U.S. House and Senate united against Turkey's S-400 purchase

Republican and Democratic leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday submitted a bill urging the Turkish government to stop its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defence system, complementing bilateral opposition to Turkish procurement previously expressed by the U.S. Senate. 

Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy led a bipartisan group in co-signing House Resolution 372, calling on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to avoid a military relationship with Russia that could jeopardize the U.S.-Turkish partnership and Turkey’s role in NATO. The resolution was originally prepared by House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel and ranking member McCaul.

The bill calls for the termination of Turkey's participation in F-35 production and a halt to delivery of F-35 aircraft to Turkey if it goes ahead with its planned acquisition of the Russian S-400 systems.

Chairman of the powerful House Foreign Affairs' Committee, Eliot Engel, said in a press release: 

"We’re troubled by the direction that President Erdoğan is taking our important NATO ally. His attacks on democracy, civil society, and the free press are deeply concerning... And cosying up to Vladimir Putin is unacceptable. The U.S. Congress will not stand idly by if Erdoğan pursues the Russian S-400 air and missile defense system. This legislation sends a clear message to Erdoğan — if you continue down this path, you’ll face serious consequences.”

U.S. and NATO officials have repeatedly warned Ankara not to go ahead with the S-400 purchase, arguing that it would compromise the next-generation F-35 fighter jets, more than 100 of which are slated to be transferred to Turkey.

In the press release, eight congressional leaders warned Turkey it had to choose either the F-35s or the S-400.

In a New York Times op-ed last month, two Republican and two Democratic senators made this same point clear to Ankara. “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," they wrote. 

A week prior, the Pentagon had announced it would halt shipments to Turkey of F-35 parts and materials. 

In February, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019 (§ 7046) blocked funding for the delivery of F-35s to Turkey unless a report on Turkey’s potential purchase of Russian S-400 missiles is submitted. The report is due by November 2019. 

Meanwhile, several other bills have been introduced in the Senate and the House calling for the halting of the F-35 sale to Turkey if it completes the S-400 purchase. 

In early April, Senators Marco Rubio and Robert Menendez introduced a bill to enhance security cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean that also included such a stipulation.

A bipartisan trio of senior House Armed Services Committee members sponsored another such bill focused on NATO security in early May.

“Operating the S-400 alongside the F-35 would compromise the aircraft and its sensitive technology, impact interoperability among NATO allies, and most importantly pose serious risk to our shared defense and security,"  Senator John Garamendi said in a statement.

A U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Tuesday released an early version of a spending bill that seeks to prevent the shipment of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey amid increased tensions between the NATO allies over Ankara’s planned purchase of the Russian S-400 air defence system, Reuters reported.

The bill by the House of Representatives appropriations committee forbids the use of federal funds to deliver the F-35 fighter jets to Turkey. "None of the funds appropriated by this or any other Act may be made available to deliver F-35 air vehicles or any other F-35 weapon system equipment to the Republic of Turkey," said the bill. 

One Western diplomat in Washington closely following the situation said this bill's language, perhaps for the first time, does not even tie the F-35 transfers to the S-400 purchase, but simply forbids any funds to be used to deliver those jets to Turkey.

Representatives Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Michael McCaul (R-TX), the Committee’s Ranking Member; Steny Hoyer (D-MD), House Majority Leader, and Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), House Minority Leader; Nita M. Lowey (D-NY), Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Kay Granger (R-TX), the Committee’s Ranking Member; and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Doug Collins (R-GA), the Committee’s Ranking Member endorsed the resolution. 

The S-400 was developed, among other things, by Russia to fight and destroy the fighter aircraft like the F-35, and the Pentagon claims that Turkey operating both the F-35 and S-400 in the same army would give Russia access to detailed radar return data from the F-35

A dozen of a NATO member states worked together and developed the F-35s and Turkey is the only country faces potential expulsion due to its planned purchase of S-400 from Russia. Turkey has been part of the project since early 2000s and spent more than a billion dollars. 

On Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reaffirmed Turkey's plans to acquire the S-400s. Turkish officials have been promising to finalise the purchase of the S-400, though recent reports by Bloomberg and Reuters cast a doubt about those plans claims based on anonymous sources in Ankara that Turkey is seriously discussing to postponement of the Russian systems' arrival in Turkey. 

The government of Turkey has said it could take delivery of the Russian S-400 air and missile defense system as early as July.

Wednesday's press release ended by reminding, 

Section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 (22 U.S.C. 9525) requires sanctions on any person that conducts a significant transaction with the Russian defense or intelligence sectors. Turkey is also seeking to purchase some 100 F-35 aircraft and participates in production of the F-35.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.