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Senate panel advances Turkey sanctions bill despite Trump objections

Senate panel advances Turkey sanctions bill despite Trump objections
© Aaron Schwartz

A Senate panel on Wednesday advanced a sanctions bill targeting Turkey over its offensive in Syria and its purchase of a Russian missile defense system.

In an 18-4 vote, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced the bill despite objections from the Trump administration and Ankara.

“We find ourselves at an inflection point with Turkey,” committee ranking member Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate confirms Thomas-Greenfield as UN ambassador The Memo: Biden bets big on immigration Biden pushes expanded pathways to citizenship as immigration bill lands in Congress MORE (D-N.J.) said. “Turkey’s actions over the past year are truly beyond the pale.”

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U.S. lawmakers have been furious with Turkey since October when it launched an offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces who were integral to the U.S.-led fight against ISIS.

President TrumpDonald TrumpSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Georgia secretary of state withholds support for 'reactionary' GOP voting bills MORE also faced widespread criticism for announcing a withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria, which paved the way for Turkey’s incursion.

Congress’s patience with Ankara had already been wearing thin since Turkey took delivery over the summer of the Russian-made S-400 air defense system. Turkey went through with the purchase despite warnings from U.S. officials the system was a threat to the U.S.-made F-35 fighter jet and would mean sanctions.

In response to the S-400 purchase, the Pentagon kicked Turkey out of the F-35 program. But the Trump administration has not yet imposed sanctions over the purchase, despite the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) requiring sanctions on those who do business with Russia’s defense sector.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJim Elroy Risch11 GOP senators slam Biden pick for health secretary: 'No meaningful experience' Biden to redirect .4M in aid to Myanmar, sanction key military figures Can Palestine matter again? MORE (R-Idaho) argued Wednesday that Turkey “thumbed their nose at us” with the S-400 purchase and that “if we just look the other way on this ... we will be viewed as weak.”

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Speaking to reporters after the committee vote, Risch said he was in discussions with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKlain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Murkowski undecided on Tanden as nomination in limbo MORE (R-Ky.) to bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote, but cautioned that the chamber is expected to be busy soon with impeachment proceedings.

McConnell has previously expressed concern about passing a Turkey sanctions bill because it is a NATO ally.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Finger-pointing on Capitol riot; GOP balks at Biden relief plan Sanders votes against Biden USDA nominee Vilsack Senate confirms Vilsack as Agriculture secretary MORE (R-Ky.) relayed the Trump administration’s objections to the sanctions bill, saying the administration penned letters raising concerns. Among the issues raised was that the sanctions would take away “flexibility” in negotiating with Turkey, said Paul, who voted against the bill.

The other “no” votes Wednesday came from Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzKlain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' Senators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Shelby endorses Shalanda Young for OMB director should Biden pull Tanden's nomination MORE (R-Texas), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGrassley says he'll decide this fall whether to run in 2022 Top cops deflect blame over Capitol attack NRSC chair Scott calls for party unity: 'The Republican Civil War is now cancelled' MORE (R-Wis.) and Tom UdallTom UdallOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Haaland courts moderates during tense confirmation hearing | GOP's Westerman looks to take on Democrats on climate change | White House urges passage of House public lands package Udalls: Haaland criticism motivated 'by something other than her record' Senate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee MORE (D-N.M.).

The House passed a Turkey sanctions bill in October in an overwhelming, veto-proof 403-16 vote.

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Risch, though, had wanted to hold off on passing a sanctions bill to give space for the Trump administration and Ankara to negotiate a resolution to the S-400 issue.

Risch and several other Republican senators met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan when he visited the White House last month and relayed a warning that he must get rid of the S-400.

But since then Erdoğan has shown no signs of reversing course. On his way home from Washington, Erdoğan said he would not give up the S-400, and a couple of weeks ago, Turkey tested the system’s radars by flying U.S.-made F-16s over Ankara.

On Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu suggested Turkey could retaliate against sanctions by booting U.S. troops from Incirlik Air Base and Kurecik Radar Station. Incirlik has been a major launchpad for U.S. military operations against ISIS. The United States is also said to be housing about 50 nuclear warheads at Incirlik.

Turkey has claimed — and Trump has echoed — that it turned to the S-400 because the U.S. wouldn’t sell it the Patriot missile defense system.

The U.S. has offered to sell Turkey the Patriot since the Obama administration, but would not share sensitive technology Turkey wants to be able to build its own weapons.

Risch called the idea that the U.S. wouldn’t sell Turkey the Patriot an “absolute lie.”

“Any statement by the Turks that we wouldn’t sell them the Patriot is an absolute lie,” Risch said, citing an October 2012 statement he and Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSenators press Treasury to prioritize Tubman redesign Can Palestine matter again? Senate signals broad support for more targeted coronavirus relief checks MORE (D-N.H.) delivered to the Turks about the offer.