U.S. interest in Turkish sanctions intensifies

Interest from U.S. lawmakers in imposing sanctions on NATO ally Turkey is increasing, a closed-door meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee showed this week.

Participants invited to the discussions, entitled “Turkey and the Way Ahead”, included a representative from the Treasury, as well as the state and defence departments.

The participation of the Treasury official, who specialises in “disrupting financing of national security threats” through “sanctions, anti-money laundering/counter-terrorist financing (AML/CFT) policies” suggests a new-found interest in possible financial and economic measures against Turkey, said Blaise Misztal and Jessica Michek for the Bipartisan Policy Center.

“Any action would have to be considered carefully to ensure that it can achieve the intended purpose of changing Turkey’s behaviour, rather than merely hardening Turkish anti-Americanism,” they said. “But there are a number of areas in which existing U.S. laws and Turkish actions coincide to create grounds for sanctions.”

Misztal and Michek said there were three areas in which senators may want to consider sanctions:

--Fines against Turkish state-run Halkbank for evading U.S. sanctions on Iran, or cutting Halkbank off from the U.S. financial system.

--Financial penalties under Section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act because of Turkey’s planned purchase of S-400 missiles from Russia.

--Targeted sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act, which permits the U.S. executive to impose visa bans and sanctions on individuals for committing human rights abuses or persons engaged in significant corruption.

“With Turkey and the United States consistently working at cross-purposes in the region, and with the current risk of direct U.S.-Turkey confrontation in Manbij, doing nothing should no longer be an option,” Misztal and Michek said.

The Halkbank case exposed the level of corruption in Turkey, implicating officials in the highest level of government, they wrote. Halkbank deputy CEO Mehmet Hakan Atilla was found guilty of sanctions-busting by a New York jury last month, after evidence alleging Halkbank officials collaborated with Turkish ministers and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself.

The Senate hearing has followed Turkey’s incursion into Syria to battle Kurdish militants allied with the United States in the fight against Islamic State. Erdoğan has called on U.S. forces to withdraw from the region of Manbij ahead of an extension of the military operation, saying they no longer have business being there because ISIS has been defeated.