The Republican Chairman of the U.S. Senate’s powerful Foreign Relations Committee sounded off on a recent delivery of a Russian defence system to NATO ally Turkey.
During an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, Senator James Risch (R-Idaho) suggested he doesn’t think the purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system is compatible with what NATO stands for.
“NATO was set up to push against Russia,” Senator Risch said. “Turkey is a member of NATO and they should act like a member of NATO.”
Turkey announced that it was purchasing the Russian defence system in 2017, saying it was forced to do so after initially trying and failing to get the American-made Patriot missile system.
Since then, the procurement has added to the current diplomatic strain on U.S.-Turkish relations, with the United States signalling it would have to impose sanctions.
Under the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), the United States is required to implement sanctions on Russian military exports.
After a recent meeting at the White House with his Turkish counterpart, U.S. President Donald Trump noted that Turkey is a “great NATO ally”, but both sides were currently not able to resolve the issue surrounding the missile defence system.
Senator Risch sat in on the meeting and said that Turkey could choose to have the S-400 missile system – but it would not be sold five of the Lockheed-Martin’s F-35 fighter jets that are ready to be delivered from the U.S. aerospace maker.
“As chairman of the foreign relations committee, I have to sign off on all weapons that leave the country,” Senator Risch said. “I told them I am not signing off on F-35s as long as you have S-400 missiles in your country and in your control.”
Turkey joined nine partner countries including Canada in the development of the 5th generation fighter aircraft.
Earlier this year the United States suspended Turkish participation in the multinational F-35 fighter jet program, in reaction to the nation refusing to drop the procurement of the Russian missile defence system.
However, recent remarks by Turkish ambassador to Canada Kerim Uras suggest that the purchase of Russian materiel is not an outlying incident by NATO members, pointing out past purchases of Russian S-300 missiles by fellow member Greece.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan doesn’t look like he’s backing down, and after meeting him, Senator Risch thinks the Turkish president’s current policy on acquiring military arms puts him in a tough situation.
“He’s got to make some tough decisions,” Senator Risch said. “He’s a very firm individual… but he’s got to make some decisions.”
NATO recently celebrated its 70th anniversary as a strategic political and military alliance that was formed in the aftermath of the Second World War, but has an evolved goal of countering Russian influence.
When asked about whether Turkey should remain a member of the Trans-Atlantic military alliance, Senator Risch said that only time will determine whether other members question Turkey’s place in the group.
“There are people that are asking that question,” Senator Risch said. “Probably not much further conduct along that line before that question is going to be asked even more seriously.”