Top Democrat introduces measure to require Trump to recognize Turkish human rights abuses in Syria

Top Democrat introduces measure to require Trump to recognize Turkish human rights abuses in Syria
© Aaron Schwartz

A top Democratic senator is looking to force the Trump administration to report on human rights violations by Turkey in its offensive in northern Syria.

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate passes legislation supporting Hong Kong protesters Graham blocks resolution recognizing Armenian genocide after Erdoğan meeting Trump encounters GOP resistance to investigating Hunter Biden MORE (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced Tuesday he will introduce a resolution that would require the Trump administration to provide Congress with a report on whether Turkey has committed human rights abuses in Syria.

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The resolution invokes the Foreign Assistance Act, meaning Menendez could force a vote on it 10 days after it’s introduced.

Using the Foreign Assistance Act also means the report could be a first step in ending U.S. security assistance to Turkey. Under the law, the administration would have 30 days to give Congress the report, after which Congress can vote to end any aspect of security assistance.

"Our strongest allies should be those in NATO, those who have made a treaty commitment to mutual defense, those who share our values, those who work in concert with us to face the threat from countries like Russia and Iran with common cause" Menendez said in a floor speech Tuesday.

"Unfortunately, Turkey under [President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan embodies none of those things," Menendez continued. "Turkey under Erdoğan should not, Turkey under Erdoğan cannot be seen as an ally."

Congress has been fuming since President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE announced last month that he would withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, paving the way for Turkey’s long-threatened offensive against Kurdish forces.

Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish forces terrorists, but the United States partnered with the Kurds in the fight against ISIS, relying on them to do the most dangerous ground fighting.

“Provided with a green light from Trump administration, President Erdoğan’s invasion of Syria to attack our Kurdish partners is an unconscionable act of brutality that has caused death and untold suffering among our Kurdish friends and partners,” Menendez said Tuesday.

“There must be a full accounting by Turkey of these atrocities,” he added. “That is why I am today introducing an expedited resolution of request for the secretary of State to inform the Senate in 30 days of the extent of Turkey’s human rights abuses in Syria.”

The resolution would also call for an overview of the steps the United States has taken to promote Turkey’s respect of human rights in Syria, as well as a determination of whether Turkey’s actions have resulted in the release of ISIS fighters or other extremists inside Syria.

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In response to Trump’s removal of troops and Turkey’s subsequent offensive, the House passed a resolution opposing the withdrawal and a bill that would sanction Turkish officials. The House also last week passed a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide, infuriating the Turkish government.

Menendez on Tuesday called on the Senate to pass the Armenian genocide resolution.

“And as momentum builds following the passage of the Armenian genocide resolution in the House of Representatives, Turkey and its lobbyists are working overtime to block it in the Senate,” he said.

"The Armenian genocide happened. It was a monstrous act, and those who deny it are complicit in a terrible lie," he continued. "Genocide is genocide. The Senate should not bow to this pressure, it cannot bow to this pressure. Let’s pass this resolution today."

Menendez, who co-sponsored a Turkey sanctions bill with Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischSenators voice support for Iran protesters but stop short of taking action Bipartisan senators urge national security adviser to appoint 5G coordinator McConnell urges Trump to voice support for Hong Kong protesters MORE (R-Idaho), also urged the Senate to “deliberate” the sanctions measure. He added that he and Risch are “updating the language to condition sanctions based on Turkey’s actions” and that he hopes the committee will mark up the bill “in the coming days.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: Fireworks on health care expected at Dem debate | Trump FDA pick dodges on vaping ban | Trump to host meeting on youth vaping Friday | AMA calls for immediate vaping ban GOP senator blocks vote on House-passed Violence Against Women Act On The Money: Senate scraps plan to force second shutdown vote | Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny | McConnell rips House Dems for holding up trade deal MORE (R-Ky.) has cautioned against sanctioning a NATO ally, saying after the House vote on Turkey sanctions that senators should "carefully examine" if a broad sanctions bill "is really the best solution."

Erdoğan is scheduled to visit the White House on Nov. 13. Three unnamed Turkish officials told Reuters that Erdoğan is reconsidering the trip in protest of the House votes on sanctions and the Armenian genocide.

Menendez in his speech urged Trump to cancel the meeting and “side with the bipartisan consensus in the Senate and House that Turkey under Erdoğan is no friend to the United States.” 

"Do not ruin our reputation further by fawning over yet another authoritarian leader. You want to repair the damage that’s been done? Show our commitment to our allies by inviting the Syrian Kurdish leadership to the Oval Office for a meeting on how we prevent a resurgent of ISIS," Menendez said.

"That’s how you protect our interests," he added. "That’s how you protect our national security."