Key GOP Senator Warns Erdogan of Sanctions Over Russian Missiles

John Harney

(Bloomberg) -- The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee warned that if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan persists in the deployment of a Russian air defense system, he will move ahead with a sanctions bill.

“It is his choice, and he knows the consequences,” Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican, said in a statement on Friday evening.

Just a day earlier, Risch had said that the Senate should hold off on sanctions over Turkey’s invasion of Syria if Erdogan agreed to give up the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system.

“We ought to sit tight, because I think we’re probably going to want to evaluate our position somewhat if indeed we get the S-400s resolved.”

On Wednesday, Risch and other Republican senators had a tense exchange with Erdogan as he met with President Donald Trump at the White House. They discussed the missile purchase as well as Turkey’s military campaign against the Kurds in northern Syria.

“We brought him to reality in no uncertain terms – from the reality of crippling sanctions on his economy, to our concerns regarding his attack on the Kurds,” Risch, a Trump ally, said in the statement, “and he left that meeting with what we hoped was a different and clear understanding that the Senate remains firm and that keeping the Russian S-400 missiles is a nonstarter.”

“Now that Erdogan has gone home, according to news reports, he has stated that not only will he keep S-400s, he will make them operational in a matter of months,” Risch added.

“If he is firm in his position,” he said, “I intend to move forward with a Turkey sanctions bill.”

The S-400 was designed to shoot down U.S. and allied aircraft at greater ranges and altitudes than older systems. American officials are concerned that sensitive technology in the F-35 fighter plane designed to evade such a system could be compromised and used to improve the S-400 system if Turkey, a NATO member, has both.

During a joint press conference with Erdogan on Wednesday, Trump said the purchase of the system presented “some very serious challenges” for the U.S.

Some Republicans had expressed uneasiness over the Trump-Erdogan meeting itself, questioning whether a leader who had ordered his armed forces to attack the Kurdish allies of the U.S. in Syria should be rewarded with a White House visit.

By law, the Trump administration must sanction Turkey for purchasing the Russian missile-defense system, but the Treasury Department has not yet complied. There are several additional proposals in the House and Senate for extra sanctions as punishment for the invasion of Syria that began last month.

The Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 is a next-generation stealth fighter produced for the U.S. and international allies. Turkey has been a significant contributor to the production of the warplane and was expected to purchase about 100 of the jets before it was expelled from the F-35 program this year over the S-400 episode.

--With assistance from Daniel Flatley and Steven T. Dennis.

To contact the reporter on this story: John Harney in Washington at jharney2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Shepard at mshepard7@bloomberg.net, John Harney, Linus Chua

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