WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has passed a bill that would sanction Turkey for its acquisition of the advanced Russian air defense system, the S-400, as well as for its attack on Kurdish-led forces in northeast Syria.
The bipartisan bill was sponsored by Sen. Jim Risch (R, Idaho), chairman of the committee, and Sen. Bob Menendez (D, New Jersey), the committee’s top Democrat.
The House of Representatives, which is led by Democrats, passed its own version of such legislation in October, by an overwhelming 403 to 16. However, the Republican-led Senate, deferring to the White House, had, until now, delayed any action.
But on Wednesday, the bill passed the committee by a vote of 18 to 4 and must now be approved by the full Senate.
A 2017 law, known as CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), requires the imposition of sanctions on countries purchasing Russian military equipment. However, the White House has been reluctant to do so in this case, drawing criticism even from former National Security Adviser, Amb. John Bolton, who described US President Donald Trump’s hesitation as “unreasonable.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Washington last month, and Trump hosted a meeting with five Republican senators, including Risch, in what was seen as an attempt to show the Turkish president how American democracy worked and impress upon him that Trump could not necessarily prevent Congress from acting against Turkey.
However, even as he was flying back home, Erdogan suggested to reporters accompanying him that he had no intention of abandoning the S-400, angering Risch and other lawmakers.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, speaking to Turkish media on Wednesday, warned against imposing sanctions. If the US Congress did so, he told A Haber news channel, Turkey would consider all its options.
“US lawmakers must understand they will get nowhere with impositions,” Cavusoglu said. “If the United States approaches us positively, we will also react positively. But if they take negative [actions] toward us, then we will retaliate.”
“Both Incirlik and Kürecik may come to our agenda,” he continued, referring to an air base and a radar base used by US and other NATO forces. “We don’t want to talk about the bad scenario over assumptions” about what Congress might do.
Asked about Cavusoglu’s threat, Pentagon Spokesperson, Maj. Carla Gleason, told Kurdistan 24, “We are deeply concerned with [Turkey’s] decision to continue pursuing the S-400.”
“An operational S-400 system is not consistent with Turkey’s commitments as a NATO ally,” she continued, “and it is incompatible with the F-35 [advanced fighter jet]. Resolving the S-400 issue is key to achieving progress elsewhere in the bilateral relationship.”
“It is time to re-evaluate America’s military dependence on Turkey,” Gen. Charles Wald (US Air Force, Retired), former Deputy Commander of European Command (EUCOM), wrote earlier this month in the online military journal, Breaking Defense.
It is “increasingly apparent,” Wald argued, that Turkey regularly operates “against US interests in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean,” as he cited Turkey’s S-400 purchase and its assault into northeast Syria, among other actions.
Indeed, although Sen. Ted Cruz (R, Texas) voted against the sanctions bill, he affirmed, unequivocally, his opposition to Turkey’s S-400 purchase.
“Turkey needs to get rid of the S-400 missile system,” Cruz told Kurdistan 24. “As I expressed to President Erdogan, when he was here in the United States at the Oval Office, as long as Turkey is implementing the S-400 system, they will not be receiving the US-made F-35.”
Yet for all the strong, bipartisan support in the US Congress for imposing sanctions on Turkey, the fate of the legislation is still unclear.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, Kentucky) has, so far, been reluctant to put the measure to a vote, as he has followed the lead of the White House, which remains opposed to sanctioning Turkey.
Risch told reporters that he was speaking to McConnell about putting the bill before the full Senate for a vote, although he also noted that after the new year, the Senate would be preoccupied with impeachment proceedings.
Risch also clarified the record regarding a claim made, repeatedly, by Turkish officials that they bought the S-400 because the Obama administration would not sell the Patriot, the US anti-missile system, to Turkey.
Risch called the Turkish claim “an absolute lie,” The Hill reported, as the Senator cited a statement about the offer that he and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D, New Hampshire) presented Turkish officials in October 2012.
Similarly, at last week’s NATO summit in London, French President Emmanuel Macron disputed the claim, which Trump, sitting at his side, had just repeated: that Turkey had no choice but to turn to Moscow for an air defense system.
Turkey was offered a European air defense system, the SAMP/T, but rejected the offer, although it was “totally compliant with NATO,” Macron said. “So, they decided not to be compliant with NATO.”
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany