WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Mark Esper suggested Friday that foreign nations seeking U.S. military assistance should not fret over whether there will be political strings attached to the aid.
Meeting with Norway Minister of Defense Frank Bakke Jensen, Esper sidestepped a question about concerns by other nations in light of President Donald Trump’s apparent decision to withhold military aid approved for Ukraine in order to extract a political favor.
Instead, Esper said that “I’m pleased to say we were obligated to have that money out the door by the end of the fiscal year. At this point most of the money is out the door. And at no time or at any time has any delay in this money, this funding, affected U.S. national security.”
Esper said the criteria for another nation to receive U.S. military assistance is the value of that money to a nation’s defense and deterrence; if there is “any corruption associated that we need to take into account,” and to what extent allies could share in providing security assistance to these countries.
“So that was the focus of the Department of Defense,” Esper said.
He also pivoted when asked what actions are being taken to ensure information on the Ukraine matter is preserved and delivered to Congress and the Pentagon inspector general.
“We will provide to Congress and whomever, whatever information we can provide with regard to this incident, with regard to this matter, just as we would with any other matter,” Esper said.
President Trump has admitted he halted the delivery of nearly $400 million in congressionally-mandated security assistance funds to Ukraine over the summer, just before he asked the new president of Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.
On Wednesday, seven senators sent a letter to the Pentagon’s inspector general calling for a review into the role that the Pentagon might have played in delaying funds intended to help Ukraine.
“The delay would appear to have hindered the department’s statutory obligation to provide security assistance to Ukraine at a critical moment, and raises serious questions about whether DoD officials were involved in any scheme to target a political opponent,” the letter said.
In May, Defense Undersecretary for Policy John Rood wrote to Congress and “certified that the Government of Ukraine has taken substantial actions to make defense institutional reforms for the purposes of decreasing corruption (and) increasing accountability.”
That letter was legally required to release the $250 million of the aid that flowed from Pentagon coffers. In June, Pentagon officials publicly announced the release of the money. It was to be spent on sniper rifles, ammunition and counter-artillery radar systems and other equipment, as well as training and interoperability support. An additional $141 million was to come from the State Department.
Congress had been notified on Feb. 28 and May 23 that the White House intended to send the assistance.