In-Depth: House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY) introduced this legislation with Ranking Member Michael McCaul (R-TX) to sanction Turkey for its invasion of Northern Syria, in addition to its purchase of a Russian missile system. Engel offered the following statement following the introduction of this bill:
“What’s happening in Northern Syria right now is a disgrace. Congress must speak out and show decisive action to hold accountable those who created this catastrophe: President Erdogan, who is directing this slaughter, and President Trump, who opened the door to the Turkish incursion and betrayed our Kurdish partners. The Turkish operation is threatening our national security, allowing ISIS to escape, and creating a humanitarian crisis. Yesterday, the House rebuked President Trump with an overwhelming bipartisan majority. Today, we are introducing sanctions to hold Erdogan accountable. Congress must continue bipartisan work to address the disastrous consequences of President Trump’s decision.”
“Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed my resolution with Chairman Engel calling on Turkey to end its incursion into Syria. The carnage that we have seen over the past week against our Kurdish partners and innocent civilians has been unbearable. There must be consequences. That’s why we introduced a very tough and comprehensive sanctions package to punish Turkey for its actions. The President has already begun implementing sanctions and this legislation builds upon those. My number one priority is protecting the homeland from external threats and that’s at the heart of this bill.”
The American Hellenic Institute called for sanctions against Turkey on October 7, 2019:
“The American Hellenic community is outraged, and frankly, frustrated, with the West’s inability to take appropriate measures to stop Turkey from: pursuing its expansionist agenda, maintaining its ties with terrorist organizations, and perpetuating its violations of international law in the Eastern Mediterranean; all at the expense of the security and best interests of the United States, our NATO allies, and strategic partners. It bears repeating, Turkey is not a United States ally… We urge Washington and Brussels to act now. We reiterate our call for targeted, swift and overwhelming sanctions to be placed on Turkey, specific to illegal actions Turkey has taken in the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus. We welcome the bipartisan call for sanctions should Turkey conduct military operations in Northeast Syria against the Kurds. Additionally, NATO partners must scrutinize Turkey’s place in the Alliance. Further, Congress must hold hearings on Turkey’s threats to peace and security in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, including its ties to terrorist organizations, based on these recent developments.”
The Trump administration imposed sanctions on Turkey for the invasion of Northern Syria, but agreed to lift them after an initial five-day ceasefire was brokered between Turkey, the U.S., and the SDF under which Kurdish units would move out of a 20 mile “safe zone” occupied by Turkish forces. After SDF forces completed their withdrawal, the ceasefire was extended — although there have been reports of the ceasefire being violated by Turkish-aligned groups, such as the Free Syrian Army.
This bill has the bipartisan support of 72 cosponsors evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. The American Hellenic Institute supports this bill.
A similar bipartisan bill offered by Engel & McCaul to oppose the U.S. withdrawal from Northern Syria & call on Turkey to stop attacking the Syrian Kurds passed the House on a 354-60 vote. After that bill passed, Rep. Engel said in a statement:
“Yesterday, the House rebuked President Trump with an overwhelming bipartisan majority. Today, we are introducing sanctions to hold Erdogan accountable. Congress must continue bipartisan work to address the disastrous consequences of President Trump’s decision.”
Of Note: Executive Order 13894 on October 14, 2019, authorized various sanctions on Turkey and actors transacting with it in connection with OPS. Under this Executive Order, the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) simultaneously designated three key Turkish government officials; the Turkish Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources; and the Turkish Ministry of National Defense. It also added those individuals and ministries to the List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN List). On the same day, the president also announced that the U.S. would halt trade negotiations with Turkey and raise steel tariffs on it by 50%, while prosecutors in New York filed criminal charges against a Turkish state-owned bank, alleging a conspiracy to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran.
In addition to this bill, three other bills — the Countering Turkish Aggression Act of 2019 (H.R.4692 / S.2644), the U.S.-Turkey Relations Review Act of 2019 (H.R.4694), and the as-yet-unnamed S.2624 — are also taking a closer look at U.S.-Turkey relations. The Countering Turkish Aggression Act of 2019 would impose some sanctions similar to those in this bill and also prohibit U.S. arms sales to Turkey and impose secondary sanctions on foreign persons who knowingly support or transact with the Turkish military, even for items or services beyond those usable by the Turkish military in northern Syria. The U.S.-Turkey Relations Review Act would require a detailed Administration report to congressional committees on various aspects of the U.S.-Turkey relationship and its implications for U.S.-NATO strategic and military posture in the Middle East. Finally, S.2624 would simply prohibit U.S. arms sales to Turkey.
Separately, in a case that’s been pending for years and is sensitive for President Ergodan, on October 16, 2019, a U.S. Attorney’s office indicted Turkish bank Halbank for violations of U.S. laws relating to Iran sanctions.
The potential effect of sanctions remains unclear. Some believe that U.S. sanctions are unlikely to deter Turkish military operations because they involve “one of Erdogan’s core convictions” that the group is equivalent to the PKK. Others argue that sanctions could negatively affect Turkey’s fragile economy (which slowly considerably over the course of 2018 and entered a recession in the second half of the year, with the Turkish lira depreciating nearly 30% against the dollar) and U.S.-Turkey bilateral relations.
Summary by Eric Revell & Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: VOA Turkey / Public Domain)