By CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — A year and a half after Turkey acquired a Russian missile defense system, violating U.S. sanctions law, President Donald Trump has implemented penalties against the NATO ally.
His refusal to implement those sanctions had drawn bipartisan ire in Congress, but authorizing them now is sure to enrage Turkey and further damage its relationship with the U.S.
The sanctions, announced by the U.S. Treasury Monday, targeted Turkey’s defense procurement agency, known as the Presidency of Defense Industries, and its senior officials, including its president.
Congress was about to force Trump’s hand, passing its annual defense policy bill last week that required the White House to implement these sanctions within 30 days.
Turkey acquired the missile defense system, known as the S-400, in July 2019. The purchase violated a sweeping sanctions law passed in summer 2017 by wide margins in the House and Senate to force Trump to be tougher on Russia. Trump, who wanted to avoid an embarrassing veto override, begrudgingly signed the law.
The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, targeted Iran, North Korea, and Russia — requiring sanctions on any country that made a “significant purchase” of defense equipment from Moscow.
“Today’s action sends a clear signal that the United States will fully implement CAATSA Section 231 and will not tolerate significant transactions with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
“I also urge Turkey to resolve the S-400 problem immediately in coordination with the United States. Turkey is a valued Ally and an important regional security partner for the United States, and we seek to continue our decades-long history of productive defense-sector cooperation by removing the obstacle of Turkey’s S-400 possession as soon as possible,” he added.
Before today, the Trump administration had only used those sanctions once, penalizing China’s defense procurement agency for its own S400 purchase, along with Russian Sukhoi Su-35 combat aircraft.
After Turkey acquired the same missile system, Trump kicked the country out of the F-35 program, America’s most sophisticated stealth fighter, including its role in helping produce the aircraft.
Since Turkey’s purchase, Republicans have joined Democrats in urging the Trump administration to sanction Ankara, which Trump refused to do. U.S. officials said that sanctions would be withheld if Turkey didn’t employ the system, but Turkish official test fired it this October.
Despite that bipartisan pressure, Trump repeatedly backed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in blaming the Obama administration for refusing to sell Turkey the U.S. Patriot missile defense system, which Trump argued forced Ankara to turn to Russia instead.
“It’s a mess. It’s a mess, and honestly, it’s not really Erdogan’s fault,” Trump said in 2019 when Turkey acquired it. “I think he was unfairly treated.”
But that claim is not true, with Turkey given several opportunities to purchase Patriot missiles over the years, according to Republican lawmakers, former U.S. officials, and others.
The Turkish embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment about the sanctions Monday.
Monday’s sanctions include banning all U.S. export licenses to Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries, also known as SSB, as well as freezing the assets of and banning U.S. visas for its president Ismail Demir and other senior officials.
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