameters of the Taiwan Relations Act, and we are going to as a government across administrations – are going to keep that commitment.  I mean, it’s worth noting that there have been a number of administrations over the past four decades that have kept that commitment to Taiwan’s defense needs, and I can assure you that from administration to administration, regardless of political affiliation, that commitment will remain. 

MODERATOR:  We’ll move over to NHK with Ben Marks.  Ben, you can unmute yourself. 

QUESTION:  Thank you, Assistant Secretary Cooper, for doing this briefing.  I have two quick questions on Japan.  The topic of today’s briefing is looking ahead to 2021.  I know the Secretary has mentioned that countries are now awakening to the threat of China.  Do you expect we’ll see any increase of military sales to Japan next year to help counter malign Chinese influence?  

Then, on host nation support, I’m not going to ask for a timeline but would you say that we are likely to get an agreement during the Trump administration or is it likely that this will carry on into the Biden administration?  Thank you. 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Sure.  I’ll start with the host nation agreement with Japan.  The expiry on that is March of 2021, so it is in both Japan and the United States interest to continue that work at a diligent pace.  I am not going to put a clock on that.  I know that both parties in Tokyo and Washington – I mentioned our senior negotiator, Donna Welton and her team are seeking to identify where we need to have shared points, areas that might need to be readdressed at higher ministerial levels, but that continues.  So I would just say if one’s looking at a calendar, the date that both negotiators in Tokyo are working from, are looking at backwards, is March of ’21. 

To your question about China’s defense needs, of course there are – there are significant efforts there in the modernization space for Japan.  And I would say if you look retrospectively at 2020, some of the more significant sales – and I mentioned Japan in my briefing at the top – are tied to sales for that state.  In fact, in July of this year – maybe it was August but it was definitely summer – the second-largest sale ever notified in the history of the Department of State were for F-35s for Japan, and that was this year.  That was 2020.  When we’re looking at their capabilities and requirements, certainly needs haven’t changed.  I mentioned earlier in the brief about while the pandemic has impacted some operational and logistical challenges for all governments and for all arms of industry, requirements have not changed; our programmatic needs have not changed. 

So if one looks at Japan’s modernization trajectory from what’s been reported in the past few years and looking into the future, I would just offer that the requirements have not changed, so one could imagine a constancy and focus there.  I certainly can’t speak to their management of other items in that space, but again, the requirements remain of great importance to Tokyo.  

MODERATOR:  All right.  We have a question from Alex from Turan News Agency in Azerbaijan.  Alex, please ask your question. 

QUESTION:  Yes, thank you very much, Melissa.  Great to see you.  Couple of questions here, but I do want to start with Turkey since that was the first country in your opening statement, and I really appreciate for the statement.  You mentioned testing, but I do remember on previous conversations that the redline you drew on S-400s was about operating, like, to make sure it’s not being operationalized.  Has anything changed in that front?  Because given where I am coming from, there is this conventional wisdom in our part of the world that Turkey is being punished right now for other actions such as its presence in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  Was that the case, or if there is any other reason given the timing behind the sanctions? 

And my next question: Is there any concern at all on your end that Russia is militarily increasing – increasingly inserting itself in the South Caucasus, most recently in Nagorno-Karabakh?  If so, is there anything that you could do to help the regional countries – Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia – to stand up against Russian influence?  Thank you so much. 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Yeah.  I’ll start with Nagorno-Karabakh, the work that’s being done there, the need for a peaceful negotiation, the application of the Minsk Group, and where efforts there from a multinational, multilateral space are required.  You made the observation, and I would certainly concur, is that where there is Russian presence in these cases there’s risk of disruption, and certainly one that would be a challenge to all the states and parties involved there.  It is why the United States has taken some additional focus and attention in the humanitarian space.  Some of that Secretary Pompeo announced back in November for the – for that region.   

Now, when you’re talking about the timing on Turkey and the sanctions, again, the imposition and the application of the CAATSA sanctions are directly tied to Turkey procuring and turning on the S-400 system, full stop.  Now, as to why, remember, I’ve said before there’s no clock on these.  And it – and because Turkey is a bilateral ally, is a NATO member state, we took very careful measures and a deliberate approach on addressing it.  We actually tried to find a pathway to avoid sanctions.  We actually tried to find a pathway, if you remember a year ago, to keep Turkey in the F-35 program.  But at each point or each juncture where we could have sought a reconciliation or an alternative measure, that was not met.  And so the first step we took was removing Turkey from the Joint Strike Fighter program, which, again, was not an easy decision and not an easy process for the United States or other partners in the consortium.   

And then on the imposition of sanctions, again, from a timing standpoint, had they – they could have been issued at any time.  So I would say we’re really looking at the issue at hand is the S-400 and why that’s problematic, and the need for us to find a pathway forward. 

QUESTION:  Thank you. 

MODERATOR:  We’ll take a question from Majeed from Rudaw Media Network in Iraq.  

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Thank you, Melissa, and thank you for this briefing.  My question is again about Turkey, about the recent sanctions.  I just want to understand, do you think this will – this sanction will impact your work with Turkey in a more broader sense?  As you just mentioned, Turkey is a NATO ally.  Do you think it will impact that, and has your Turkish counterpart indicated that as a response to the sanction they will decrease cooperation with – coordination with the United States on other levels, especially when it comes to the Mediterranean?  Thank you. 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Sure.  Well, let’s – I’ll go to the number of lines of communication and interlocutors that exist between the United States and Turkey.  Remember, the sanctions are on this particular entity, they’re on SSB.  The sanctions are not on the Turkish Armed Forces.  If anything, we of course have a relationship there with them again bilaterally, and of course through the NATO Alliance. 

So no, I mean, the intent of the sanctions is to actually get to what one would call in the military a course correction in this space.  The intent is to fix the situation.  How can we do that?  Of course, I already mentioned that having a system that is not only interoperable with U.S. systems but also with NATO systems would certainly get us back into that clarification, that reconciliation space. 

But no, when one’s looking at the broader relationship, again, it’s to Turkey’s benefit, it’s to the alliance’s benefit, it’s to our benefit that we remain not only in communication but in coordination and working with each other.  Because as I said, there are definitely shared interests, and again, the sanctions, while not limited to a particular timeframe, they are definitely a vehicle for course correction. 

MODERATOR:  Okay.  Thank you, Majeed.  We’re going to – we have time for a couple more questions.  We’ll move to the chat function.  I’ll read one from you, sir, from Manik Mehta.  He’s an internationally syndicated journalist.  The question is:  “India expressed an interest to buy sophisticated drones from the U.S. during the last 2+2 meetings in Delhi.  India would also like to have technology transferred to this equipment.  What is the U.S. position on technology transferred to a non-NATO partner, which, although not a former ally, has a strategic partnership with the U.S.?” 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Yeah.  So again, with anything regarding tech access and transfers – and those are very – two very different things – there are a number of factors that come into play.  It is always case by case, and what do I mean by that?  I mean case by case for the state, the partner, the ally; case by case for the particular capability or the technology.  And some of those things are based on the partner’s capability to operate, maintain, actually be a contributor in that space.  This is a part of the conversations that are currently ongoing with the United States and India on a number of platforms.  But again, not a unique conversation between these two states.  It’s one that we have with other states. 

Having certain things addressed, I would say mechanisms or rigor that help provide a framework to do more detailed, deeper work, things like information-sharing agreements, security agreements – again, much of this already being pursued bilaterally between the United States and India.  I mention that mostly for others on this call who may not be familiar, is that when one looks at a maturation or the evolution in a security cooperation relationship, or in a strategic defense relationship, this is where there are, I would say, like building blocks on top of each other that allow for the partners to get into a more interoperable space – not just from operating together or training together or conducting exercises together, but actually being able to be integrated. 

So that certainly continues at a pace.  To your question specifically about UAS capabilities, as I mentioned earlier, the Trump administration this year, we worked mightily with the MTCR states.  We worked mightily through the multilateral channels to get – to further address and update policies on UAS Category 1 capability and transfers.  We sought to do that on our own, and did so successfully, and it has certainly opened up the opportunities for states to pursue. 

So in a – just speaking in a general sense without previewing any sales, I already mentioned Taiwan today, and I mentioned UAE.  Those are the first states that have sought to acquire an MQ-9 UAS capability with the new policy that we, the Trump administration, put out this year.  I definitely anticipate there being other states seeking a similar capability.  And these are states who are seeking it for very similar reasons.  It’s to be able to have domain awareness on their borders, their ability to have domain awareness from the seaport and seashore aspects.  Again, it’s being able to have what many who do ISR collection and I would say visibility, a better soak on what is out there and to be able to see further for their defense capabilities and sovereign border protection needs. 

So I do see, again, broadly a pursuit of those capabilities by a number of states. 

MODERATOR:  Okay, thank you.  And we will end looking at Africa.  We’ve a question from Mouctar from Guineenews.  So I’ll read the question directly:  “My question would be how the U.S. sees conventional arms sales to sub-Saharan Africa from China, Turkey, Ukraine.  I’m thinking mostly from a representative – on repressive armed forces in Guinea, for instance.”  Sorry about that. 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Wait, could you just say it (inaudible)? 

MODERATOR:  Yeah, certainly.  “My question would be how the U.S. sees conventional arms sales to sub-Saharan Africa from China, Turkey, Ukraine.  I’m thinking mostly on repressive armed forces in Guinea, for instance.”  So any comments on arm sales to Africa, sir. 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Yeah.  So this goes back to the – some things that we’ve covered in other sessions, some of the challenges that come with the transfer or the sale of weapon systems from Moscow or Beijing, is that there’s the quality standpoint, but the question that was asked is less about that and more about the end use or the applicability or the interoperability with states for their sovereign defense needs, but not factoring in to humanitarian concerns, and not factoring in mitigating civilian casualties, not factoring in human rights.   

So I – since that question’s been asked, I will re-emphasize the benefits of the very transparent, the very accountable processes that occur in our arm transfers, be it in a sale fashion or through excess defense transfer, is done in a way that is not only accountable to U.S. taxpayers but it also accountable to the recipient states as to how much they cost, what they’re being used for, how they are meeting security interests for the partner and for the United States, and also how they are going to be applied in a context that matters to the average citizen in that state. 

That is what we have also framed as a total package approach.  We often I think in some circles say “total package approach,” we’re including sustainment, we’re including training, we’re including O&M, operation and maintenance on systems.  But the total package approach is also applicable when one’s talking about the transparency and the accountability in the whole arms transfer process.  That is lacking when one is looking at the competition.  From a mechanical standpoint, Moscow and Beijing, once it’s sold, it’s out the door.  There is no current concern or care or effort to really ensure that the systems are being either workable or being applied in a fashion that is consistent with the law of armed conflict, or being applied in a fashion that is consistent with international law. 

So to the question, is there a concern?  Absolutely.  And it’s why when the United States advocates our work and our efforts as a partner of choice, it’s done in the aspect of not only the bilateral incumbencies and responsibilities that we have as security partners, but the incumbency and responsibilities that we have to protect our citizens.   

So yes, there are risks with sales in certain states, some that you mentioned that may not be worth the money that they’re spent on, but also may not be applied in the way that they were designed for security needs. 

MODERATOR:  That’s been very informative.  Thank you, sir.  We’ve reached the end of our briefing today.  Assistant Secretary Cooper, thank you so much for virtually meeting with us.  To our participants, the transcript and video will be posted on our website, at  And if you publish a story as a result of this briefing, please send it to us.  You can email that directly at   

So this concludes today’s event.  I wish you all a good afternoon, and thank you for joining us.   

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Thank you all very much. 

QUESTION:  Thank you. 


U.S. Department of State

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