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Senate panel targets Turkey's participation in F-35 program

Senate panel targets Turkey's participation in F-35 program

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of an annual defense policy bill has three provisions targeting Turkey, a NATO ally with which the United States has had increasing tensions.

Two provisions in the committee’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) relate to Turkey’s plans to purchase F-35 fighter jets, committee staffers told reporters Friday at a background briefing.

The third provision, which was revealed in Thursday’s summary of the bill, says the Senate believes Ankara should be sanctioned if it goes through with the purchase of a Russian air defense system.

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The committee’s bill is the latest sign Congress is fed up with Turkey. The House version of the NDAA, passed overwhelmingly Thursday, would stop all weapons sales to the nation until the Pentagon analyzes worsening tensions between Ankara and Washington.

In December, Turkey announced it finalized a contract with Russia for the S-400 long-range air-defense system. The sale worries NATO members because the system is not interoperable with NATO defense systems.

Washington and Ankara have also butted heads over Kurdish forces in Syria.

The United States considers the Kurdish forces the most capable local ground force fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and has aided them, including with arms. But Turkey considers them terrorists and seized Afrin, Syria, from Kurdish forces in an offensive that caused a pause in the war against ISIS.

An American pastor, Andrew Brunson, has also been detained by the Turkish government for 18 months over accusations that he aided the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in a failed coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Tensions also rose last year when 15 Turkish security officials were indicted for an attack on protestors outside the Turkish Embassy while Erdogan was in D.C. for a visit with President TrumpDonald John TrumpKey takeaways from the Arizona Senate debate Major Hollywood talent firm considering rejecting Saudi investment money: report Mattis says he thought 'nothing at all' about Trump saying he may leave administration MORE.

Washington is poised to hand over the first of an eventual 116 F-35 Lightning II fighters to Turkey, which has committed to buy the F-35A variant under the U.S.-led, multinational Joint Strike Fighter program.

But under the Senate Armed Service Committee’s NDAA, the Pentagon would be required to produce a plan to remove Turkey from the F-35 program and limit the transfer of the jets to Turkey until that report is completed.

A separate provision would also require the Pentagon to produce a report on Turkey’s place in the F-35 supply chain.

“I think there’s a question frankly as to what impact that would have on the program, supply chain and the like, and I think it was a clear statement of concern about where the relationship has been going in the context of the F-35,” a committee staffer said.

The provision requiring a plan to remove Turkey from the program was modeled after a standalone bill introduced by Sens. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisDems angered by GOP plan to hold judicial hearings in October Kavanaugh tensions linger after bitter fight GOP fractured over filling Supreme Court vacancies in 2020 MORE (R-N.C.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenBrunson release spotlights the rot in Turkish politics and judiciary Overnight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Missing journalist strains US-Saudi ties | Senators push Trump to open investigation | Trump speaks with Saudi officials | New questions over support for Saudi coalition in Yemen Senators demand answers on Trump administration backing of Saudi coalition in Yemen MORE (D-N.H.) and James LankfordJames Paul LankfordCollusion judgment looms for key Senate panel GOP loads up lame-duck agenda as House control teeters The Hill's Morning Report — Kavanaugh, Ford saga approaches bitter end MORE (R-Okla.) meant to respond to Turkey’s detention of Brunson and purchase of the S-400.

Shaheen and Tillis, members of the Armed Services Committee, touted the provision’s inclusion in the NDAA.

“I truly wish we could instead be working to pass an NDAA that would strengthen the relationship between Turkey and the United States,” Tillis said in a statement. “However, the Turkish government’s recent actions, including the wrongful treatment of Pastor Brunson, has made this congressional response both necessary and appropriate.”

Added Shaheen: “There is tremendous hesitancy in transferring sensitive F-35 planes and technology to a nation who has purchased a Russian air defense system designed to shoot these very planes down. This amendment is meant to give the Departments of State and Defense the guidance and congressional support they need to ensure that this does not happen at this time.”