CAATSA sanctions against Turkey: Is the genie out of the bottle?

Russian soldiers stand guard near an S-400 air defense system. (AFP)
Updated 28 November 2019

CAATSA sanctions against Turkey: Is the genie out of the bottle?

ANKARA: Ankara tested its S-400 Russian-made air defense system this week. That move is unlikely to shield the country from sanctions, though. Indeed, it seems likely the US Senate and the US Treasury will bring forward some sanction packages in retaliation against Turkey moving forward with the Russian system.

The chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations, the Republican Jim Risch, has already introduced legislation that would impose stiff sanctions on Ankara following its military incursion into northern Syria. The senate only refrained from enacting those sanctions —  which have bipartisan support — on the condition that Turkey remove the S-400 system from its arsenal.

The committee was set to re-examine the situation early in December, but is now understood to be growing impatient with Ankara’s defiance and strongly considering the enforcement of the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), along with banning US purchases of Turkish sovereign debt, and punishing the Turkish banking and energy sectors.

During his meeting with US President Donald Trump at the White House on Nov. 13, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was asked to abandon the Russian system that began arriving in Turkey in July at the Murted Air Base in Ankara with much fanfare. In response, Washington removed Ankara from the multinational manufacturing program for F-35 joint-strike fighter jets and banned the sale of those aircraft to Turkey.

This week, Turkey unexpectedly tested a component of the S-400 radar system in Ankara for two days while US-made F-16 jets flew low across the Turkish capital. It had been expected that Turkey would keep the Russian system deactivated in order to avoid US sanctions.

Instead, Ankara is widely considered to have issued a challenge to Washington that will likely see more voices urging congress to push ahead with CAATSA sanctions against Turkey as the radar tests are seen as a threat to NATO’s security systems.

CAATSA sanctions include a range of options —  from denials of visas of Turkish officials and the prohibition of export licenses to harsher measures such as the blocking of any transactions with the US financial system.

In a recent interview with the Turkish broadcaster NTV, Erdogan said he would continue trying to resolve the S-400 dispute with Washington until April 2020, when the system would be fully deployed. On Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu made it clear that Turkey needs the system. “A product is not bought to be kept in the box,” he said.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute, described Turkey as “a hybrid state” in global politics, meaning it hopes to deepen its ties with Russia while remaining a member of NATO.

“We haven’t seen Turkey’s final word regarding the S-400 issue. Due to (Turkey’s) hybrid nature, every discussion that Erdogan has with Trump has to be run by (Russian President) Vladimir Putin afterwards before he can finalize whatever he discusses with Trump,” he told Arab News.

There is a general expectation that Ankara will only declare its final intent after Putin’s visit to Turkey in January.

Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said the implementation of the sanctions is up to Trump, but he expects some congressional efforts to insert related clauses into the consensus bill for the National Defense Authorization Act.

“Trump is holding off an increasingly angry congress and, I think, eventually, he will capitulate,” Stein told Arab News.

According to Cagaptay, Erdogan is still betting on Trump’s desire to preserve Turkish-US ties to hold off sanctions.

“We can expect very severe sanction legislation to be brought forward both in the House and Senate. But every sanction package has national security waivers that Trump can use to rescue Turkey again. Analysts are chronically underestimating the role of the Trump-Erdogan relationship to rescue (Turkey) from the crisis,” he said.

Stein agrees, to an extent.

“Ankara has placed all its bets on Trump. It is working, for now. But let’s see what happens if Trump caves to his own Republican caucus,” he said. “I think much of Turkey’s response will depend on the severity of the sanctions.”

US considering troop boost to counter Iran

Updated 06 December 2019

US considering troop boost to counter Iran

  • A source has said Defense Secretary Mark Esper was considering plans to move between 5,000 and 7,000 troops to the Middle East
  • Tensions have risen sharply with Iran since Trump last year pulled out of a denuclearization pact and imposed sweeping sanctions

WASHINGTON: The United States said Thursday it was considering deploying fresh forces to counter Iran, with an official saying some 5,000 to 7,000 troops could head to the region.
Testifying before Congress, John Rood, the under secretary of defense for policy, said the United States was “observing Iran’s behavior with concern.”
“We’re continuing to look at that threat picture and have the ability to dynamically adjust our force posture,” Rood told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
A US official told AFP on condition of anonymity that Defense Secretary Mark Esper was considering plans to move between 5,000 and 7,000 troops to the Middle East.
The official did not confirm where the troops would be sent, or in what timeframe, but said that the deployment would be due to frustrations with Iranian-linked groups’ attacks on US assets.
Rood, under questioning, denied a report by The Wall Street Journal the United States was considering sending 14,000 more troops — equivalent to the number sent over the past six months.
Esper also denied the 14,000 figure in a phone call with Senator Jim Inhofe, the chairman of the committee, Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said.
US President Donald Trump later tweeted that: “The story today that we are sending 12,000 troops to Saudi Arabia is false or, to put it more accurately, Fake News!“
It was not immediately clear which report the president was referring to.
Tensions have risen sharply with Iran since Trump last year pulled out of a denuclearization pact and imposed sweeping sanctions, including trying to block all its oil exports.
In September, the United States said Iran was responsible for attacks on the major Abqaiq oil processing center in Saudi Arabia, a close US ally and Iran’s regional rival.
Riyadh then asked Washington for reinforcements, receiving two fighter squadrons, additional missile defense batteries, and bringing the number of US troops stationed in the Kingdom to about 3,000.
The United States has also been alarmed by an uptick in attacks on bases in Iraq, where major demonstrations triggered by economic discontent have also targeted Iran’s clerical regime and its overwhelming influence in its Shiite-majority neighbor.
“We’re lucky no one has been killed. There is a spike in rocket attacks,” another US official said.
“It’s clearly not Daesh. Everything is going in the right direction and it’s the right range,” the official said, contrasting Iranian capabilities with those of the extremist Daesh group.
Among the incidents, five rockets hit the Al-Asad Air Base on Tuesday, just four days after US Vice President Mike Pence visited US troops there.
Iran denied involvement in the September attack in Saudi Arabia, which was claimed by Tehran-backed Houthi militia.
The tensions come as Iran itself has faced major protests set off by a sharp hike in gas prices.