Congress urges State Department on Turkey’s drone program

WASHINGTON, DC – 28 members of the House of Representatives, led by Congressmen David Cicilline from Rhode Island and Gus Bilirakis from Florida, wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken to “[express] concern over Turkey’s armed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program, which has destabilized several regions of the world and threatens US interests, allies and partners.

Over the past two sessions of Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate have sent several signals to Ankara that it should not take its once-privileged relationship with the US defense industry for granted. The Erdogan government did not take the signals seriously when it bought Russian S400s, and Congress then forced Turkey’s withdrawal from the F35 program and the imposition of Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) sanctions. .

Now Congress seems to have Turkey’s drone program in mind. Just two weeks ago, Senator Robert Menendez asked Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland about the program during a full hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Now House members are asking Secretary Blinken for an in-depth briefing.

According to Congressman Cicillin: “We have long given Turkey access to leading military technology. It is imperative that American technology be used in accordance with American interests, values ​​and alliances. That is why we are asking Secretary Blinken to investigate whether Turkey’s drone program violates US law or destabilizes areas in which we have national security interests.

Congressman Bilirakis drew a parallel with the controversy that led to CAATSA’s sanctions against Turkey: a way that negatively affects our national security or violates our laws. Turkey has violated the trust our defense establishment has placed in it, and that is why we would like the Biden administration to inform us of this killer drone program. “

Since the start of the Biden administration, Turkey has constantly tried to change its image in Washington, DC, by hiring additional lobbyists and sending in a new ambassador who immediately launched a charm offensive. But as has been the case with other political changes in the Eastern Mediterranean, coalitions of American civic organizations appear to be more than up to the task.

Groups that were at the forefront of the #NoJetsForTurkey and #SanctionTurkey campaigns – the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and In Defense of Christians (IDC) – are now part of ‘a broad coalition network that includes the American Friends of Kurdistan, the American Hindu Foundation and the Middle East Forum pushing for a strict review of Turkey’s drone program.

“Turkey has for too long treated its privileged relationship with the US defense industry as a license to ignore America’s core interests, values ​​and partnerships around the world. Turkey’s drone programs are just the latest way this so-called ally threatens US interests – and arguably violates US law, ”said HALC Executive Director Endy Zemenides.

Turkish Bayraktar drones deployed by Azerbaijan against Artsakh last fall were discovered to contain at least 10 parts made in the United States. According to ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian, “A long awaited State Department investigation into Turkey’s drone program – with particular emphasis on the discovery of American parts in Bayraktar drones deployed by the ‘Azerbaijan against the Armenian indigenous population of Artsakh ”.

The role of the Hindu American Foundation in this coalition should be noted, as American Hindus are increasingly a leading force in American politics, and because it could signal a Greece-Armenia-India “lobby” to the United States. United States which is proving to be an increasingly serious thorn for Turkey. , Pakistan and Azerbaijan. “Pakistan’s introduction of a terrorist drone war in Kashmir last month in an emerging threat to peace and stability in the region and the response from the United States and world leaders must be swift,” said Taniel Koushakjian, Director of Public Policy at the Hindu American Foundation.

The 28 members of Congress criticized Turkey’s use of drones against the Kurds’ partnership with US forces against ISIS, prompting Diliman Abdulkader – the spokesman for the American Friends of Kurdistan – to say: “The Turkish regime continues to use NATO as a shield while using its drone program. target our allies and partners in the region.

In another indication of how the impression of Turkey has radically changed in the United States, Cliff Smith, director of the Washington project of the Middle East Forum, a think tank that celebrated the US-Turkey alliance, applauded Congressional initiative: “Today Erdogan’s Turkey was warned that it cannot continue to ignore America’s interests and laws without winning the wrath of Republicans and Democrats in Congress. I am optimistic that the Biden administration will follow up and open an investigation into Turkey’s drone program and the potential flouted US arms control laws and sanctions imposed on Turkey for past bad behavior.

Joining Representatives Cicillin and Bilirakis by co-signing the letter to Secretary of State Blinken are Representatives: Colin Allred (D-TX), Don Bacon (R-NE), Judy Chu (D-CA), Ted Deutch (D-FL ), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), Al Green (D-TX), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Brian Mast (R-FL), James McGovern (D-MA), Grace Meng (D-NY), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Chris Papas (D- NH), John Sarbanes (D-MD), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Dina Titus (D -NV), Norma Torres (D-CA), David Valadao (R-CA) and Michael Waltz (R-FL).

The full text of the letter follows:

The Honorable Antony Blinken
Secretary of State
US Department of State
2201 C Street NO
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Blinken –

We are writing to you to express our concern about Turkey’s armed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program, which has destabilized several regions of the world and threatens US interests, allies and partners.

Through our long-standing alliance, Turkey has secured favorable terms from the US defense industry, including co-production rights for weapon systems, advanced arms sales and technology transfers. Despite decades of close cooperation, Turkey chose to violate this relationship by purchasing the Russian S400 anti-aircraft missile defense system in violation of US law – the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). So far, the Turkish government has not been deterred and it has been reported that Turkey is purchasing a second S400 system from Russia.[1]

Turkey’s actions continued to defeat its responsibilities as a NATO member state, despite its expulsion from the F35 Joint Strike Fighter program and the imposition of sanctions. These actions include the proliferation of drones.

Over the past year, Turkish drones have been deployed by Azerbaijan against Armenian civilians in Artsakh, Syria; against the Kurdish forces which joined forces with the United States in the war against ISIS; and in the civil war in Libya. Turkey has made deals to sell drones to Poland[2] and pakistani[3] and discuss the joint production[4] armed drones and anti-drone defense systems with Russia and Pakistan. Turkey has also declared its intention to establish a permanent drone base in occupied Cyprus,[5] which will deploy attack drones from its amphibious assault ships.[6]

The potential of these drones to further destabilize flashpoints in the Caucus, South Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and North Africa is too great to be ignored. In a recent Wall Street Journal article on the Turkish program, retired US Army Lt. Gen. Mike Nagata said Turkish drones were “part of a much larger challenge regarding the future of relations between Turkey, the United States and NATO ”.[7]

We also wish to note that the evidence from the Artsakh battlefield confirms that Turkish Bayraktar drones contain parts and technology from US companies and US subsidiaries of foreign companies.[8] The continued transfer of such technology appears to violate arms export control laws and run counter to CAATSA sanctions that Congress has imposed on Turkey, especially its Savunma Sanayii Baskanligi (SSB) ( Turkish Presidency of Defense Industries).

We request a State Department briefing that details the potential ramifications of the proliferation, use and sale of Turkish drones; whether or not Turkey is developing drones with materials or technologies that would be in violation of the sanctions currently imposed; and whether Turkey’s actions constitute a further violation of NATO rules and statutes. We further call for an immediate suspension of all permits to export U.S. drone technology to Turkey pending review by the State Department.

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