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US set to slap sanctions on Turkey over S-400 deal with Russia — report

Trump has opposed sanctions but would soon have been forced by Senate, Reuters reports; EU also sanctions Ankara over Mediterranean drilling

US President Donald Trump (L) talks to Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) as they arrive for the NATO summit, at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, July 11, 2018. (Tatyana ZENKOVICH/AFP)
US President Donald Trump (L) talks to Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) as they arrive for the NATO summit, at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, July 11, 2018. (Tatyana ZENKOVICH/AFP)

The United States was reportedly set to announce sanctions against Turkey as early as Friday over the country’s acquisition last year of S-400 air defense systems from Russia, likely worsening bilateral ties in the tail-end of US President Donald Trump’s term.

The sanctions will target Turkey’s Presidency of Defence Industries and its head, Ismail Demir, and will be “damaging but narrower than the severe scenarios some analysts have outlined,” the Reuters news agency reported Thursday night, citing five unnamed sources, including three US officials.

The move would further batter Turkey’s economy, which is already struggling with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and battling double-digit inflation. The report said the Turkish lira lost some 1.4 percent in anticipation of the sanctions.

The US contends that the S-400 missiles pose a threat to fellow NATO members. It has previously removed Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program over the matter. However, it has also sought to avoid pushing Turkey even closer to Russia.

Trump has given his blessing for the sanctions, the report said, even though some of the sources noted that the decision ultimately wasn’t entirely up to him.

Trump, who developed a working relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has long opposed sanctions against Turkey over the S-400 deal, the report said, even though officials internally recommended such measures as early as July 2019.

But a $740 billion annual defense authorization bill, set to be voted on by the US Senate in the coming days, would force the president to impose sanctions on Turkey within 30 days. By imposing sanctions now, Trump is avoiding looking like his hand is being forced, one source told Reuters.

An unnamed Turkish official cited in the report commented that “sanctions would not achieve a result but be counter-productive. They would harm relations. Turkey is in favor of solving these problems with diplomacy and negotiations. We won’t accept one-sided impositions.”

Military vehicles and equipment, parts of the S-400 air defense systems, are unloaded from a Russian transport aircraft at Murted military airport in Ankara, Turkey, July 12, 2019. (Turkish Defense Ministry via AP, Pool)

In a separate development, European Union leaders early Friday gave the green light for the expansion of sanctions against Turkey over its exploration of gas reserves in Mediterranean waters claimed by EU members Greece and Cyprus.

“Regrettably, Turkey has engaged in unilateral actions and provocations and escalated its rhetoric against the EU, EU member states and European leaders,” they said in a statement from their summit in Brussels.

At their last summit in October, the leaders offered “a positive political EU-Turkey agenda” to Ankara, including trade and customs benefits and the prospect of more funds to help Turkey manage Syrian refugees on its territory if it halts its “illegal activities” in the eastern Mediterranean.

The leaders said that offer remains on the table if Turkey is prepared to enter into a “genuine partnership” and begin a real dialogue with the EU, and if Ankara shows a willingness to resolve differences through dialogue and in accordance with international law.

Illustrative: In this July 9, 2019 file photo, a Turkish Navy warship patrols near Turkey’s drilling ship ‘Fatih’ that was making its way towards the eastern Mediterranean near Cyprus to begin drilling operations. (Turkish Defence Ministry via AP, Pool)

But given the lack of a response so far, they invited the 27-nation bloc’s ministers “to adopt additional listings” for sanctions “concerning restrictive measures in view of Turkey’s unauthorized drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.”

The leaders told EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to draw up a report on the state of EU-Turkey political, economic and trade relations and to suggest how to proceed, including on widening sanctions, and submit it to the leaders by the time they hold their summit in March next year.

Pressure had been mounting for the EU to act, given its previous threats and Turkey’s refusal to respond.

The 27 EU countries are split over how best to handle Turkey. France and Cyprus have pushed for tougher measures like economic sanctions, but other countries are concerned about further undermining the country’s already ravaged economy and destabilizing the region.

On Wednesday, Erdogan brushed off the threat of sanctions and accused the EU, which Turkey is a candidate to join although its membership talks are blocked, of acting “dishonestly” and failing to keep its promises.

“Any decision to impose sanctions against Turkey won’t be of great concern to Turkey,” Erdogan told reporters.

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