By Ilhan Tanir*
The final version of the U.S. annual defence policy bill requires that President Donald Trump approve sanctions on Turkey within 30 days for its purchase of Russian S-400 air defence missiles. Trump has threatened to veto the bill for unrelated reasons.
The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved a $750.5 billion version of the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorises spending and provides broad policy outlines for the Pentagon.
The language used in the new national defence budget would determine that Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 constitutes a “significant transaction” under Section 231 of the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), a law which offers a range of sanctions against any country procuring a major defence item from Russia. The NDAA orders the imposition of five or more sanctions under CAATSA.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Menendez hailed the inclusion of the language in the NDAA.
“Incredibly proud to have helped secure inclusion of a provision in the NDAA to do what President Trump refused to do: officially determine on behalf of the U.S. government that Turkey took delivery of Russian S-400 defence systems and therefore will be sanctioned under existing law,” Menendez said on Twitter.
Incredibly proud to have helped secure inclusion of a provision in the NDAA to do what President Trump refused to do: Officially determine on behalf of the U.S. govt that #Turkey took delivery of Russian S-400 defense systems and therefore will be sanctioned under existing law.
— Senator Bob Menendez (@SenatorMenendez) December 4, 2020
The 12 sanctions that Trump can impose on Turkey include banking restrictions and prohibiting loans from the U.S. and international financial institutions including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The president can lift the sanctions when Turkey can prove it no longer possesses the Russian-made S-400 air defence system, according to the NDAA.
The United States has repeatedly warned that it would sanction Turkey if it activated the system it received in July 2019, which Washington and Western allies say could compromise NATO’s own defence system, and has already removed the country from its fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighter jet production and procurement programme.
However, Trump has been shielding Turkey’s ruling government and its president from sanctions for years. Trump has refused to apply any of the sanctions under CAATSA and encouraged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to prevent another sanctions package passed by the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee in 2019.
More recently, the House of Representatives passed legislation in July to impose sanctions on Turkey but Trump refused to sign it by the September deadline. Even if Trump refuses to sign the newly unveiled NDAA, there might be enough lawmakers to override the veto, CNN reported on Wednesday.
The Washington Post said there is a risk of a government shutdown by Christmas if Trump does not sign the law by then.
It remains to be seen how the incoming Biden presidency will handle Turkey sanctions if Trump continues to refuse abiding by the law before he leaves office. President-elect Joe Biden is expected to be inaugurated on Jan. 20.
*Ilhan Tanir is a Washington, DC-based journalist who has covered U.S. politics and U.S-Turkish relations for Turkish national newspapers and online publications for more than a decade.