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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Washington Post on Sunday he was confident the president would levy sanctions as CAATSA requires. “The law requires that there be sanctions and I’m confident that we will comply with the law and President Trump will comply with the law,” Pompeo said.
Turkey has refused to bow to U.S. pressure, insisting that choosing which defense equipment to purchase is a matter of national sovereignty.
Although Trump expressed sympathy toward Turkey’s decision to purchase the Russian system during a meeting with Erdoğan on the sidelines of a G-20 meeting in Japan, Washington has repeatedly said that the Russian system is incompatible with NATO systems and is a threat to the F-35.
Lankford and Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s ranking member, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., echoed that argument this week as reason to punish Turkey.
“Unlike India, Turkey is a NATO ally, the interoperability of our systems is critical, the inability of us to have a F-35 next to an S-400 is crystal clear, and [Turkish officials] were given options,” said . “In every respect, they turned their back on us. They had an option and they refused to do so. That’s why there’s not going to be a waiver.”
“We’re trying to make it clear that if you get Russian equipment, especially with them parking an F-35 next to an S-400, there’s no way you can do that, they’re not compatible,” Lankford said. “All this conversation about we’re going to study it, we’re going to examine it? We already know what the end result is on that. We don’t want to incentivize people using Russian and American equipment together.”
Erdoğan’s comments, that Trump “has the authority to waive or postpone CAATSA,” came two days after NATO member Turkey took delivery of the first tranche of advanced Russian S-400 missile defense system parts, despite warnings from Washington that the move would trigger CAATSA.
“Since this is the case, it is Trump who needs to find the middle ground,” Erdoğan told Turkish journalists, per
In 2017, Congress overwhelmingly passed CAATSA, which was aimed at punishing Moscow for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election by targeting its defense and energy businesses. If the president determines a person has engaged in a “significant transaction” with the defense or intelligence sectors of the Russian government, the president must choose to enact five from a dozen types of sanctions it outlines.
Congress passed the subsequent waiver after lobbying by then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. He argued the sanctions offered no flexibility for allies in Asia who still needed to deal with Russia to maintain their older equipment.
The language inserted in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act offers a national security waiver, but only if Trump certifies the transaction would not be with an entity that directly tied to cyber intrusions; endanger U.S. multilateral alliances or operation; increase the risk of compromising U.S. defense systems, or negatively impact defense cooperation with the country in question.
The president also must certify that the country is taking steps to reduce the share of Russian-produced arms and equipment in its total inventory or is cooperating with the U.S. on other matters critical to U.S. national security. As of yet, the administration has not used this waiver authority.
“It was drafted very stringently,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and the Senate Armed Services Committee’s ranking member. “[Middle ground] would be very difficult because we have made it clear repeatedly, myself and my colleagues, that if Turkey is going to buy the S-400, they cannot have the F-35, and similarly the language of CAATSA suggest sanctions have to be applied.”
According to the Center for a New American Security’s Neil Bhatiya, the CAATSA waiver was written so it could not be granted to Turkey. Still, Trump could act unilaterally, essentially daring Congress to take action legislatively to ramp up sanctions, he said.
“They would be the only state that would be getting the S-400 and part of a multilateral alliance where we would be introducing technology that would be put at risk,” Bhatiya said. “So the reputational risk Trump would be taking by granting a waiver would be quite high, especially because the Pentagon and State Department have said, essentially, they want the sanctions.”
If Trump were to attempt to provide a waiver, he would see a strong bipartisan response, according to Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and a senior member of Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I would think there is support in Congress to do everything we can to make sure there is no waiver. Turkey’s been on notice on this, and it’s a pretty clear violation.”
Sanctions would mark a new low in the already-tense relations between Turkey and the U.S. Last year, the United States imposed sanctions on Turkey over its detention of an American pastor, triggering a Turkish currency crisis.
Because CAATSA provides an array of options, Trump could opt for lighter sanctions or target members of Turkey’s defense apparatus who have little or no connection to U.S. financial systems anyway, Bhatiya said.
“There is a menu of options and there could be something that’s not the death penalty for the Turkish economy,” Bhatiya said.