The Trump administration plans to impose long-awaited sanctions on Turkey in the coming days for purchasing and testing a Russian-made missile defense system, according to two officials familiar with the measures.
The expected announcement, first reported by Reuters, comes as Congress is poised to pass a sweeping defense bill requiring President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on Turkey for purchasing the S-400 missile system over the objections of its NATO allies.
The defense bill orders the administration to take steps against Turkey within 30 days using at least five categories of sanctions that Congress approved under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, better known as CAATSA. Lawmakers in both parties have argued that the law, passed in 2017 to limit countries and individuals from cooperating with defense, energy and other sectors of Russia, Iran and North Korea, ought to be applied against Turkey and the Turkish officials responsible for last year’s purchase of the S-400 system.
Trump has threatened to veto the defense legislation on other grounds, but Congress is expected to muster the votes to override him.
Last year, the White House removed Turkey from the F-35 joint strike fighter program over concerns that Ankara’s decision to enter a missile defense relationship with Moscow would compromise the security of the program’s sensitive, cutting edge technology.
It is not yet clear when the administration will formally impose the measures. According to Reuters, sanctions will be imposed on Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries and the agency’s head, Ismail Demir.
Ankara has said it purchased the Russian-made system only after the United States refused to sell it a high-end version of the Patriot missile defense system on acceptable terms.
Trump’s delay in imposing the measures – assumed to be one advantage of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s close relationship with the U.S. president – gave the appearance that the administration, despite its threats and congressional pressure, did not believe they would be implemented.
One signal that that equation was changing, even beyond the defense bill provisions, came last week in comments from Trump’s ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison.
“We are concerned about some of the Turkish behavior. . . . The idea that you could put a Russian-made missile defense system in the middle of our alliance is out of bounds,” she said in advance of a NATO foreign ministers meeting.
At the closed-door virtual session, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Turkey of playing into the hands of Moscow by buying the Russian missile defense system despite allied opposition, Agence France-Presse reported. In what was described as a “punchy” exchange with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Pompeo reportedly called on Ankara to start acting like more of an ally.
Meanwhile, European Union leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday were also considering expanding sanctions against Turkey over its “illegal activities” in the eastern Mediterranean, where it is exploring gas reserves in waters claimed by EU members Greece and Cyprus.
There was no immediate reaction to news of the imminent sanctions from Erdogan, who was returning from a trip to Azerbaijan on Thursday night. On Wednesday, speaking to reporters before he left, Erdogan condemned U.S. criticism of Turkey and again framed his country’s weapons purchases as a sovereign right.
“When anything comes to mind, you see that immediately sanctions are put on the table. What kind of process is going on between Turkey and America? Are we not together in NATO? Are we not two important countries in NATO?” he said. “We do not find the steps they have taken nor the statements they have made regarding our arms purchases to be elegant.”
– – –
The Washington Post’s Kareem Fahim in Istanbul contributed to this report.