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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Congress expected to vote next week on blocking F-35 sales to Turkey

The vote will take place just days before the scheduled transfer of the first batch of F35 fighters

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, meets with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu at the State Department in Washington, Monday, June 4, 2018. 
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, meets with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu at the State Department in Washington, Monday, June 4, 2018. 

Just days after Turkish foreign minister Melvut Cavusoglu appeared confident that the transfer of F-35 Lightning II fighters from the US to Turkey would take place by June 21, the US Senate is readying to vote next week on a bill that would block such transaction.

The national defence authorization act (NDAA) was amended this week to include a full section intended to block any F-35 sales to Turkey, the ammendement was filed by Senators Jeanne Shaheen, Thom Tillis and James Lankford. A spokeswoman at the Senate Armed Services Committee told The National that the Senate will “likely vote on the NDAA next week”, just days before the transfer of F-35 jets to Turkey is due to take place.

If passed, the bill would force the Pentagon to halt the transfer until it can provide a four-section report to Congress addressing key issues od Turkish behaviour, paticularly its military deals with Russia and continued detention of US pastor Andrew Brunson.

On Monday, Mr Cavusoglu told reporters after meeting with his US counterpart Mike Pompeo "we do not respond well to threats. As of F-35, we have already signed the deal. On June 21, there is going be a transfer for the F-35s. There is no negative development.”

But days later, the Senate Armed Services Committee disclosed the NDAA, a 1140-page document which including detailed measures and 16 mentions of Turkey.

Regarding Turkey, the document calls for removal of Ankara from the F–35 program. In 2002, Turkey became a member of the Joint Strike Fighter program and has at least 100 F-35 fighters on order from the United States.

But the call for nixing the deal and removal of Turkey is prompted by two main issue, the Russian-Turkish military ties and the arrest of Mr Brunson.

Primarily it warns Turkey that if it “purchases the S–400 air defense system from the Russian Federation”, that would be a violation of the “Countering Russian Influence in Europe and Eurasia Act” passed by Congress in 2017. If the S-400 deal is concluded, the bill calls on Mr Trump to apply sanctions on “any individual or entity” engaged in it.

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The bill finds the S-400 deal a threat to the security of the NATO alliance, and calls on US Secretary to Defence James Mattis to submit “a plan to remove the Government of the Republic of Turkey from participation in the F–35 program.”

The four-step plan includes:

1-Steps required to unwind industrial participation of Turkish industry in the manufacturing and assembly of the F–35 program.

2-The costs associated with replacing tooling and other manufacturing materials held by Turkish industry.

3-Timelines associated with the removal of the Government of the Republic of Turkey and Turkish industry from participation in the F–35 program, so as to cause the least impact on the remaining international program partners.

4-The steps required to prohibit the transfer of any F–35 aircraft currently owned and operated, by the Government of the Republic of Turkey, from the territory of the United States.

The bill also makes mention of Mr Brunson who US authorities claim is “unlawfully and wrongfully detained” by the Turkish government. The US pastor was detained in 2016, on charges of engaging with terrorist groups.

The senate bill says “the senior leadership of the [Turkish] government, bears direct responsibility for the health and safety of Andrew Brunson while he remains in the custody.” It adds that “congress will not tolerate any foreign government’s efforts to use United States citizens for political leverage.”

If the bill passes in its current form, it will likely add to the current strain on relations between Ankara and Washington.

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