Tue, 21 Jan 2020

Turkey Threatens US With Retaliation if Sanctions Are Imposed

Voice of America
12 Dec 2019, 07:35 GMT+10

ISTANBUL - Ankara is threatening retaliation against Washington if hit by sanctions.

The warning comes as the U.S. Senate prepares to vote on measures against Turkey over its procuring of Russian defense systems.

"U.S. lawmakers must understand they will get nowhere with impositions," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Wednesday during a television interview. "If the United States approaches us positively, we will also react positively. But if they take negative toward us, then we will retaliate."

U.S. senators are expected to propose legislation Wednesday targeting Turkey and Turkish officials and institutions. The measures are in response to Ankara's purchase of Russia's S-400 missile system, which is deemed to violate Congress's Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

Sanctions against Turkey enjoy bipartisan support. Republicans and Democrats are not only angry with Ankara's perceived shift toward Moscow, but also a Turkish offensive against the Syrian Kurdish militia, the YPG, in northeast Syria.

Turkey has designated the YPG as terrorists, but the militia is a key ally in the Washington-led war against Islamic State.

U.S. lawmakers are likely to be further angered by a Turkish court ruling on Wednesday to continue to imprison Metin Topuz, a local U.S. consulate employee. Topuz is on trial on espionage charges which Washington has dismissed as baseless.

Relations between the two NATO allies have plummeted in recent years over a myriad of differences. But the downward trajectory could further accelerate with Cavusoglu warning that key U.S. bases are now at risk if Turkey is sanctioned.

"Both Incirlik (air base) and Kürecik (radar base) may come to our agenda. We don't want to talk about the bad scenario over assumptions," Cavusoglu said.

The vast Incirlik air base close to the Syrian border has for decades been vital to U.S. regional strategic interests. The base also reportedly houses U.S. nuclear weapons.

In past bilateral tensions, Ankara has threatened to close or suspend U.S. operations at Incirlik. A Western diplomatic source said Ankara in the last few years imposed onerous controls on U.S. operations from the base.

Incirlik has been viewed as Ankara's trump card over Washington, but that could be changing, analysts say.

"Incirlik was always the conversation stopper when there was talk about (Turkey and the U.S.) splitting," said international relations lecturer Soli Ozel of Istanbul's Kadir Has University. "From what I understand, they are investing heavily in other bases, which will mitigate the threat of Incirlik closure."

Analysts suggest Ankara may also be wary of losing what is widely seen as one of the most important symbols of Turkish-American cooperation.

"(Ankara) will tend to close Kurecik, not Incirlik. Why is that? The fact that there are nuclear warheads in Incirlik is a source of prestige..." and "one case that strengthens its position in NATO. When the situation is so fragile, he (Erdogan) may not want to touch Incirlik," tweeted Asli Aydintasbas, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. He was referring to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Kurecik is a U.S. radar base located close to Iran's border and is essential to Washington's monitoring of Iranian military activity, in particular, rocket technology.

Analysts say Tehran would especially welcome the closure of Kurecik. Turkish-Iranian relations are characterized by rivalry and cooperation, which is widely seen to operate on a transactional basis.

But Ankara appears to be still looking to avoid a further ratcheting up in bilateral tensions, with hopes pinned on U.S. President Donald Trump.

"What is important is not only the decision of Congress but the decision of the administration," said Cavusoglu.

President Erdogan has developed a good relationship with Trump, beyond current bilateral tensions. Ankara is looking to Trump to either veto any sanctions legislation or use his influence to water down any measures against Turkey.

A year ago, international markets severely punished Turkey, plunging the country into a recession following Trump's imposition of sanctions. Now, investors remain primarily unmoved by the threat of new measures against Ankara.

"Markets may have discounted a mild sanctions bill," said analyst Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners.

But if the Senate passes weak and mostly symbolic measures, it does not necessarily mean the end to current U.S.-Turkish tensions. Yesilada warns that such measures could well be interpreted by Erdogan as a weakness and embolden him.

"Encouraged by mild sanctions, he may tease the U.S. further by attempting to purchase more advanced Russian weaponry and defying the U.S. in northeast Syria," Yesilada said.

Several other sanctions bills proposing draconian measures against Turkey are pending in Congress. Ankara, however, could be calculating that destabilizing the Turkish economy will ultimately be counterproductive to Washington's aims.

"It is in [Washington's] interest also to have a stable region. If they continue with these proposed policies today, this region will not only continue to be a hotbed, but even more with an unstable Turkey," said former Turkish Ambassador Mithat Rende.

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