Oct 29 2019

U.S. House votes for sanctions against Turkey, rebuking Erdoğan, Trump

Democrat and Republican lawmakers on Tuesday in a bipartisan bill, overwhelmingly voted to impose military and financial sanctions against Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan following the country’s military operation against U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in northeast Syria.

The fighting has mostly stopped, but members of Congress say the violence and chaos it unleashed continue to reverberate across the region.

"The House passed a sanctions bill 403 to 16, sending a signal that Congress will not stand by while Turkey and its proxies slaughter our Syrian Kurdish allies and fuel the revival of ISIS." said Senator Chris Van Hollen. 

The House passed a sanctions bill 403 to 16, sending a signal that Congress will not stand by while Turkey and its proxies slaughter our Syrian Kurdish allies and fuel the revival of ISIS. Senate must stop dithering and act—the lives of our allies and our security are at risk.

— Chris Van Hollen (@ChrisVanHollen) October 29, 2019

Ahval's October 12 news report, summarized the content of the bill:

The new sanction package introduced by Engel and McCaul calls for sanctioning of Turkish officials involved in the Syria operation and banks involved in the defence sector until Turkey ends the incursion.

The bill also calls for the U.S. administration to sanction Turkey for its Russian S-400 missile system purchase. Additionally, it would prohibit U.S. arms exports to the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) conducting operations in Syria and would prohibit the use of the emergency provision in the Arms Export Control Act for Turkey.

The bill specifically references the Turkish Defence Minister, the Chief of General Staff, the commander of the 2nd Army of the TSK, who is overseeing the operation, and the Minister of Treasury and Finance,  Berat Albayrak, who is also President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's son-in-law. 

The bill stipulates that the U.S. authorities should submit the names of Turkish officials involved in the decision to invade Syria, "not later than 30 days after the date of the enactment of the Act".

The bill foresees targeted financial sanction for Halk Bank, the largest publicly owned Turkish bank, no later than 15 days of the date of enactment of the Act.

The act, just like the one revised by Senators Graham and Van Hollen, also requires a report on net worth of President Erdoğan not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment.

U.S. President Donald Trump had on Oct. 14 imposed limited sanctions against Turkey when the operation was launched, but these sanctions were lifted after 9 days when Turkey agreed to a pause to allow for Kurdish forces to withdraw.

At the end of the pause period, Turkey struck another deal with Russia, and will soon start joint patrols in the region with the United States’ adversary.

The sanctions bill fast-tracked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which includes more severe measures, is expected to come up.

The bill would ban weapons sales to Turkey and impose sanctions on third countries’ military transactions, blacklist state-owned Halkbank and require a detailed State Department account of Erdoğan’s personal and family finances.

"As Erdoğan continues to make policy decisions that destabilize the region and threaten international security, we need to know the full picture of his financial interests,” Republican Representative Eliot Engel told USA Today.

Senator Lindsey Graham, who co-sponsor of a similar sanctions bill at the Senate, sent a tweet message to declare his support for the House passage and express his expectation of similar bill coming up at the Senate.

The House has passed on Tuesday a resolution to recognise the 1915 Armenian Genocide, which Turkey vehemently denies happened. The country’s official stance on the matter is that any deaths that occurred were due to conditions of war, were at a much smaller scale, and were not intentional.

Turkish lobbying has been successful in past years to kill any legislation towards recognition.

The sanctions bills introduced in the House and the Senate would have significant impact on Turkey’s already fragile economy, if they pass.

Provisions targeting Erdoğan’s wealth are particularly provocative, USA Today said.

Both bills require U.S. State Department, Treasury and intelligence officials to submit reports to Congress on Erdoğan’s and his family’s assets, investments and interests.

Congressional source told Ahval that similar bills in the past passed to probe whether money laundering, corruption and other illegal acts have done, especially if the Russian government involved with the matter.

Former Turkish MP Aykan Erdemir told USA Today that Erdoğan would see such reports as a slap in the face.

Erdoğan went from broke to well off, without public accounting for the transformation, Erdemir said.

Turkey’s main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in 2017 said his party had obtained documents showing Erdoğan’s family transferring millions of dollars to offshore accounts.

Investigative news outlet theblacksea.eu published a story the same year showing a network of companies in Turkey, Malta and the Isle of Man ran by the president’s family, and their ownership of a $ 25 million tanker.

Erdoğan and senior members of his party have denied all allegations.

Turkey’s media has been silenced for the most part, but the president would see the U.S. Congress exposing his family finances as a major threat, Erdemir said.

The public in both countries has a right to know of Erdoğans’ foreign investments, which could be influencing Turkey’s relationship with Russia and its president, co-sponsor of the senate bill Senator Chris Van Hollen said.

Sanctions against Halkbank, the second-largest state-owned bank in Turkey which was indicted by a Manhattan federal court on Oct. 15 for sanctions evasion on Iran, would link Turkey’s Syria incursion to the criminal case in the United States and deal a heavy blow to the country’s economy, Centre for Strategic and International Studies’ Turkey Project Director Bülent Alirıza said.

Despite bipartisan support for the sanctions bills, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the U.S. needs to think carefully before imposing sanctions on a NATO ally, and that it was not clear what effect such economic penalties would have in Turkey’s public opinion.

Van Hollen said the Senate “needs to stop twiddling its thumbs and take action.”