Turkey plays U.S. air base card as Congress considers sanctions

Turkey might consider taking action against U.S. bases in the country if the United States goes ahead with threatened sanctions over Turkey’s decision to acquire Russian S-400 air defence missiles, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Wednesday.

The United States halted the delivery of 100 F-35 stealth fighters that Turkey had ordered and suspended Turkish firms from the programme to build parts for the jets after Turkey took delivery of the first batch of components for the S-400s in July. The United States says Turkey’s deployment of the Russian missiles could allow Moscow to glean valuable data on the defences of NATO aircraft.

“There is no legal or political relation between F-35s and S-400s,” Çavuşoğlu told the A Haber news channel.

The minister said the United States had objected to all of Turkey’s proposals to resolve the issues and said the government would consider alternatives, including those built in Russia, if it were not allowed to purchase the F-35s.

Turkey also risks U.S. sanctions over S-400 purchase under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA. U.S. Senator Jim Risch, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been preparing to mark up a bipartisan sanctions bill against Turkey on Wednesday, while the U.S. House of Representatives passed its own Turkey sanctions legislation in October.

“It can be İncirlik, it can be Kürecik,” Sabah daily quoted Çavuşoğlu as saying when asked which steps Turkey could take in response to potential U.S. sanctions, referring respectively to a U.S. air base in the southern province of Adana and a base in the central province of Malatya that hosts NATO’s early-warning radar systems against ballistic missile attacks.

“What is important is not only the decision of Congress, but the decision of the administration,” Çavuşoğlu said referring to U.S. President Donald Trump who so far avoided imposing sanctions on Turkey. “We will decide after evaluating the worst case scenario,” he said.