Turkey has weeks to change course on S-400s and Syria or face sanctions - Bloomberg

Turkey has just weeks to change course in northern Syria and row back on its deployment of Russian S-400 air defence missiles, or it will face sanctions, Bloomberg quoted an influential U.S. senator as saying.

There was no sign of a breakthrough on any of the major issues marring U.S.-Turkish relations this week when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Washington. On the return leg of his journey, Erdoğan insisted there was no way his government would give up the S-400s, which U.S. officials see as an unacceptable risk if deployed alongside NATO aircraft.

But South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally of President Donald Trump who has been a frequent interlocutor with Turkish officials, said Turkey had “weeks, not months” to drop the S-400s and end hostilities against Kurdish-led groups in northern Syria, or it would face sanctions.

Several sanctions bills gained bipartisan approval in Congress after Turkey launched its Oct. 9 military offensive against the Syrian Democratic Forces, a group that has partnered U.S. troops against Islamic State, but which Ankara deems an enemy due to its links to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.

The White House is also required by law to impose a list of sanctions on Turkey for its purchase of the Russian military hardware, but Trump has so far held back on signing off on the measures.

Erdoğan has been adamant since signing the agreement to buy the S-400s in Dec. 2017 that Turkey would not bow to demands to drop the missile systems, which U.S. and NATO officials have said could allow Russia to glean information on the defences of the new-generation F-35 fighter jets.

Instead, the Turkish president has spoken about buying U.S.-built Patriot missile systems to supplement his air defences. Trump, who has taken a tolerant stance that jars with the anti-Turkish sentiment in Congress, said this week he wanted to “work something out” with Erdoğan on the programme to build F-35 jets, from which Turkey was suspended from after receiving the first shipments of S-400 components in July.

But U.S. officials and lawmakers are adamant that Turkey will receive none of the stealth fighters while a Russian intelligence gathering system is part of its defence system.

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst also said the United States would have no choice but to impose sanctions on Turkey unless it met Washington’s demands on the S-400s.

“We have to follow the law,” Bloomberg quoted Ernst as saying. “We are giving Turkey the opportunity to back off the S-400. The president laid a number of options down for it, and President Erdoğan needs to make a choice.”

Ernst referred to the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which was designed to deter third parties from buying weapons from Russia and other rivals of the United States.

This is a separate issue from the sanctions bill that passed the House of Representatives on Oct. 29, which was linked to Turkey’s operation in northern Syria, and which will next progress to the Senate.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jim Risch said on Thursday the Senate should pause plans to sanction Turkey for its Syrian operation if Erdoğan drops the S-400s, and that he expected some progress on the matter soon.

“We think there’s going to be movement relatively soon on the S-400s,” Bloomberg quoted Risch as saying in an interview on Thursday, a day after meeting Erdoğan.

As head of the Foreign Relations Committee, Risch has to green light any military equipment to leave the United States.

“I’m not going to sign off on the F-35s so long as they have the S-400 missiles. I’ve been telling them that for about a year. I think they didn’t really believe us … I think he just wasn’t accepting that answer, but after yesterday he clearly knows where we stand,” Risch said.

On the same day as Risch’s interview, Erdoğan told Turkish reporters on his flight home that the demand to drop S-400s was an infringement on Turkey’s sovereign rights. “There’s no way we’re going to give up the S-400s,” he said.