US sanctions on Turkey loom amid stalemate on S-400s

Ismail Demir, the head of the Turkish Defense Industry Directorate, it was not logical for any country to purchase missile defense systems only to put them aside. (AFP)
Updated 17 November 2019

US sanctions on Turkey loom amid stalemate on S-400s

  • Ministers as well as high officials of the two countries are working on a solution to the dispute
  • Washington says the S-400s pose a threat to its F-35 jets and has suspended Turkey’s involvement in the program

ANKARA: Following US President Donald Trump’s meeting with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Washington on Nov. 13, each party was quick to claim success. But the threat of sanctions is still looming if Turkey fails to abandon its plans concerning the Russian S-400 air defense system.
Turkey began receiving its first batch of S-400s in July. In response to this move, the US has quickly banned sales of F-35s to Turkey and removed the country from the F-35 fifth-generation joint strike fighter program.
The US concern was that the system might be used by Russia to secretly acquire confidential details about the jet and is also incompatible with the NATO system.
The US secretary of state and Turkish minister of foreign affairs as well as national security advisers are working on a solution to the dispute.
However, last week White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien made it clear that the threat of sanctions still exists if no common ground is found.
Gonul Tol, founding director of Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies and adjunct professor at George Washington University, thinks there are not that many face-saving ways of walking out of the S-400 deal for Erdogan.
“One option that is being voiced is for Ankara to announce it has activated the system while in fact the system remains unactivated. Russian response to this option carries a risk for Ankara,” she told Arab News.

FASTFACT

The US concern is that the system might be used by Russia to secretly acquire confidential details about the jet and is also incompatible with the NATO system.

But Tol also believes that if Turkey fails to take steps to address Western concerns over the S-400, Congress might push the administration further to implement Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) on Turkey.
Last month, the US House of Representatives adopted a sanctions package to penalize Ankara over its Syria operation, and key members of the Senate, including Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, have pledged to “come and hit Turkey hard if they don’t get out of Syria and reset the table.”
Karol Wasilewski, an analyst at the Warsaw-based Polish Institute of International Affairs, believes that the solution to this conundrum might be Turkey and US agreeing to keep S-400 boxed in northern Cyprus — a compromise that would satisfy the US and save face for Erdogan since he could easily sell it to the electorate.
“But I think it is extremely unlikely,” he said. The statements of Erdogan, on his way back from Washington to Ankara, were telling, as he announced Turkey will not completely give up on S-400 to acquire US Patriots. Accordingly, Erdogan believes “the offers to buy just Patriots and completely put Russian S-400s aside is an interference to Turkey’s sovereignty rights.”
Considering it a “matter of national sovereignty,” Turkey justifies its decision to buy the Russian system just because the US had declined to provide Ankara with the alternative Patriot missile defense system.
According to Wasilewski, the US may compromise on price or the technology transfer, but most probably not to extent Ankara wants as it is abnormal to fully share such advanced technology even with the closest allies and Turkey is not its close ally for now.
“I think Turkish decision-makers, for some reason, are quite sure that Trump won’t sanction Turkey and that they need to wait for the new Congress,” said Wasilewski.


‘No way we can rebuild’: Lebanese count huge losses after Beirut blast

Updated 07 August 2020

‘No way we can rebuild’: Lebanese count huge losses after Beirut blast

  • The search for those missing since Tuesday’s blast intensified overnight, as rescuers sifted rubble in a frantic race to find anyone still alive after the explosion
  • The government has promised a full investigation and put several port employees under house arrest

BEIRUT: Beirut residents began trying to rebuild their shattered lives on Friday after the biggest blast in the Lebanese capital’s history tore into the city, killing at least 154 and leaving the heavily indebted nation with another huge reconstruction bill.
The search for those missing since Tuesday’s blast intensified overnight, as rescuers sifted rubble in a frantic race to find anyone still alive after the explosion smashed a swathe of the city and sent shockwaves around the region.
Security forces fired teargas at a furious crowd late on Thursday, as anger boiled over at the government and a political elite, who have presided over a nation that was facing economic collapse even before the deadly port blast injured 5,000 people.
The small crowd, some hurling stones, marked a return to the kind of protests that had become a feature of life in Beirut, as Lebanese watched their savings evaporate and currency disintegrate, while government decision-making floundered.
“There is no way we can rebuild this house. Where is the state?” Tony Abdou, an unemployed 60-year-old, sitting in the family home in Gemmayze, a district that lies a few hundred meters from the port warehouses where highly explosive material was stored for years, a ticking time bomb next to a densely populated area.
As Abdou spoke, a domestic water boiler fell through the ceiling of his cracked home, while volunteers from the neighborhood turned out on the street to sweep up debris.
“Do we actually have a government here?” said taxi driver Nassim Abiaad, 66, whose cab was crushed by falling building wreckage just as he was about to get into the vehicle.
“There is no way to make money anymore,” he said.
The government has promised a full investigation and put several port employees under house arrest. State news agency NNA said 16 people were taken into custody. But for many Lebanese, the explosion was symptomatic of the years of neglect by the authorities while state corruption thrived.
Shockwaves
Officials have said the blast, whose seismic impact was recorded hundreds of miles (kilometers) away, might have caused losses amounting to $15 billion — a bill the country cannot pay when it has already defaulted on its mountain of national debt, exceeding 150% of economic output, and talks about a lifeline from the International Monetary Fund have stalled.
Hospitals, many heavily damaged as shockwaves ripped out windows and pulled down ceilings, have been overwhelmed by the number of casualties. Many were struggling to find enough foreign exchange to buy supplies before the explosion.
In the port area, rescue teams set up arc lights to work through the night in a dash to find those still missing, as families waited tensely, slowly losing hope of ever seeing loved ones again. Some victims were hurled into the sea because of the explosive force.
The weeping mother of one of the missing called a prime time TV program on Thursday night to plead with the authorities to find her son, Joe. He was found — dead — hours later.
Lebanese Red Cross Secretary General George Kettaneh told local radio VDL that three more bodies had been found in the search, while the health minister said on Friday the death toll had climbed to 154. Dozens are still unaccounted for.
Charbel Abreeni, who trained port employees, showed Reuters pictures on his phone of killed colleagues. He was sitting in a church where the head from the statue of the Virgin Mary had been blown off.
“I know 30 port employees who died, two of them are my close friends and a third is missing,” said the 62-year-old, whose home was wrecked in the blast. His shin was bandaged.
“I have nowhere to go except my wife’s family,” he said. “How can you survive here, the economy is zero?“
Offers of immediate medical and food aid have poured in from Arab states, Western nations and beyond. But none, so far, address the bigger challenges facing a bankrupt nation.
French President Emmanuel Macron came to the city on Thursday with a cargo from France. He promised to explain some “home truths” to the government, telling them they needed to root out corruption and deliver economic reforms.
He was greeted on the street by many Lebanese who asked for help in ensuring “regime” change, so a new set of politicians could rebuild Beirut and set the nation on a new course.
Beirut still bore scars from heavy shelling in the 1975-1990 civil war before the blast. After the explosion, chunks of the city once again look like a war zone.