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US Congress secretly blocked major arms sales to Turkey for almost two years

August 13, 2020 at 3:46 pm

US Congress on Capitol Hill, Washington DC, on 6 December 2019 [Wikipedia]

Key members of the US Congress have been found to have subtly frozen and blocked all of the country’s major arms sales to Turkey over almost two years, in efforts to pressure it to abandon its acquirement of the Russian S-400 missile defence system and punish its policies.

In a report by the US-based Defense News, which cites several sources within Congress, the government, and the defence industry on condition of anonymity, the four prominent members of Congress caused a number of arms sales to freeze or be stuck in limbo.

According to the sources, the congressmen consist of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch who represents Idaho, House Foreign Affairs ranking member Mike McCaul who represents Texas, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel representing New York, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Senator Bob Menendez who represents New Jersey. Both Risch and McCaul acknowledged their involvement, but Engel and Menendez did not comment on the investigation.

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Either individually or collectively, the actions of these members of Congress resulted in at least two major deals being in limbo: a contract for the structural upgrades of F-16 fighter jets and the export licences for US-manufactured engines that Turkey requires to complete the sale of attack helicopters to Pakistan worth $1.5 billion. The total number of arms sales they blocked, however, remains unknown.

The congressmens’ actions come amid increasing tensions between the two nations in recent years, over a myriad of issues including Turkey’s purchase of the Russian-made S-400 air missile defence system, its growing ties with Russia in general, and its military intervention into north-east Syria against the US’ Kurdish allies.

Speaking to Defense News via email to justify his actions, 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.” The turning point in that relationship was reportedly the purchase of the S-400 system, which “significantly changed the nature of our relationship. This purchase benefits our adversary Putin and threatens the integrity of the NATO Alliance.”

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This subsequently led to the freezing of the deals, which was achieved by an opportunity granted to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee during the sales process, in which they could discourage and prevent the US State Department from actually approving the agreements. These four figures used their positions to block the sales during that notification period.

While some of those members have acted against the deals from 2018, others took their stance the following year when Turkey acquired the S-400 system. One congressional source reported that “Nobody has signed off on anything, roughly, for the last year…Nothing moves in this process until all four of the offices” approve the sales.

Such treatment is reportedly usually practiced by Congress when it intends to punish a country for a particular military or political action, with sales of major weapons systems and vehicles blocked. Attempts to do so were made last year in regards to arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. US Congress has not inflicted that punishment on Turkey since 1978, however, following Turkey’s intervention in Cyprus.