US lawmakers target Turkey in $740bn defense bill

The US Congress is likely to hold Turkey accountable for the purchase of a Russian S-400 air defense mobile missile launching system. (Reuters)
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Updated 05 December 2020

US lawmakers target Turkey in $740bn defense bill

The US Congress is likely to hold Turkey accountable for the purchase of a Russian S-400 air defense mobile missile launching system. (Reuters)
  • The president of Turkey’s Defense Industry Executive Committee, Ismail Demir, could be sanctioned for supervising the purchase of the S-400 as a move to deter countries from doing business with Russia’s defense sector

ANKARA: The US National Defense Authorization Act on Thursday designated Turkey’s controversial purchase of a Russian-made defense system as a significant transaction, mandating sanctions within 30 days.

Experts believe that Turkey will get hit by the new and overdue sanctions, as members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee finally reached agreement on the $740 billion defense bill that is set to pass Congress this month.

After the months-long reluctance of outgoing US President Donald Trump to act, Congress is now expected to initiate the process and hold Turkey accountable for the purchase of the S-400 system by compelling the White House to sign the 4,517-page document before Trump leaves office on Jan. 20.

The defense bill, within 30 days of becoming law, requires the president to impose at least five out of 12 sanctions listed under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) “with respect to each person knowingly engaged in the acquisition,” including a ban on US banking and property transactions, the denial of US visas and obliging US lenders to refuse giving loans to any sanctioned firms.

The president of Turkey’s Defense Industry Executive Committee, Ismail Demir, could be sanctioned for supervising the purchase of the S-400 as a move to deter countries from doing business with Russia’s defense sector.

Sanctions are also expected to undermine the already fragile balance of a Turkish economy that is trying to cope with a chronic recession, high rates of inflation and depleted foreign reserves against a backdrop of the lira hitting record lows against foreign currencies.

FASTFACT

Sanctions are expected to undermine the already fragile balance of a Turkish economy that is trying to cope with a chronic recession, high rates of inflation and depleted foreign reserves.

“One of the worst options in these sanctions’ list would be the imposition of sanctions on exporting Turkey's defense goods and technology, which would seriously damage the Turkish defense industry,” Emre Caliskan, a research fellow at the Foreign Policy Centre in the UK, told Arab News.

Under CAATSA, the US president may order the government not to issue any specific license and not to grant any other specific permission or authority to export any goods or technology to the sanctioned person and any other statute that requires the prior review and approval of the government as a condition for the export or re-export of goods or services.

“While Turkish companies rely on Western countries for some key components, including engines, optical sensors, and camera systems for assembling the drones, any possible sanctions would directly impact Turkey's ambitions to export its defense products,” Caliskan said.

Turkey has to give guarantees that it no longer possesses the Russian defense system within its territories or has operationalized it in order for the sanctions to be lifted once they are imposed.

“Incredibly proud to have helped secure inclusion of a provision in the NDAA to do what Trump refused to do: Officially determine on behalf of the US government that Turkey took delivery of Russian S-400 defense systems and therefore will be sanctioned under existing law,” Sen. Bob Menendez tweeted.

But Turkey has not walked away from the S-400. It tested the system on Oct. 16 in the Black Sea coastal city of Sinop despite US concerns.

Turkey considers the S-400 issue to be a matter of sovereignty. “We are not a tribal country, we are Turkey,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month regarding the US request to send the S-400 back.

“The whole ordeal is a culmination of Trump refusing to comply with the law,” Aaron Stein, director of research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Arab News. “Congress got fed up and sought to bind the hands of the president. Trump may simply ignore the law, again, but he is a lame duck. He’ll be gone on Jan. 20 and President-elect Joe Biden will inherit this issue. Either way, I don’t think the outcome is in doubt: Sanctions will be levied on Turkish individuals for the S-400 purchase.”

Stein said that Turkey would do what it always did - blame others and pretend this was about a refusal to sell it US-made Patriot missiles or suggest the issue could be resolved with a technical working group.

“This moment is grim, precisely because it can’t be solved very easily and will take Turkey sending some sort of signal that it’s willing to compromise. To date, that hasn’t happened. But without a compromise, the Biden administration won’t be able to make the case for lifting sanctions,” he added.

The responsibility of signing the bill is on the Trump administration, but otherwise it will be signed by Biden.

 


Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Updated 16 January 2021

Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
  • Veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis will be secretary-general Antonio Guterres’s representative to the country
  • Glimmers of hope for Libyans as progress reported at first meeting of Libyan Political Dialogue Forum’s advisory committee

NEW YORK: Security Council members on Friday approved the appointment of veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis as the UN’s special envoy to Libya.

It came as UN officials said significant progress has been made in Geneva this week during the inaugural meeting of the advisory committee for the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF).

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres nominated Kubis to be his envoy, a position that has been vacant since early March last year, when Ghassan Salameh resigned due to stress after less than three years in the job.

A number of replacements were suggested but members of the Security Council failed to agree on one. In December they overcame their differences and approved the choice of Bulgarian diplomat Nikolai Mladenov — only for him to surprise everyone by turning down the offer for “personal and family reasons.”

Kubis is currently the UN’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon. He previously held similar positions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric hailed what the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) described as significant progress during the first meeting of the LPDF’s advisory committee, which began in Geneva on Jan. 13 and concludes on Jan. 16.

“The mission hopes shortly they will be able to narrow down the major differences and reach near consensus on many of the contentious issues concerning the selection-mechanism proposals,” Dujarric said.

The formation of the advisory committee was announced on Jan. 3. Its 18 members, including women, young people and cultural figures, were chosen to reflect the country’s wide geographical and political diversity.

The secretary-general’s acting special representative for Libya, Stephanie Williams, had indicated that the main task for the committee would be to deliberate on the contentious issues that have plagued the selection of a unified executive authority. The aim is to develop solid recommendations the LPDF can consider in line with the political roadmap agreed by its 75 members during their first round of talks in Tunis last year.

This roadmap represents a rights-based process designed to culminate in democratic and inclusive national elections Dec. 24 this year. The date is also that of Libya’s 70th Independence Day. The elections will mark the end of the transitional phase for the country and chart a new way forward.

“This unwavering achievement, this date to return the sovereign decision to its rightful owners, is our top priority,” said Williams in her opening remarks at the advisory committee meeting in Geneva this week.

She also rejected claims that UNSMIL will have any say in the selection of the new executive authority. “This is a Libyan-Libyan decision,” Williams said, adding that the interim authority is intended to “shoulder the responsibility in a participatory manner and not on the basis of power-sharing, as some believed.”

She added: “We want a participatory formula where there is no victor, no vanquished; a formula for coexistence for Libyans of various origins for a specific period of time until we pass on the torch.

UNSMIL spokesman Jean Alam said the Geneva talks have already overcome some major hurdles. This builds on the political accomplishments since the Tunis meeting at which a consensus was reached on the political roadmap, the eligibility criteria for positions in the unified executive authority, and the authority’s most important prerogative: setting a date for the elections.

He also reported “very encouraging progress” in military matters since the signing of a ceasefire agreement in October by the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC), the members of which include five senior officers selected by the Government of National Accord and five selected by the Libyan National Army.

“This includes the recent exchanges of detainees conducted under the JMC’s supervision, as part of wider confidence-building measures; the resumption of flights to all parts of Libya; the full resumption of oil production and export; as well as the proposed unification and restructuring of the Petroleum Facilities Guards, in addition to the ongoing serious talks on the opening of the coastal road between Misrata and Sirte, which we hope will take place very soon,” said Alam.

He also hailed “promising developments” relating to the economy, including the recent unification of the exchange rate by the Central Bank of Libya, a step that requires the formation of a new authority for it to be implemented.

“The recent meeting between the ministries of finance was an important effort to unify the budget and allocate sufficient funding to improve services and rebuild Libya’s deteriorating infrastructure, particularly the electrical grid,” Alam said.

“All of these reforms are steps that will bring national institutions together to work in establishing a more durable and equitable economic arrangement.”

Williams added that without a unified executive authority, it would difficult to implement these steps.