The U.S. Congress has “quietly” blocked all arms sales to Turkey for a period of approximately 2 years, in an attempt to further pressure Ankara to abandon its Russian S-400 missile defense system, Defense News reported, citing unnamed sources.
According to the report, four key members of Congress, collectively or individually have frozen the sales.
This mostly relates to two deals:
- A follow-on contract for F-16 structural upgrades;
- Export licenses for U.S.-made engines that Turkey needs to complete a $1.5 billion sale of attack helicopters to Pakistan.
If true, this is significant since the US is Turkey’s largest weapons seller.
Defense News learned of the situation from a half dozen sources in Congress, the administration, and the defense industry, all of whom requested anonymity because of the sensitivities involved.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jim Risch, and House Foreign Affairs ranking member Rep. Mike McCaul, acknowledged they are part of the freeze after they were contacted by Defense News.
The two other lawmakers who can sign off on foreign military sales ― House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez, are also part of the situation, according to the unnamed sources.
“There is serious concern over [Turkey’s purchase of the S-400] in both parties and in both chambers on the Hill, and until the issues surrounding this purchase are resolved I cannot and will not support weapon sales to Turkey,” Risch said.
“Turkey is a longtime strategic ally of the United States. That relationship has deteriorated dramatically in recent years and is quickly deteriorating further,” Risch said. “President Erdogan’s purchase of the Russian S-400 significantly changed the nature of our relationship. This purchase benefits our adversary Putin and threatens the integrity of the NATO Alliance.”
Engel has refused to sign off on military sales to Turkey since mid 2018, while Risch has maintained his own hold since Turkey officially took possession of the S-400 in July 2019, according to multiple congressional sources.
“Nobody has signed off on anything, roughly, for the last year,” said one congressional source. “Nothing moves in this process until all four of the offices have said, ‘yea.’”
A second congressional source described Turkey taking possession of the S-400 as “kind of, pardon my language, an oh shit moment.”
“Not only was it intentionally provocative, but it happened the day after Erdogan was in the Oval Office,” the source said.
Currently the US Congress appears dead set on sanctioning Turkey for the purchase and it might even be in such a way that US President Donald Trump can’t veto the decision.
“Right now, the mood [in Congress] toward Turkey is enormous,” the source said. “Unless Turkey wants to change the narrative and do a mea culpa, the president could very easily lose a veto override vote.”
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