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US military support to Turkey to be cut in congressional sanctions bill

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The US Congress will press ahead with a broad package of sanctions on Turkey, including cutting military support, after measures announced by the Trump administration were dismissed as ineffective, The Guardian reported, citing Senate officials.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Chris van Hollen are expected to launch a bipartisan bill on Tuesday aimed at forcing the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to halt his military campaign in northeastern Turkey amid reports of widespread human rights abuses and the release of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants who had been detained there.

The Senate bill would impose restrictive measures on Turkey’s political leadership and Turkey’s domestic energy sector. It would also prohibit US military support for Turkey, a NATO ally.

US President Donald Trump, widely blamed even by normally loyal supporters for giving a green light to the Turkish invasion, had sought to head off congressional sanctions and regain the initiative with an executive order on Monday.

His order imposed a 50 percent tariff on imports of Turkish steel, called off what officials called a $100 billion bilateral trade deal and gave the State Department and Treasury broad powers to impose targeted sanctions on Turkish officials.

However, both administration critics and sanctions analysts said the administration proposal looked more imposing than it was in reality. The White House has yet to rescind a White House invitation to Erdoğan that Trump offered to the Turkish president after being informed of the imminent offensive. And Trump’s sanctions package does not affect US military support to Turkey.

Furthermore it was unclear whether the $100 billion trade deal administration officials said had been shelved had ever existed in the first place.

Daniel Tannebaum, a former sanctions official, now head of sanctions at Oliver Wyman management consultants, said: “There has not been any evidence of a deal matching what was described. So there were some shoulder shrugs when this was announced. People asked, ‘What are you referring to?’”

Senator van Hollen called the Trump measures a “pathetic response,” pointing out that steel exports to the US were a fraction of 1 percent of Turkey’s total exports. The Trump administration also has a record of slow-rolling sanctions against regimes where the president believes he has a strong personal relationship with the leader, such as Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Turkish equity markets spiked when markets opened on Tuesday in an apparent sign of relief at the limited nature of the US response to the Syria invasion.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: “President Trump has unleashed an escalation of chaos and insecurity in Syria. His announcement of a package of sanctions against Turkey falls very short of reversing that humanitarian disaster.”

Peter Harrell, former deputy assistant secretary of state for counter threat finance and sanctions, said: “The executive order has the potential to really be quite broad and impose quite draconian sanctions, but the targets the administration has picked to date have been low to mid-range … So I think there’s sort of a substantive concern that the president doesn’t actually intend to be particularly aggressive here.”

The most important difference between the congressional and administration sanctions packages could be the issue of military support. The Turkish army and air force are largely reliant on the US to keep up operations. Administration officials have been hesitant to impose such military sanctions for fear of pushing Turkey out of NATO altogether, though critics have argued that it has ceased to be an ally in any meaningful sense anyway. “If the Trump administration were truly serious about rolling back Turkey’s invasion of Syria, it would immediately cut off all US arms supplies to the Turkish military, including spare parts and maintenance,” said William Hartung, director of the arms and security project at the Center for International Policy.

“Turkey relies on the US for all of its combat aircraft and two-thirds of its armored vehicles, so a full withdrawal of US support could degrade its fighting capability. And it would send a stronger message than the minimal economic measures the administration has taken thus far.”

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