- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 11, 2019

New sanctions on Turkey and Russia advanced on Capitol Hill Wednesday after a key Senate panel voted to penalize the two countries for their roles in the Syrian conflict and the deal sending a sophisticated Russian-made missile defense system to Ankara.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the bipartisan sanctions legislation by an 18-4 margin, just one day after President Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

“Now is the time for the Senate to come together and take this opportunity to change Turkish behavior,” committee Chairman James Risch said. “If we don’t do this, we will be viewed as weak.”

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Lawmakers of both parties have called on the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Ankara for its purchase of the S-400 missile defense system. U.S. and NATO officials say the Russian system could undercut the effectiveness of the American-made F-35 fighter jet and weaken the alliance.

Turkey cannot retain S-400 air defense systems and at the same time obtain F-35 aircraft,” Mr. Risch said. “That Turkey has begun to test the S-400 against U.S.-origin F-16’s is unacceptable.”

Saying it was denied a comparable American defense system, Turkey has reportedly began testing the Russian system despite threats of harsh sanctions from allies. The Senate measure would authorize a minimum of five sanctions that would place restrictions on visas for Turkish officials, limit access to credit lines and prohibit the transfer of various U.S.-made weapons.

The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denounced the sanctions push and threatened to retaliate. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday threatened to block U.S. access to a vital air base in Turkey if Congress enacts the bill.

“If the U.S. imposes sanctions against Turkey, then the issue of the Incirlik and Kurecik bases may be on the agenda,” Mr. Cavusoglu said, according to state-run news agency Anadolu.

The Incirlik Air Base, located in southeast Turkey, has been a key asset for the U.S. in the fight against Islamic State.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Mr. Risch and his Democratic counterpart Sen. Robert Menendez, could take “some time” to see a vote on the Senate floor, according to a committee aide, as Congress is scheduled to take its annual holiday recess starting next week.

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