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Turkey must behave like a NATO ally, US senator says

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US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez has called on Turkey to demonstrate its commitment to NATO and the shared principles and values that underpin the partnership, warning that the democratic process has been significantly eroded in the country, a Greek newspaper reported.

Menendez told the Kathimerini newspaper in an interview published on Sunday that the trajectory of Turkey under the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan cannot be ignored as he complained about a backsliding in the democratic process in the country.

“… religious freedom is under sustained pressure, we’ve seen unwarranted detentions of employees of the American Embassy, record levels of attacks on independent journalists, and a total clampdown on the fundamental rights of free speech,” said Menendez, referring to the arrest of three Turkish employees at US diplomatic missions in Turkey in the aftermath of a coup attempt in Turkey in 2016 and a crackdown launched by the Turkish government against non-loyalist people and journalists following the coup attempt.

According to Menendez, as Russia continues its “brutal and illegal invasion of Ukraine,” Turkey’s government has a responsibility and an opportunity to unequivocally demonstrate its commitment to NATO and the shared principles and values that underpin this critical partnership.

Turkey’s commitment to NATO came into question after the country objected to the entry of Sweden and Finland, which dropped their history of military non-alignment and announced plans to join NATO in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Turkey finally withdrew its objection after a memorandum was signed with these countries on the sidelines of a NATO meeting in Madrid on June 30.

When asked about recent reports in the Russian media suggesting that Turkey is planning to buy an additional S-400 Russian missile defense system, the first purchase of which had strained its relations with NATO and particularly the United States, Menendez voiced his concerns about the reports, warning that a new delivery of the S-400 would be another clear violation of US sanctions mandated by the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

“Between continued antagonistic violations of Greece’s airspace and the delaying of the accession process for Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership, I sincerely hope Turkey will change course and live up to its responsibilities to the defense alliance by being the constructive partner in the region we all hope it can be. Until then, I cannot support the sale or transfer of American F-16 fighter jets to Turkey,” he said.

Despite warnings from the United States and other NATO allies, President Erdoğan brokered a deal worth $2.5 billion with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the S-400 missile system in 2017.

Turkey started taking delivery of the first S-400s in July 2019 despite Washington’s warnings and the threat of US sanctions. In response, Washington removed Turkey from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, in which Ankara was a manufacturer and a buyer. Turkey has not yet used the missile system since its purchase.

The S-400, a mobile surface-to-air missile system, could pose a risk to the NATO alliance as well as to the F-35, America’s most expensive weapons platform, according to Turkey’s Western allies.

Turkey next set out to buy new F-16s as well as obtaining upgrades for its existing, but outdated, fleet of the same planes.

However, that deal is also on hold and there has been speculation that Turkey was holding up the NATO accession bids of the two northern European countries to try and leverage concessions.

Washington imposed sanctions in December 2020 on Turkey’s military procurement agency for its purchase of the system under CAATSA, which mandates penalties for transactions deemed harmful to US interests.

After a meeting on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid with Erdoğan, US President Joe Biden said the United States should go ahead with the delayed sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey but said Congress needs to give its approval.

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