US lawmakers propose halting weapons sales to Turkey

A $717 billion annual US defense policy bill, whose details were released on Friday, includes a measure to temporarily halt weapons sales to Turkey.

According to a report by Reuters, the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes the level of defense spending and sets policies controlling how the funding is used, is set be debated in the House Armed Services Committee next week.

The legislation will ask the Defense Department to provide Congress with a report on the relationship between the US and Turkey, blocking the sale of major defense equipment until the report is complete, the agency said.

Turkey will retaliate if the US enacts a proposed law that would halt weapons sales to the country, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Sunday.

In an interview with broadcaster CNN Türk, Çavuşoğlu said the measures in the bill were wrong, illogical and not fitting between the two NATO allies. “If the United States imposes sanctions on us or takes such a step, Turkey will absolutely retaliate,” Çavuşoğlu said. “What needs to be done is the US needs to let go of this.”

Turkey signed an agreement with Russia in December to buy S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries as part of Ankara’s plans to boost its defense capabilities. The move to buy S-400s, which are incompatible with the NATO systems, has unnerved NATO member countries, which are already wary of Moscow’s military presence in the Middle East, prompting NATO officials to warn Turkey of unspecified consequences.

Çavuşoğlu dismissed the warnings, saying Turkey’s relations and agreements with Russia were not an alternative to its ties with the West and accused the US of trying to control Turkey’s actions. “Turkey is not a country under your orders, it is an independent country. … Speaking to such a country from above, dictating what it can and cannot buy, is not a correct approach and does not fit our alliance,” he said.

Meanwhile, at least 4,406 Kurdish militants have been “neutralized” since the launch of Operation Olive Branch in Syria on Jan. 20, 2018, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Saturday.

Speaking during an ordinary congress of his ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) women’s branch in central Kayseri province, Erdoğan said the military operations would continue against all terror groups. Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” in their statements to imply that the terrorists in question either surrendered or were killed or captured.

On Thursday, the United States said some 140,000 people had been displaced by the Turkish-led cross-border offensive to seize Syria’s district of Afrin from Syrian Kurdish forces and said Washington had grave concerns about the resulting humanitarian situation.

“140,000 people have been displaced from Afrin, and … as far as we can tell, they are not being allowed back in to their homes and communities,” US State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a news briefing. “We have expressed grave concern about the humanitarian situation in Afrin over recent weeks and months. That remains a concern of ours today,” she said.

It was the first time a US official had publicly pointed the finger at Turkey for preventing people from going back to their homes. “We call on all relevant actors operating in the northwest that includes Turkey, that includes Russia, that also includes Syria to provide access for international humanitarian aid organizations and to allow for people to come home,” Nauert said.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry on Saturday denied reports that citizens of Afrin were not being allowed back in their homes. “The US State Department spokeswoman has made unfortunate statements based on unconfirmed assumptions under the influence of PYD/YPG terrorist organization’s smear campaign in a news conference on May 3,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy claimed in a statement.

“First of all, it is the PYD/YPG that prevents local people from returning to Afrin,” Aksoy alleged and added that “the PYD/YPG is trying to produce new material in its smear campaign against Turkey, while the fact is explosives and mines planted by the terror group are a threat to the citizens and preventing them from going back home.”

“Turkey continues its efforts to normalize the situation in Afrin and to facilitate the safe return of local people,” Aksoy calimed.

“The humanitarian situation in Afrin being [described as] a ‘deep concern’ under the current circumstances is completely unfounded. The actual source of concern in northern Syria is the ongoing cooperation between countries we deem as our allies and PKK/PYD/YPG terrorists.”

Relations between the two NATO allies have lately been turbulent, with Turkey becoming increasingly worried about US backing for Kurdish fighters in Syria, against whom Turkey has launched an ongoing military offensive supported by the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Washington maintains that Kurdish fighters play a pivotal role in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the region.

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