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.”

Jailed academic rejects offer to spy for Iran

Updated 21 January 2020

Jailed academic rejects offer to spy for Iran

LONDON: An academic currently imprisoned in Iran on charges of espionage has reportedly refused an offer to become a spy for Tehran in return for her freedom.

Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a UK-Australian dual national, made the revelation in a series of letters handed to The Times that were smuggled out of Evin prison, located in the north of the capital, where she is serving 10 years.

In the letters, addressed separately to a Mr. Vasiri, believed to be a deputy prosecutor in the Iranian judiciary, and a Mr. Ghaderi and Mr. Hosseini, who are thought to be officers in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Moore-Gilbert stated in basic Farsi that she had “never been a spy, and I have no intention to work for a spying organization in any country.” 

She added: “Please accept this letter as an official and definitive rejection of your offer to me to work with the intelligence branch of the IRGC.”

Moore-Gilbert, a lecturer in Islamic studies at the University of Melbourne in Australia, was arrested in 2018 after attending a conference in Tehran. 

She was tried and convicted in secret, and her letters implied that she had been kept in solitary confinement in a wing of Evin prison under the IRGC’s control.

It is reportedly the same wing being used to detain UK-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, also incarcerated for espionage, and away from the all-female cellblock that Moore-Gilbert was meant to have been housed in.

The letters catalog a series of other mistreatments and inhumane conditions, suggesting she had been permitted no contact with her family, and that, having been denied access to vital medication, her health was deteriorating.

She also suggested that she had been subjected to sleep deprivation methods, with lights in her cell kept on 24 hours per day, and that she was often blindfolded when transported. 

“It is clear that IRGC Intelligence is playing an awful game with me. I am an innocent victim,” she wrote.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne met with her Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in India last week, where the case was discussed.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry later issued a statement claiming that the country would not “submit to political games and propaganda” over the issue.

This comes at a time when international pressure has ratcheted up on the regime in Tehran following the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane over the capital on Jan. 8. 

Mass demonstrations nationwide followed the news that the plane had been shot down by Iranian forces. 

Olympian defects to Germany

Meanwhile, Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, Kimia Alizadeh, announced that she would not return to the country, citing her refusal to continue to be used as a “propaganda tool.”

She wrote of her decision on Instagram: “I wore whatever they told me and repeated whatever they ordered. Every sentence they ordered I repeated. None of us matter for them, we are just tools.”

It was revealed on Jan. 20 that the taekwondo martial artist, who had been living and training in Eindhoven in the Netherlands, had elected to move to Hamburg in Germany, for whom she will now compete.

Alizadeh’s defection is just one in a series of high-profile acts of defiance by Iranians outraged by the actions of the regime.

At least two journalists working for Iranian state-owned TV channels are known to have resigned their positions in protest.

One, news anchor Gelare Jabbari, posted on Instagram: “It was very hard for me to believe that our people have been killed. Forgive me that I got to know this late. And forgive me for the 13 years I told you lies.”