For being a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the nation of Turkey doesn’t always act as though it is a close ally of the United States, instead holding American citizens prisoner on ridiculous charges and cozying up with NATO rivals like Russia and Iran.
According to the Washington Examiner, the diminishing relationship between the U.S. and Turkey has led Congress to consider cutting off future weapons sales to the increasingly belligerent “ally,” a move that has prompted Turkey to threaten retaliation if those weapons systems aren’t sold to them as initially promised.
As part of the debate over the $717 billion 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress has requested the Department of Defense to compile and deliver a report documenting the current state of the relationship between the two nations. A provision in the legislation would halt all weapons sales to Turkey until that report is complete.
That places on hold the planned purchase of 100 Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike fighter jets and other weapons by Turkey, a moved which has infuriated the Turkish government.
“If the United States imposes sanctions on us or takes such a step, Turkey will absolutely retaliate,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in an interview with CNN Turk, according to Reuters. “What needs to be done is the U.S. needs to let go of this.”
The Turkish official declined to offer specifics as to what sort of retaliation his nation might seek, but he is tentatively scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo within the next week to hash out the matter.
Along with a halt to the sale of the fighter jets, the move by Congress would also halt the sale of Patriot missile batteries to Turkey. A big sticking point that prompted the move — aside from the holding of several American citizens hostage — is that Turkey recently purchased a number of S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries from Russia, an anti-aircraft weapons system that is wholly incompatible with those used by NATO member nations, which the U.S. harshly criticized and suggested could lead to consequences.
But Turkey remained defiant.
“Turkey is not a country under your orders, it is an independent country,” Cavusoglu said. “Speaking to such a country from above, dictating what it can and cannot buy, is not a correct approach and does not fit our alliance.”
Aside from the Russian missile batteries, Turkey has drawn closer to Russia — as well as Iran — in other ways. UPI reported in April that Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Ankara to oversee the groundbreaking of a new $20 billion Russian-funded nuclear power plant, of which the Russian government will hold a majority share in ownership.
An important subtext beneath all of this is the case of Andrew Brunson, an American Christian missionary who has lived in Turkey since 1995 and was arrested in 2016 without charges on suspicion of collaborating with terrorists following the failed “coup” against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to an insightful piece from The Atlantic.
Brunson is alleged to have worked with and supported the Kurdistan Workers Party — labeled a terrorist organization by Turkey — and followers of the Pennsylvania-based exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Erdogan asserts was behind the failed “coup” that resulted in a brutal crackdown on the Turkish populace by his regime.
The American missionary faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted of the “crimes” he has been accused of, and along with about a dozen other Americans held prisoner in Turkey is being used as a pawn in a game of “hostage diplomacy” by Erdogan to force the return of Gulen to Turkish custody.
The holding of Brunson and others — among other actions by Turkey — is part of the move by Congress to block weapons sales to the erstwhile ally, according to Aaron Stein, a senior resident fellow at the Washington-based think-tank Atlantic Counci.
“You do have a Congress that’s very upset with Turkey and wants to do something, and Brunson is a galvanizing factor” toward a harsher stance toward Erdogan’s regime, Stein said.
President Donald Trump took to Twitter in April to call for the release of Brunson, and hopefully he will instruct his administration to use the halted weapons sales as leverage to gain his return.
Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason. They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2018
Turkey has not been acting like an ally of America or a member of NATO, and until it makes more of an effort to do so — such as releasing American hostages and distancing themselves from our main rivals like Russia and Iran — there is no legitimate reason for us to sell it advanced weapons systems or continue to consider the country a friend and reliable partner.
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