Republican-Led Senate Panel Advances Turkey Sanctions Bill

(Bloomberg) -- The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to advance sanctions against Turkey, a NATO ally, for that country’s military offensive in northern Syria and for its purchase of a Russian-made missile system.

The bill, S. 2641, passed the committee 18 to 4, which means it will be up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to decide whether to bring it to a vote in the full Senate. McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, previously warned Congress to “think extremely carefully” before using sanctions, a tool that could push a NATO ally “into the arms of the Russians.”

The proposal would penalize Turkey’s leaders, energy industry and financial system involved in military action in Syrian territory controlled by the Kurds. The measure, sponsored by Chairman Jim Risch and ranking Democrat Bob Menendez, also includes a provision to enforce the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which could freeze Turkish assets, restrict visas and limit access to credit as punishment for purchasing the Russian-made weapons.

Turkey suspects that America backs Kurdish aspirations for self-rule in Syria by providing arms and training to members of YPG militia, which played a leading role in defeating Islamic State and has been at the heart of Turkey-U.S. tensions.

YPG, PKK

Turkey sees the fighters as a critical threat given their link to the separatist PKK, an autonomy-seeking Kurdish group Turkey has battled for decades. The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union.

The reason behind the sanctions bill is “a deep disappointment over the blow we’ve inflicted on a carefully planned project” to advance separatist Kurdish aspirations in Syria, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “Such attempts serve no goal but to harm Turkish-U.S. relations.”

Read More: GOP-Led Panel Eyes Russia, Turkey Sanctions, Countering Trump

U.S. lawmakers were furious when Turkey began testing the S-400 missile system acquired from Russia, and they urged the administration to follow through with the CAATSA sanctions already required by law. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s refusal to heed their warnings when he was in Washington last month led to renewed calls for the Senate to act on the additional sanctions measure.

Erdogan late Wednesday spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin and discussed bilateral and regional issues, including Syria, his office said.

Halkbank, Debt

The Risch-Menendez bill would also sanction state bank Halkbank within 15 days of the law being enacted, but it doesn’t include the ban on U.S. purchases of Turkish sovereign debt that Senator Lindsey Graham added to a bill he introduced with Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

The panel’s vote on a separate bill to sanction Russia was delayed because Graham, the measure’s sponsor, missed the Senate Foreign Relations meeting while he was at a session of the Judiciary Committee, which he chairs. A vote on the bill, the Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act, or DASKA, could be put off until next week or even next year.

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