U.S. lawmakers inch closer to punishing Turkey, consider bypassing Trump

U.S. lawmakers agreed on the annual defence policy bill that includes imposing sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of Russian S-400 air missile systems with lawmakers consider acting unilaterally if U.S. president stands idle on the issue, Foreign Policy said on Tuesday.

Ankara and Moscow in Sept. 2017 signed a loan agreement for the supply of S-400s to Turkey. The United States and its NATO allies see the Russian system as incompatible with NATO systems and posing a security threat to the F-35 stealth fighter. Turkey began to take delivery of S-400 components in late July, prompting Washington to remove Turkey from the F-35 fighter jets programme, in which it was a manufacturer and buyer.

Turkey also risks U.S. sanctions over S-400 purchase under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, which aims to deter third parties from defence partnership with Russia.

However, U.S. President Donald Trump has gone against the grain in Washington with his tolerant stance to the S-400s’ arrival in July, which kicked off demands from U.S. lawmakers to sanction Turkey.

“If the Administration doesn’t do something soon on CAATSA, Congress will and it won’t be ‘calibrated,’” Foreign Policy quoted a congressional staffer as saying.

In addition to holding back on imposing legally mandated sanctions for buying arms from Russia, Trump has discussed selling U.S.-built Patriot missiles to Turkey and hinted at the possibility of reversing Turkey’s suspension from the programme to build F-35 fighter jets.

"They took the step of expressing a 'Sense of Congress' that Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400 constitutes a “significant transaction” under CAATSA. The step is not legally binding, but lawmakers could move to make it law," the staffer said.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Jim Risch, who has rolled up his sleeves to mark up a bipartisan sanctions bill against Turkey on Wednesday, said Congress was ready to put an end to S-400 crisis.

"We come to the end of the road," Risch said during an interview with Voice of America.

"We do not really understand why they approached Russia as a member of NATO which was formed against Russia. Of course, each sovereign state makes its own decision, but it has consequences," Risch said.

Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Policy Committee on Wednesday passed a bill that foresees imposing sanctions against Turkey over its S-400 purchase and latest offensive in northeast Syria, targetting U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces.