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US House lawmakers take aim at Turkey with their own sanctions bill

The PACT Act closely mirrors the unsuccessful Graham-Van Hollen Turkey Sanctions Bill in the Senate.

U.S. House sanctions legislation seeks to cut off American and foreign military equipment deals to Turkey, if they could be used in Syria. [Photo Credit: Shutterstock]

U.S. House lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favor of legislation to impose stiff economic sanctions against Turkey’s political and defense leadership for the country’s recent military incursion into northern Syria.

In an Oct. 30 statement, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-New York, who co-sponsored the legislation with Ranking Committee Member Michael McCaul, R-Texas, called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “an authoritarian thug.”

“We need to pressure him while ramping up diplomacy in the hopes of getting Turkey back on the right track as a NATO ally,” Engel added. “That’s one of the goals of this measure.”

The Protect Against Conflict by Turkey (PACT) Act (H.R. 4695), which passed the House by a vote of 403-16 on Oct. 29, echoes legislation proposed by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, on Oct. 9, that failed to reach the Senate floor for a vote.

The PACT Act calls for a mandatory freeze and visa ban on Turkey’s senior government officials, including Turkish President Erdogan’s son-in-law, the country’s treasury and finance minister.

The legislation would also prohibit the transfer of U.S. defense technology to Turkey if it could be used in Syria and would prevent President Trump from invoking the emergency provision of the Arms Export Control Act to get around congressional holds on arms sales to Turkey.

The act would apply secondary sanctions on any foreign person who provides arms to Turkey if they are used in Syria.

In addition, the legislation would apply sanctions on Halkbank, a Turkish bank with ties to Erdogan that is allegedly involved in financing equipment purchases by Turkey’s military.

The PACT Act, like the Graham-Van Hollen Turkey Sanctions Bill, would require the Trump administration to impose Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) Section 321 against Turkey within 30 days for its acquisition of the Russian S-400 air and missile defense system.

The House legislation, however, would end the sanctions if Turkey halts attacks against the Syrian Democratic Forces and withdraws its military from Syria.

“President Trump has let Erdogan off scot-free for a heinous assault that is destabilizing the region and threatening international security,” Engel said. “President Trump and President Erdogan are responsible for the catastrophe in northeast Syria. They both must be held accountable.”

Turkish forces launched their attacks after Trump on Oct. 9 signed an executive order to remove U.S. troops from Syria and added that the Kurds would be on their own to defend themselves.

On Oct. 14, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) placed Turkey’s Ministry of National Defense and Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, as well as National Defense Minister Hulisi Akar, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and Energy Minister Fatih Donmez, on the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List.

That immediately blocked any assets or investments these officials had in the U.S. and prevented U.S. persons or companies from conducting business with them.

President Trump on Oct. 23 ordered the lifting of U.S. sanctions against the three senior Turkish government officials and two ministries after Turkey completed its five-day ceasefire along the northern Syrian border.

Chris Gillis

Located in the Washington, D.C. area, Chris Gillis primarily reports on regulatory and legislative topics that impact cross-border trade. He joined American Shipper in 1994, shortly after graduating from Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Md., with a degree in international business and economics.