(CNSNews.com) – Turkey’s ambassador to Washington reacted angrily Wednesday to a vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee advancing bipartisan legislation sanctioning the NATO ally for its purchase of a Russian missile defense system and its unilateral military operation in northern Syria.
After the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), wrote in a tweet about the vote that “Turkey’s actions over the past year are truly beyond the pale,” Ambassador Serdar Kilic hit back.
“What about your actions senator?” Kilic asked. “Supporting a terrorist organization with the pretext of fighting another, calling it an ally, turning a blind eye to the miseries it inflicts on the Syrian people, trying to deprive a NATO ally from its right to fight against terrorism. SHAME.”
Kilic was alluding to the U.S. refusal to view Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters a terrorists, a source of great frustration for Ankara.
Earlier, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned that U.S. access to a key air base and a radar station that is part of a NATO ballistic missile defense shield could be jeopardized in the “worst-case scenario” of the administration actually imposing sanctions.
“Incirlik [air base] may come up, and Kurecik [radar station] may come up,” he told a Turkish television network. “Everything may come up.”
U.S.-Turkey relations have been strained in recent years over numerous issues, but current U.S. criticism focuses primarily on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to buy the Russian S-400 air defense system in defiance of U.S. opposition; and the military offensive in Syria.
For its part, Turkey is vexed by U.S. support for the YPG and its refusal to extradite a self-exiled Turkish cleric whom Erdogan accuses of plotting a failed 2016 coup attempt.
President Trump last July ended Turkey’s participation in the F-35 joint strike fighter program in response to the S-400 issue. (The U.S. military points out that the S-400 is designed to shoot down aircraft like the F-35, and warns Turkey’s deployment of the S-400 could provide Russia with sensitive information on the fighter.)
The legislation marked up by the Senate panel on Wednesday includes sanctions under the 2017 Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which targets significant financial transactions with Russia’s military sector.
“As long as the S-400s are in Turkey under Turkish control, there will be no F-35s delivered to Turkey,” committee chairman Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) said on Wednesday. “This is Erdogan’s choice, and he is well aware of the consequences.”
Approval of the legislation was not unanimous. Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Rand Paul (Ky.), and Ron Johnson (Wisc.) joined Democrat Tom Udall (N.M.) to vote against it.
Paul, citing administration concerns, said it would jeopardize the executive branch’s “flexibility” in negotiating with Turkey.
Udall said a comprehensive reevaluation of the strategy of imposing sanctions was needed.
“We are rushing to consider a bill to impose sanctions on a long-time NATO ally without thorough analysis of how we got to this point, what these sanctions are intended to accomplish, and whether they are likely to succeed.”
Cruz argued that the move was premature.
“[A]s long as there is a chance of productively moving past the current impasse with Turkey, I believe sanctions that could drive Turkey further into the arms of Russia are premature, which is why I voted against the legislation in committee today,” he said in a statement.
Cruz also said, however, that Erdogan “cannot have both” the Russian S-400s and the U.S. F-35s.
‘Spirit of strategic partnership’
Several Republican senators, including Risch and Cruz, met with Erdogan during his visit to the White House last month and said they made clear to him the consequences of the S-400 purchase.
Turkey has shown no sign of backing down, however.
Live testing has begun, and Turkey’s state news agency Anadolu on Wednesday quoted Defense Minister Hulusi Akar as saying Turkey expects the U.S. “to act in accordance with the spirit of strategic partnership,” and adding, “There is no such thing as giving up on this [S-400] system anymore.”
The bill advanced by the committee, “Promoting American National Security and Preventing the Resurgence of ISIS Act,” goes beyond sanctioning Turkey. Among its provisions, reports are required on a strategy to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS and on Russian and Iranian influence in Syria. It also provides for humanitarian assistance for Syrian civilians and priority refugee designation for Syrian Kurds and other Syrians who worked with the U.S. to defeat ISIS.
The House of Representatives in a 403-16 vote last October passed a bill providing for sanctions against Turkish officials involved in the Syria offensive, and sanctions under CAATSA for the S-400 purchase.
Both the House-passed bill and the Senate legislation also require a report on the net worth of Erdogan and his family members.