Washington, DC – A bipartisan group of United States senators said on Thursday they will move “full steam” ahead with legislation aimed at imposing tough new sanctions on Turkey despite the announcement that Ankara had agreed to a ceasefire of its military operation in northern Syria.
“Congress is going to speak with a very firm, singular voice that we will impose sanctions in the strongest measure against this Turkish outrage,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said at a conference on Thursday at the US Capitol.
If not halted, Turkey’s action “will lead to the re-emergence of ISIS, the destruction of an ally, the Kurds, and eventually benefit to Iran at the detriment of Israel,” Graham said.
Turkey launched a military operation against Kurdish forces in northeast Syria after US President Donald Trump announced earlier this month he was withdrawing US troops from the region. The withdrawal and subsequent Turkish operation met sharp criticism from politicians in the US.
After meeting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Thursday, US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Turkey agreed to an eight-day ceasefire to allow Kurdish forces to withdraw from the border areas Turkey seeks to control. He said Turkey would end its operation following the withdrawal.
The proposed Senate legislation would sanction top Turkish officials, restrict visa access to the US, mandate an investigation of Erdogan’s personal finances, impose fines on Turkey’s Halkbank and prevent US investors from buying Turkish sovereign debt, Graham said.
The bill would trigger existing sanctions in US law because of Turkey’s July purchase of Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft missile system. As a result, the US expelled Turkey from the F-35 joint strike fighter programme in August, but Trump has so far refrained from imposing other available sanctions under a 2017 law.
“We need to reset, get Turkey to stand down. These sanctions will receive a large bipartisan vote and they are going to stay in place until Turkey changes its behaviour,” Graham said.
Separately, leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee announced they too would move forward with a Turkey sanctions bill. That bill, sponsored by Senators Jim Risch, a Republican, and Bob Menendez, a Democrat, would prevent arms sales to Turkey and raise a question whether Turkey should remain in NATO.
Graham said he had called James Jeffrey, the US special envoy for Syria prior to the US delegation’s meetings in Ankara and left a message for Erdogan.
“If you are going to be a NATO ally you have got to act like a NATO ally,” Graham said the message included.
A Senate leadership aide told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that Senate action on the Turkey sanctions legislation is likely within the next couple of weeks, or as soon as senators reach a consensus on the terms of the bill.
Similar legislation is being developed in the House of Representatives where a non-binding resolution condemning Trump for withdrawing US troops from the region passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.
Politicians have said the withdrawal opened the door for Turkey’s operation against Kurdish forces, who had been one of the US’s main allies against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS).
Trump, meanwhile, has defended the move, saying he pledged to get the US out of “endless wars”.
“This is a precarious moment for our country and our role in the world,” Senator Chris Van Hollen, the leading Democratic co-sponsor of the bill, said at Thursday’s news conference with Graham.
“The Syrian Kurds have been the tip of the spear in our fight against ISIS and we cannot abandon them,” Van Hollen said. “We have to send a message that America will stand with our allies in the fight against terrorism.”
The Trump administration imposed sanctions on some Turkish officials, raised tariffs on steel imports and suspended a trade deal earlier this week amid pressure from Congress.
On Thursday, Pence said the US will withdraw those sanctions after the Turkish operation has ended.