May 24 2019

Turkish official says S-400 purchase cannot be penalised under U.S. sanction law - WSJ

Turkey cannot be penalised under a U.S. sanction law over purchasing Russian S-400 system as the deal between Ankara and Moscow was struck before the passage of the law, according to a senior Turkish official, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

Washington, which is concerned that the S-400s could collect data on NATO military operations, reportedly gave Turkey until the end of the first week in June to cancel its acquisition of Russian missile system. Otherwise, Ankara will risk expulsion from the F-35 program, U.S. sanctions and possible blowback from NATO. 

The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee adopted on Wednesday a resolution calling for Turkey’s expulsion from the U.S.’ F-35 fighter jet program should Ankara proceed with plans to buy the S-400 missile system.

The U.S. House bill followed a bill introduced by Senators Marco Rubio and Robert Menendez in April to enhance security cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean. That bill included increased defence support for Turkey’s neighbours and halting the delivery of 100 U.S. F-35 fighter jets ordered by Turkey if it completes its purchase of the Russian system.

A U.S. State Department official told the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that the U.S. government was willing to continue talks with Turkey, adding that Ankara would face very real and negative consequences' if it completed its S-400 delivery.

The Turkish official disputed the Trump administration’s contention that Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400 poses a threat to the trans-Atlantic alliance, the WSJ said.

The official also disputed the possibility that Turkey could be penalised under The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) as “the S-400 purchase was negotiated before the passage of the law” and it “was meant for U.S. adversaries, and that Turkey is a strategic ally”.

Turkey's Defence Minister Hulusi Akar on Tuesday said Ankara is preparing itself for the possible implementation of CAATSA sanctions. With the imposed sanctions, Turkey could face removal from the F-35 project in which Ankara currently produces about 800 parts of the fighter jets, as well as prohibitions on banking and foreign exchange transactions, and the denial of export licenses, according to Arab News.

Ankara would be taking a huge gamble if they thought U.S. President Donald Trump would block sanctions, Arab News quoted London-based economist Timothy Ash as saying. According to the analyst, sanctions, if imposed, will be catastrophic for the Turkish economy, which is already in recession.

CAATSA would hurt Turkish interests, but would also limit Trump, according to Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute.

“He could technically veto (CAATSA), but the language in the legislation is not as straightforward as other waivers included in sanctions legislation. It is not a question of if Turkey will be sanctioned, it is how, and using which of the 12 available sanctions,” he told Arab News.