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Jan 25 2019

U.S. Congress expected to approve weaker penalties on Turkey over F-35 and detained official disputes

U.S. lawmakers are set to vote on delaying the delivery of the American F-35 aircraft to Turkey until the Trump administration submits a report on Ankara’s plans to purchase a rival Russian missile system, Al-Monitor reported.

The reporting requirement is softer than what some congresspersons’ original demands, which had included the idea of sanctioning Turkey, Al-Monitor said. The provision is inside a Congressional aid package for Middle Eastern countries, which is expected to be approved once a deal is brokered to reopen the U.S. government.

Another provision requires a report on Turkey’s detention of American citizens who work at U.S. diplomatic missions in Istanbul. Three U.S. State Department employees remain jailed in Turkey, having been detained in the aftermath of the 2016 attempted coup.

The congressional legislation is the result of a compromise. A previous bill would have imposed visa bans on Turkish officials involved in detaining the U.S. citizens, and it would have barred Turkey from acquiring the F-35 fighter jets if it continued with its acquisition of the Russian S-400 missiles.

The current bill, which passed the lower chamber of the U.S. Congress and is expected to gain Senate approval, also bans the sale of arms to bodyguards of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. His bodyguards in 2016 were involved in a fight outside of the Turkish Ambassador’s Residence in Washington, where bodyguards attacked protestors in the middle of a prominent traffic roundabout.

The arms sales ban on his bodyguards would last until they returned to stand trial in the United States, Al-Monitor wrote.

On the S-400 matter, Ankara has said it cannot cancel its purchase of the missile systems from Russia, but that it is open to purchasing other U.S. systems. The disagreement has soured relations between the NATO allies, with the prospect of Turkey acquiring weapons from a NATO antagonist.

Turkey plans to begin deploying S-400 systems in October.