In a letter sent to Congress last month, Serdar Kılıç, the Turkish ambassador to the United States, asked for a reprieve from US sanctions that target Ankara for buying a Russian S-400 missile defense system, according to the Al-Monitor news website.
“A basic tenet of diplomacy is to give enough chance to dialogue and consultations before resorting to unilateral measures,” Kılıç wrote to the leaders of the powerful House and Senate appropriations committees as well as the House Armed Services Committee ahead of a debate over the annual defense bill.
Turkey has a $1.5 million annual contract with the lobbying outfit Greenberg Traurig, which, along with two subcontractors, distributed the letters. Greenberg employs former senator Tim Hutchinson, who served on the Armed Services Committee, and one-time representatives Randy Forbes and Albert Wynn, past members of the armed services and foreign affairs committees.
Under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), a 2017 law, the United States is obligated to sanction “major purchases” of Russian weapons systems. The Pentagon has stated since Turkey first inked a $1.5 billion deal for the S-400 system in 2017 that it was not compatible with NATO-standard weapons.
In recent months, amid threats to boot Ankara from the F-35 fighter jet program over the deal, the Defense Department has also rejected a Turkish bid to form a working group to mitigate technical concerns with the Russian system.
But Kılıç said acquiring the Russian system was a matter of “necessity” to deal with the threat of Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities and ballistic missile launches from opposition-held areas, after Turkey said it had failed to field a NATO-interoperable alternative between 2013 and 2017.
The State Department approved a $3.5 billion sale of Patriot missiles to Turkey in December, but Kılıç said the offer had come too late. Ankara signed up with the French-Italian Eurosam consortium for the SAMP/T system, but the project “fails to meet our urgent and very real short-term defense needs,” Kılıç wrote.
Politico reported last week that acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who traveled to Brussels on Tuesday to participate in a NATO defense ministerial, may have to recuse himself from the talks because of their implications on Raytheon, where he once was a lobbyist.
Speaking to his Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar, on the sidelines of the NATO gathering today, Esper repeated US warnings that Turkey “will not be permitted” to have both the F-35 and the S-400 system, according to a Pentagon readout.