Washington, DC – The United States House of Representatives on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved legislation aimed at imposing sanctions on Turkish military and government officials over Ankara’s military operation against Kurdish forces in northeast Syria.
The 403-16 vote is the latest rebuke of Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from northeast Syria and leave Kurdish allies without military support as Turkey launched an operation in the area.
“These sanctions are specifically designed to target the Turkish officials and institutions responsible for the bloodshed in Syria without senselessly hurting the Turkish people,” said Representative Eliot Engel, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The bill seeks to freeze the assets of senior Turkish military and political leaders and block future travel visas to the US. It prohibits arms transfers to Turkey if the weapons could be used in Syria and would impose financial and travel sanctions on any foreign nations selling weapons to Turkey.
The bill mandates an investigation and report on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s personal finances and would impose fines on Halkbank, a Turkish bank close to Erdogan. It would trigger mandatory existing sanctions in US law preventing future arms sales to Turkey because of its recent purchase of an S-400 anti-aircraft missile system from Russia.
The bill also calls on the Trump administration to put forward a new strategy to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) to include a residual US special operations forces working with Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), one of the US’s main allies in the fight against ISIL.
The legislation faces potential obstacles in the US Senate where leading Republicans, who had earlier backed a similar measure, said last week they would withhold legislative action in order to give the Trump administration’s diplomacy with Turkey time to play out.
The pause in momentum on sanctions left some Senate Democrats frustrated and looking for other ways to advance US interests in the region, according to Senator Richard Durbin, the number-two Democratic leader in the Senate.
“I am concerned about the United States losing its credibility in the world as a reliable ally and I don’t think this president – as much as he celebrates and tweets – can make up for the fact that his reckless phone call has cost the lives of many people who were willing to die for the United States,” Durbin told Al Jazeera.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry in a statement condemned Tuesday’s vote, saying the bill was “incompatible with the spirit of our NATO alliance”.
Erdogan informed Trump of Turkey’s planned offensive in a telephone call on October 6. Trump then announced he was withdrawing US troops from the area. Just days later, Ankara launched the military operation.
The offensive was temporarily halted following a ceasefire agreement between Ankara and Washington.
Last week, Turkey and Russia agreed to jointly patrol a 10km strip of land on the Syrian side of the Turkey-Syria border.
Those patrols were set to begin after Syrian border guards and Russian military police removed all Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) forces and their weapons from a larger, 30km (19-mile) strip of land on the border.
TASS news agency reported on Tuesday that Kurdish forces had withdrawn from the “safe zone” ahead of schedule. Turkish officials had reportedly said earlier in the day, however, that YPG forces had still not fully left the area.
The House sanctions bill calls for a report by the Trump administration on harm to civilians in Turkey’s military operation, including whether war crimes occurred.
“What is currently happening in Syria, the killing of the Kurds at the hands of the Turkish President Erdogan, is unacceptable,” said Democratic Representative Frank Pallone.
Earlier this month, the House passed a nonbinding resolution opposing Trump’s troop withdrawal.
Trump has repeatedly said he was pulling US troops out of Syria. The Pentagon, however, has said some US forces will remain in the eastern part of the country to protect oil fields.
On Sunday, Trump announced ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed by US special forces.
House recognises ‘Armenian genocide’
Separately on Tuesday, the House approved a resolution recognising the early 20th century killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as “genocide”, a label Turkey rejects.
Previous efforts to pass similar legislation failed due to Turkish diplomatic opposition.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was honoured to stand with the majority of House members “in solemn remembrance of one of the greatest atrocities of the 20th century: the systematic murder of more than 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children by the Ottoman Empire”.
Although Turkey accepts that many Armenians died in ethnic fighting and deportations between 1915 and 1917, it has rejected the label of “genocide”.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlyt Cavusoglu condemned Tuesday’s vote, saying it was “null and void”.
“Those whose projects were frustrated turn to antiquated resolutions. Circles believing that they will take revenge this way are mistaken. This shameful decision of those exploiting history in politics is null&void for our Government and people,” Cavusoglu tweeted.