Intel: US senators renew call for Turkey sanctions over reports of S-400 test

al-monitor A rocket launches from a S-400 missile system at the Ashuluk military base in Southern Russia on Sept. 22, 2020, during the "Caucasus-2020" military drills gathering China, Iran, Pakistan and Myanmar troops, along with ex-Soviet Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus. Photo by DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images.

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f-16, nato, us sanctions, caatsa, arms deals, russian military, s-400

Oct 9, 2020

Two US senators are renewing calls for the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Turkey following reports that Ankara used its Russian S-400 missile defense system to track US-built F-16s belonging to other NATO allies during an exercise over the eastern Mediterranean Sea in August.

In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week, Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and James Lankford (R-OK) requested further information on the reported incident and confirmation as to whether Turkey had integrated a NATO data link into the Russian-built air defense system.

“Reports of this activation make clear that Turkey has no intention of reversing course and divesting of this system,” the lawmakers wrote. Ankara previously tested the S-400’s radar on Turkish-owned F-16s last year, according to reports.

“Additionally, the slow pace at which the Department of Defense is moving to remove Turkey from the F-35 supply chain has no doubt emboldened President Erdogan," the letter read.

France, Italy, Greece and the United Arab Emirates partook in the Eunomia exercise in August after Turkey deployed naval ships to escort a seismic research vessel into Greek waters.

Why it matters:  The Trump administration is required under a 2017 law to sanction NATO ally Turkey for purchasing the Russian-built S-400 system, but it has not done so yet despite pressure from members of the president’s own party.

A member of NATO since 1952, Turkey holds up the alliance’s southeastern flank. Incirlik airbase in the country's southeast houses US troops and nuclear missiles. The Trump administration kicked Turkey out of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program last year over Ankara’s purchase of the Russian air defense system.

Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar urged lawmakers in July to get rid of a provision in the 2021 defense spending bill that would categorize Turkey’s S-400 purchase last year as a “significant transaction” with Russia’s military sales, a move that would trigger US sanctions under the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

“President Trump has proven himself incapable of holding Turkish President Erdogan accountable for jeopardizing U.S. national security and the integrity of the NATO alliance,” the office of Sen. Jack Reed, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, told Al-Monitor via email.

“Turkey needs to reverse course and play a more constructive role on international security matters. At a minimum, sanctions under CAATSA should be enforced.”

What’s next:  Turkey is scheduled to test-fire the S-400 in the country’s north next week.

Reached by Al-Monitor, a spokesperson for the State Department said the administration is “deeply concerned with reports that Turkey is continuing its efforts to bring the S-400 into operation,” writing, “We continue to stress at the highest levels that the S-400 transaction remains a major obstacle in the bilateral relationship and at NATO, as well as a risk for potential CAATSA sanctions,” and “We are confident that President Erdogan and his senior officials understand our position.”

Know more:  Diego Cupolo recounts NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s push to smooth over the rift between Turkey and Greece in the eastern Mediterranean.

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