US senators press Trump to commit to Turkey sanctions

US senators attempt to force Trump into legally-mandated sanctions on Turkey over S-400 purchase
4 min read
19 July, 2019
A 2017 law mandates sanctions over transactions with Russia's military, but Trump has so far refused to commit to sanctions on Turkey over its procurement of the S-400 system.
Trump has expressed sympathy with Turkish President Erdogan over the issue [Anadolu]
Both Republican and Democratic politicians have pressed US President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on Turkey after Ankara went through with its purchase of a controversial Russian missile defence system in defiance of repeated warnings from Washington.

Ankara last week began receiving deliveries for the Russian S-400 system from Moscow, putting an end to a months-long debate over whether Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would back down to threats from the United States and other NATO allies over the weapons deal.

The White House has threatened sanctions over the S-400 purchase and on Wednesday kicked Turkey out of NATO's F-35 stealth fighter jet program, repeating the widely held belief that Ankara's possession of the Russian system would threaten the security of the F-35s and other NATO defences.

A bipartisan group of US lawmakers say that simply removing Turkey from the F-35 programme is not enough, and that the law mandates sanctions for doing business with Russia's military.

But President Trump has been reluctant to commit to sanctions over the issue.

In a meeting with Erdogan on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Japan last month, Trump expressed sympathy with the Turkish leader over the issue and blamed former President Barack Obama for "refusing" to sell the US' own Patriot missiles to Ankara.

Trump emphasised those claims and his sympathy for Turkey, which he said had been "forced" to purchase the S-400s, on Wednesday.

Speaking again on the issue on Thursday, the president made contradictory claims, initially saying he was not yet considering punitive measures against Turkey but then claiming his administration was "looking at" the matter. 

"It's a very, very difficult situation for a lot of reasons," he told reporters before a meeting with the Dutch prime minister, according to Al-Jazeera. "So, we're looking at it. We'll see what we do. We haven't announced that yet."

While Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week he was "confident" the president would implement sanctions, the Turkish president has claimed that Trump will waive the punitive measures.

Sanctions mandated under CAATSA

Republican Senators Rick Scott and Todd Young on Thursday introduced a resolution calling for sanctions on Ankara. 

Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, separately urged sanctions as "mandated" by the 2017 sanctions law known as CAATSA (Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act).

The bill mandates sanctions for transactions with the Russian defence and intelligence industries, in addition to numerous other measures targeting North Korea, Russia and Iran.

"The law clearly mandates sanctions penalties for 'significant transactions' with the Russian Federation's defence and intelligence sectors, which would clearly include the delivery of an S-400 system," he said in an emailed statement according to Reuters.

If approved, the Republican senators' resolution would call for the full implementation of sanctions under CAATSA, which mandates that the president choose five among a possible 12 sanctions.

Possible sanctions including banning visas, barring transactions with the US financial system and denying export licenses.

But the act does not set any timeline regarding the imposition of sanctions or the issuing of a waiver, meaning that Trump could delay indefinitely even if he agrees to sanctioning Ankara.

Scott and Young's resolution also calls for Trump to convene talks at NATO to discuss threats posed by Russia and to think over Turkey's continued inclusion in NATO.

Such a resolution would have no force of law, but its passing by the Republican-controlled Senate could increase pressure on the Trump administration to act.

Menendez has said he would introduce legislation that would force the administration into sanctions on Ankara if Trump refuses to do so under CAATSA.

The European Union on Monday approved its own punitive measures targeting Ankara for Turkish oil and gas exploration off the coast of Cyprus.

The move came after Erdogan repeatedly ignored warnings by the European Union and the United States to cease its drilling activities 

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