U.S. no longer recognises “old friend” Turkey – Senator

The United States can “no longer know and no longer recognise” its NATO ally, Turkey, due to its drift towards Russia and the jailing of U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson, U.S. Senator James Lankford said during remarks opening a panel discussion on Wednesday at the U.S. senate arranged by the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Lankford has been one of the foremost voices in the U.S. Congress criticising Turkey and mobilising a response to moves that have left the 75-year alliance at a dismal low, and the high interest in Turkey's current trajectory led to the rescheduling of the foundation's meeting to be held at the senate.

The Oklahoma senator was among a group that has pushed a bill through senate calling for a halt to weapons sales to Turkey, including of the latest-generation F-35 fighter, and demanding sanctions to respond to Turkey’s purchase of S-400 missile defence systems from Russia.

“(W)atching the government reaching out to the Russians, at the same time they are working with us to try to acquire the F-35s to be able to also acquire the Russian missile defense systems. That does not ally with NATO, does not interface with NATO missile defense and it violates the most basic part of the NATO relationship,” said Lankford at the event.

While the first F-35s have been officially handed over to Turkey, the actual delivery to Turkish territory will not take place for over a year, and senators are pushing to hold the delivery and transition away from relying on Turkey in the aircraft’s production, said Lankford.

Of equally pressing concern to Lankford is the arrest of Brunson, who had lived in Turkey for 25 years before being arrested due to alleged links with Fethullah Gülen, an Islamist preacher blamed for the failed coup attempt in 2016.

“As a Christian pastor that was a mystery to him, how he was suddenly involved with a Muslim mystic but he suddenly was accused of all these things and challenged in a way that he never experienced before,” said Lankford. “He’s been in prison since October 2016, Erdogan has made public statements that ‘you have our holy man, we have yours’ that’s not how you treat an ally.”

Lankford has consequently advised U.S. businesses not to work with Turkey, where a state of emergency has been in place since the coup attempt and U.S. citizens’ security cannot be guaranteed.

“At any point you can have one of your employees travel to Turkey, they could be swept up and held without charges for a year and a half or more. That is not something I want to explain to one of the family members that are still back home, why one of your employees in your company is now being held hostage because they ate at the wrong restaurant, because they talked to the wrong person on the street, because they tweeted a picture they should not tweet,” said Lankford.

Besides his vocal criticisms, Lankford did have some conciliatory remarks for a country that he described fundamentally as a long-time ally and friend.

“Our first challenge though is not to be able to push Turkey away, it is to try to figure out who they are and to be able to work together,” he said.  

“They have very complicated issues and we acknowledge that. The threats to terrorism to them are on their border all the time everyday, we understand that completely and want to be able to partner with Turkey, to be able to resolve that for their national security and for our national security and the stability of the region.”

However, according to Lankford, that will not happen until Turkey frees its imprisoned U.S. citizens and starts acting again like the reliable ally of old.