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US Senate committee approves Turkey sanctions bill

WASHINGTON: The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved legislation to impose sanctions on Turkey over its offensive against Syria as well as its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system.

The panel voted by 18-4 on Wednesday to send the “Promoting American National Security and Preventing the Resurgence of ISIS Act of 2019” to the full Senate for the final vote, despite the objections both from Turkish and the US governments.

The measure, sponsored by committee chairman Jim Risch and ranking Democrat Bob Menendez, was the first practical reaction of the US establishment to Ankara’s offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces.

“Now is the time for the Senate to come together and take this opportunity to change Turkey’s behavior,” Risch said.

On October 9, Turkey launched a massive operation to eliminate the Kurdish forces from northern Syria, east of the Euphrates River.

At that time, many, inside and outside the US, blamed the US President Donald Trump for paving the way of Turkey’s incursion through withdrawal of the US troops from the region.

“Turkey’s actions over the past year are truly beyond the pale,” said Menendez on Twitter, adding that the bill sends a message to Turkey that its operation is “unacceptable and its purchase of the S400 system is untenable.”

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reiterated in an interview earlier in the day that any sanctions would harm US-Turkish ties and repeated a threat of retaliation.

“US lawmakers must understand they will get nowhere with impositions. If the United States approaches us positively, we will also react positively. But, if they take negative towards us, then we will retaliate these,” Cavusoglu said.

Ankara and Washington have been at odds since 2017 over Turkey’s decision to purchase the S-400 systems, which the United States says are not compatible with NATO and pose a threat to Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jets.

The S-400 is an advanced Russian missile system designed to detect, track, and destroy planes, drones, or missiles as far as 402 kilometers away. It has previously been sold only to China and India.

Moscow and Ankara finalized an agreement on the delivery of the S-400 in December 2017.

Ankara is striving to boost its air defense, particularly after Washington decided in 2015 to withdraw its Patriot surface-to-air missile system from Turkish border with Syria, a move that weakened Turkey’s air defense.

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