After sanctions, Congress committee criticises Turkey over six policies

Bipartisan statement from House foreign affairs committee expresses concerns over relationship

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a ceremony via video link?in Ankara, Turkey, December 16, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.
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The US House foreign affairs committee criticised Turkey’s government on Wednesday, singling out six of Ankara's policies that “undermine the Nato alliance".

Departing Democratic committee chairman Eliot Engel and the leading Republican on the committee, Michael McCaul, expressed “grave concern” over relations with Turkey.

“While we continue to see real value in a strong US-Turkey relationship, its destabilising actions need to be more strongly addressed," they said in a joint statement.

"And the United States must work with its European and Nato allies and partners to continue to use all of the tools at their disposal to demand that Turkey reverse course."

They mentioned six policy areas that they hoped Turkey would reverse.

The first was its acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile defence system, which “compromises Nato interoperability and undermines the alliance’s collective defence pledge".

On Monday, the Trump administration took an unprecedented step in imposing sanctions on Ankara over buying and testing the S-400 system from Moscow.

The statement also referred to Turkey's military operation in north-east Syria, which it claimed "risked reversing critical gains by the United States and our local partners in the ongoing counter-ISIS fight, and exacerbated the existing humanitarian crisis".

It accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of fanning the flames of other global conflicts, “reportedly sending Syrian mercenaries to Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh".

The congressmen also mentioned the Eastern Mediterranean conflict, in which they said Ankara was disrupting transatlantic relations.

It “has surveyed for hydrocarbon resources in disputed waters also claimed by Greece, a Nato member, and Cyprus, a key transatlantic partner".

The committee members also mentioned Ankara's relations with the Palestinian militant group Hamas, and that Mr Erdogan "has openly hosted Hamas terrorists in Turkey, including individuals designated by the United States for their terrorist activities".

In August, Mr Erdogan hosted a delegation from Hamas led by its leader, Ismail Haniyeh.

It included deputy chief Saleh Al Arouri, chief of Hamas abroad Maher Salah, the group’s head of Arab and Islamic religions, Ezzat Al Rihiq, and its representative in Turkey, Jihad Yaghmor.

The congressmen also criticised Mr Erdogan’s policies at home, which they said “undermined Turkey’s democratic institutions by consolidating his own power, undermining the independence of Turkey’s judiciary, and … targeting locally employed staff at US consulates with baseless criminal charges".

The statement was issued five weeks before president-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Aaron Stein, director of research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, wrote this week that the ball was in Turkey’s court to improve relations and offer a compromise to Mr Biden.

“Mr Biden will have to make the case to a sceptical Congress that the relationship with Turkey is worth the headache,” Mr Stein wrote.

“This transactional approach to foreign policy is exactly what Turkish officials have claimed they wanted.

"However, it requires that Ankara offer something to Washington as part of a mutually beneficial exchange."

Mr Erdogan congratulated Mr Biden on his win but the two have not yet spoken.

In 2016, Mr Erdogan was one of the first leaders to call departing President Donald Trump on November 9.

The two men have had a strong personal relationship despite policy disagreements between Washington and Ankara.