When Ankara looked to Russia to meet its air defense needs and selected the S-400 Triumf system, it set off alarm bells in Washington as defense leaders and politicians alike fretted over the systems being used by a country also using the advanced F-35 stealth aircraft. While Turkey’s ejection from the F-35 program was very high-profile, behind the scenes and off the headlines, several lawmakers were busy making sure Turkey didn’t get anything else from the US, either.
According to a Wednesday story by Defense News, the chairpersons and ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee - the so-called “four corners” whose approval of arms sales is necessary for the US State Department to move forward - have refused to approve any to Ankara in the wake of the S-400 deal.
“Nobody has signed off on anything, roughly, for the last year,” an anonymous congressional source told the outlet. “Nothing moves in this process until all four of the offices have said, ‘yea.’”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-ID) and House Foreign Affairs ranking member Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX) both acknowledged to Defense News their role in the obstruction, but the other two lawmakers - House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) - refused to comment.
“There is serious concern over [Turkey’s purchase of the S-400] in both parties and in both chambers on the Hill, and until the issues surrounding this purchase are resolved I cannot and will not support weapon sales to Turkey,” Risch told Defense News.
“Turkey is a longtime strategic ally of the United States. That relationship has deteriorated dramatically in recent years and is quickly deteriorating further,” Risch continued. “President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s purchase of the Russian S-400 significantly changed the nature of our relationship. This purchase benefits our adversary [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and threatens the integrity of the NATO Alliance.”
Many lawmakers are reportedly upset that US President Donald Trump has not pursued sanctions against Turkey under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), a law that seeks to dissuade countries from buying advanced military equipment from Iran, Russia or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
However, with the S-400 system in particular, several nations have flouted potential punishment from Washington and bought them anyway, including India, China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
“Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 is unacceptable and undermines NATO’s mission to deter Russian aggression,” McCaul told Defense News. “The Administration must impose the sanctions required by law in response to this purchase. Turkey must reverse course on this destabilizing action to renew the United States’ confidence in our defense relationship.”
The outlet also noted that neither the Trump administration nor the defense contractors whose sales are being held up have mounted a significant effort to break through the deadlock, instead waiting to see if the November election brings a change in policy toward Turkey by either Trump’s administration or a new government under Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
“We’re operating under the impression that anything that requires congressional notification will not move forward this year,” an industry source told Defense News.
Ankara hasn’t given up on trying to secure some of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II fighters, either. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said late last month that the Turkish armed forces were able and willing to resolve any and all problems regarding the F-35 and S-400 being used in the same environment.
However, some lawmakers have proposed the situation be resolved in the opposite direction: Sen. John Thune (R-SD) reportedly floated the idea in June that the US buy Turkey’s S-400 systems.