Several members of Congress have been quietly blocking multiple U.S. arms sales to Turkey as the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has still yet to impose mandatory sanctions on the country over its purchase of a Russian-made missile defense system, CNN cited several congressional aides as saying.
Sources told CNN that the top Democrat and Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee — Chairman Eliot Engel and Ranking Member Michael McCaul — are involved in the effort.
“Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 is unacceptable and undermines NATO’s mission to deter Russian aggression. The Administration must impose the sanctions required by law in response to this purchase. Turkey must reverse course on this destabilizing action to renew the United States’ confidence in our defense relationship,” McCaul, a Texas Republican, said in a statement to CNN.
A congressional aide told CNN that McCaul has decided to hold off on moving forward with sales to Turkey but has allowed some sales to proceed, specifically those in direct support of NATO operations in which Turkey participates.
A committee aide told CNN that Engel, a New York Democrat, has “declined to clear” about a dozen arms sales to Turkey since 2018. Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 is “a major factor” in that, the aide said.
The sales were blocked during informal notification period, this aide said. It is a longstanding practice that the State Department tells relevant lawmakers of proposed arms sales before they are formally notified to Congress so that they are able to raise questions and try to resolve issues.
The blocking of the arms sales to Turkey was first reported by Defense News.
One of the aides said the effort is intended to ensure that the administration impose the sanctions required by law under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act in response to Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400, which began in July 2019.
Asked about the sanctions on Turkey at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing earlier this month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “we continue to evaluate how to apply sanctions in order to achieve our end objective.”
“Our end objective isn’t to punish, it’s to ensure that our NATO partner acts in a way that’s consistent with American national security and the security of our NATO partners as well,” he said.
Relations between the U.S. and Turkey have deteriorated on a number of fronts. A recent Pentagon report said the State Department was concerned about Turkish-backed groups in Syria committing “human rights abuses and violated the law of armed conflict in Northeast Syria.”