Weakened F-35 sanctions won't create operational obstacles for Turkey

RAGIP SOYLU @ragipsoylu
WASHINGTON, D.C.
Published

A draft 2019 National Defense Authorization Act revealed by the U.S. Congressional Conference Committee on Monday watered down sections on F-35 deliveries to Turkey, removing obstacles that may have had an operational impact on the program. The new draft bill, which will be submitted to both the Senate and the House of Representatives for approval, mandates the U.S. Defense Secretary to prepare an extensive report on Turkish-American relations and Turkey's role in the F-35 program, meanwhile prohibiting the delivery of F-35s for 90 days until the report is submitted. Turkish officials aren't happy with the draft but consider it as the least worst alternative.

Previously the U.S. Senate version of the bill was asking the Trump administration to ready steps to remove Turkey from the F-35 program, in which Ankara is a partner and producer.

Both the Turkish Embassy in Washington and the Pentagon, specifically Secretary James Mattis, lobbied against this section. Mattis warned the congressional leaders that sanctioning Turkey could be very costly and cause disruption of production and delay the delivery of jets being produced for other countries by up to 24 months. Turkish Ambassador Serdar Kılıç said the step would raise questions about the reliability of the U.S. defense sector as a supplier and partner.

A Turkish diplomatic source played down the importance of the temporary delivery freeze and said the Pentagon could prepare the Turkey report in a single day and end the spectacle. The source also noted that the Pentagon regularly prepares such reports even though it isn't publicized.

The draft law says the report should include an assessment of U.S. military and diplomatic presence in Turkey; Ankara's purchase of S-400s and its impact on U.S. produced weapons including F-35s; an assessment of Turkey's participation in the F-35 program including its role in manufacturing and assembly, and the steps that would be required to mitigate negative impacts of significant change in participation of Turkey in the F-35 program.

Although F-35 sanctions were proposed by a bipartisan group of Senators to pressure Turkey to release pastor Andrew Brunson, who is imprisoned in Izmir, and other American citizens, the draft bill has removed the language that establishes this link. Instead, the committee report rationalizes the section with Turkey's intention to purchase the S-400 systems and its possible outcomes that could result in sanctions. The report says: "The conferees believe the Department of Defense should be prepared for all potential outcomes that would result if Turkey completes a purchase of the S-400 by conducting the assessment required of a significant change in Turkish participation in the F-35 program, including a reduction or elimination of such participation."

U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who first proposed the legislation along with Senator Thim Tillis to sanction the Turkish government over the imprisonment of American citizens and consulate staff, welcomed the final draft bill in a statement. Both Senate and House of Representatives will need to pass the legislation in the upcoming weeks before Trump ratifies it into law.

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