U.S. Lawmakers Propose More Turkey Sanctions, Pressuring Trump

Daniel Flatley

(Bloomberg) -- The House Foreign Affairs Committee presented a bipartisan bill to sanction Turkey for invading Syrian territory controlled by the Kurds, as U.S. lawmakers respond to President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from the region.

“I strongly condemn both President Erdogan’s decision to attack America’s partners in Syria and President Trump’s decision to step back and let it happen,” Democratic Representative Eliot Engel, the chairman of the committee, said. “Congress must continue to work in a thorough, bipartisan manner to address the disastrous consequences of President Trump’s decision.”

The legislation, co-sponsored by Engel and Representative Michael McCaul, the committee’s ranking Republican, would sanction and ban senior Turkish officials involved in the invasion from entering the United States. It would also prohibit the transfer of U.S. defense articles, services, technology, or material to Turkey for use in Syria.

“Turkey’s military operation has already resulted in civilian casualties and threatens global security by creating conditions that will enable an ISIS resurgence,” McCaul, of Texas, said.

On Friday night, the Defense Department said that American troops near Kobani, in northern Syria, had been fired upon by Turkish artillery. No casualties were reported.

The legislation would impose immediate sanctions on Turkish financial institutions that facilitate transactions for the military and defense industry, as well as for the purchase of the Russian-made S-400 missile system. It would also require the administration to come up with a plan to deal with imprisoned ISIS fighters in the territory and to assist Syrian Kurdish communities.

The House bill joins a Senate proposal from Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Chris Van Hollen that would impose sanctions unless the Trump administration certifies every 90 days that Turkey isn’t “operating unilaterally” in Syria.

Republican Representative Liz Cheney, a member of House leadership, also said Thursday she and nearly 30 of her GOP colleagues plan to introduce a similar measure in the House.

There has been bipartisan outrage this week over Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops from northern Syria where they were partnering with Kurdish fighters to defeat the Islamic State. Even some of Trump’s closes allies said they were furious that the U.S. has abandoned a close ally, opening the door for a Turkish offensive that has already killed at lease eight civilians.

The sanction bills probably will be formally introduced next week when Congress returns from recess. It would ultimately be up to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to decide whether to put them on the floor for a vote.

The same version would have to be passed by both chambers to go to Trump to become law. If Trump vetoes the measure, it would take two-thirds of both chambers to override his veto.

Turkey’s ‘Bad Behavior’

Graham, usually one of Trump’s staunchest defenders, said he expects that sanctions against Turkey would have a veto-proof majority in Congress. But there is some skepticism about whether the sanctions would have any appreciable effect on the situation.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, speaking in his home state of Connecticut, characterized sanctions as too little, too late.

“The Congress has actually already imposed sanctions on Turkey for some of their other bad behavior in the region,” he said. “The president has refused to enact those sanctions. So I worry that sanctions could give Congress the sense that it has done something without actually changing the reality on the ground.”

Sanctions Threat

There were some indications that Trump is already responding to pressure from Congress. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Friday that Trump will sign an executive order preparing, but not yet implementing, sanctions on Turkey.

Michael Singh, author of a recent report on Syria and a former national security council official under President George W. Bush, said he expected Trump to resist implementing sanctions until diplomatic options had been exhausted. He said that the Trump administration still hasn’t imposed sanctions required by law for Turkey’s purchase of the Russian-made S-400 anti-aircraft missile system.

Singh said even though Trump has said that sanctions are an option, the “first recourse” for the administration is likely to be diplomacy.

“I imagine that even if he doesn’t veto the sanctions,” passed by Congress, Singh said, “he would probably refrain from actually implementing them unless he felt like diplomatic avenues had failed.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Flatley in Washington at dflatley1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Anna Edgerton

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