U.S. Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced a bill on April 9 requiring President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on Turkish officials responsible for the arbitrary detentions of U.S. citizens and consular staff. The bill could fortify and expand U.S. sanctions already in place due to Turkey’s arbitrary incarceration of U.S. nationals and employees.
Wicker and Cardin serve as the senior senators on the U.S. Helsinki Commission, which promotes human rights, democracy, and cooperation in Europe and Central Asia. Their bill, the Defending U.S. Citizens and Diplomatic Staff from Political Persecutions Act (S.1075), would address wrongful detentions through the application of Global Magnitsky sanctions to senior Turkish officials responsible for such abuses.
Turkish authorities detained three U.S. citizens and three local U.S. consular employees in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt in July 2016, for which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has indirectly blamed Washington. Along with some 150,000 detained Turkish and European citizens, these hostages have been accused of espionage, coup plotting, or membership in a terrorist organization – cases based on paper-thin evidence.
Washington has responded with several punitive measures. In October 2017, the U.S. briefly suspended visa services to Turkish citizens. And last summer, Trump imposed Global Magnitsky sanctions on Turkey’s ministers of justice and interior, while doubling tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum exports. The U.S. decision to review and terminate Turkey’s eligibility to participate in a preferential trade program also appears to be a punitive move. Turkey has since freed one U.S. citizen and one consular worker, prompting the U.S. to drop its sanctions on the two Turkish ministers. The other U.S. hostages, however, remain jailed or under house arrest in Turkey.
Turkey is also facing serious consequences for its purchase of the S-400 air defense system from Russia. The purchase could directly trigger U.S. sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which prohibits companies from dealing with Russia’s defense sector.
In the meantime, the U.S. is also threatening to cancel Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program. The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act and Consolidated Appropriations Act together bar the use of Defense and State Department funds for the delivery of U.S.-made F-35 jets to Turkey until Ankara walks away from the S-400 deal. In a pointed New York Times op-ed on April 9, Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jim Risch (R-ID), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) warned, “By the end of the year, Turkey will have either F-35 advanced fighter aircraft on its soil or a Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system. It will not have both.”
Meanwhile, another new bill, the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Partnership Act of 2019, introduced on April 10 by Menendez and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), also seeks to bar the transfer of F-35 jets to Turkey until Ankara drops the S-400 deal.
But Ankara appears unlikely to change course. Yesterday, Erdogan reiterated that the S-400 purchase was a “done deal,” saying the missile was in the delivery stage. His foreign ministry assured that it would “look elsewhere” for alternatives to the F-35, and even threatened to buy more S-400s, “if the United States does not want to sell the Patriot.”
Ankara has been no less obstinate regarding its persecution U.S. nationals and consular staff. As this week’s bills demonstrate, there is growing frustration in Congress on both sides of the aisle. If Erdogan continues to escalate tensions with Washington, the additional sanctions facing Ankara may not only devastate Turkey’s ties with the U.S., but also damage its collapsing economy.
Aykan Erdemir is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Merve Tahiroglu is a research analyst. Both contribute to FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP) and the Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). Follow Aykan and Merve on Twitter @aykan_erdemir and @MerveTahiroglu. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD, @FDD_CEFP, and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.