Legislation proposed in the U.S. Senate last week could allow for the United States to purchase the Russian S-400 air defense missile system from Turkey.
Proposed by Sen. John Thune, Senate Majority Whip, the amendment to the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), would allow the purchase of the systems out of the procurement account of the U.S. military if it passes the legislation and signed by the president.
The amendment is one of dozens proposed by members of the Congress on Congressional Records and includes a condition to ensure that the proceeds of the purchase by the U.S. government ”will not be utilized to purchase or otherwise acquire military apparatus deemed by the US to be incompatible with the NATO.” In other words, the Senate proposal seeks a guarantee to prevent Ankara from buying another set of Russian or Chinese weapon systems with the money it would receive selling S-400s to the US under the proposal.
Meanwhile, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch, R-Idaho, has also introduced an amendment that would take a tougher stance, mandating the Trump administration to implement CAATSA sanctions on Turkey within 30 days of passage of the NDAA, Defense News reported. CAATSA foresees a country that purchases a major defense system from Russia should be sanctioned.
NATO allies Turkey and the United States have been at odds over Ankara’s purchase last year of the S-400s, which Washington maintains are incompatible with the alliance’s defense systems.
On the heels of the delivery, the United States cut Turkey’s participation in the F-35 fighter jet program. The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee has authorized the U.S. Air Force to withhold six F-35s fighter jets that were sold to Turkey after modifications. The six jets originally delivered to the Turkish government but never left the U.S. soil.
Washington has also threatened Ankara with sanctions over the systems.
But U.S. President Donald J. Trump has so far successfully halted sanctions packages at the Congress from hitting the Turkish economy.
The full agreement on S-400s between Turkey and Russia is not publicly available, therefore it is not known whether it allows Turkey to sell the system to the third party, in this case, the U.S. government. One US-based Turkey expert said that it is probably not possible for Turkey to just sell the systems to the US.
Sen. Thune went to Turkey in February 2020 along with Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Jerry Moran, visiting NATO base in İzmir and held meetings in Istanbul.
.@LANDCMD: ABD’li Senatörler, NATO Müttefik Kara Komutanlığı’nı ziyaret etti. Kansas Senatörü @JerryMoran’ın başkanlığındaki ABD Kongre Heyeti, #İzmir ’deki #NATO Karargahı’na geldi. Heyeti, NATO Müttefik Kara Komutanı @USArmy LTG @JT_Thomson_Army karşıladı. #LANDCOM https://t.co/9N6CCXgrd4
— U.S. Embassy Turkey (@USEmbassyTurkey) February 21, 2020
The Turkish government originally announced that it would activate the system by April of this year, but has postponed plans, citing the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, several Turkish government officials stated Ankara has not changed its plans on the system.
Former counselor for political-military affairs at the U.S. embassy in Ankara, Edward Stafford, said in a recent podcast that, if Erdoğan wants to contribute positively to the re-election efforts of Trump, he would be wise to wait until after the November elections before starting the system.
Having spent considerable political capital to halt sanctions against the Turkish government, Trump may well be angered if Erdoğan chooses to go ahead with the activation before the elections, which would make Trump’s investment in the friendship with Erdoğan an utter failure.
Erdoğan-Trump relations have been under the spotlight in recent days due to a new book by Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton’s, which highlights Trump’s apparent willingness to accommodate Erdoğan’s requests, at the expense of the U.S. rule of law.
In the book, Bolton, among other claims, reports that Trump was very receptive to the idea of dropping charges against one of the largest public lenders of Turkey, Halkbank.
Halkbank was indicted for its role in circumventing the U.S. sanctions against Iran between 2010 and 2016. Iranian-Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab was convicted in early 2018 for his role in the sanction busting scheme which, according to the U.S. court documents, was as much as 20 billion dollars. Zarrab, during the court proceedings in late 2017, gave days of testimonies to detail the scheme, in which Halkbank was as the center.
The Turkish government has repeatedly denied the charges and claimed they are politically motivated efforts by members of the Gülen movement, which Ankara accuses of orchestrating the 2016 coup attempt.
In the book, Bolton appears to have believed in the charges and wanted the U.S. prosecutors treat the bank according to the U.S. laws.
New York prosecutors filed an indictment against the Halkbank days after Turkish Armed Forces rolled their armored vehicles and proxy forces into Syrian soil in October of 2019 in a cross-border military operation targeting Kurdish forces.
The case against Halkbank is currently ongoing in the New York South District, albeit at a slow pace due to the pandemic.