WASHINGTON — A measure approved Thursday by a Senate committee would block the U.S. government from supporting the sale of weapons to security forces protecting Turkey’s president.
The amendment approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee is part of a continuing U.S. response to violence against peaceful protesters carried out by bodyguards traveling with the Turkish president during a visit to Washington this spring.
Bodyguards for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan punched and kicked protesters who had gathered outside the ambassador’s residence in May awaiting Erdogan’s return from a White House meeting with President Donald Trump.
A total of 19 people, including 15 identified as Turkish security officials, have been indicted on felony charges in the incident, which has complicated already tense relations between the U.S and Turkey.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration notified Congress of its intent to allow a New Hampshire gunmaker to sell $1.2 million in semi-automatic handguns and ammunition to an intermediary in Turkey for use by Erdogan’s security forces. The sale was quietly put on hold after the incident outside the ambassador’s residence. An official familiar with the administration’s plans said the sale has been shelved indefinitely.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who co-sponsored the amendment with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the vote by the appropriations panel sent “a strong, bipartisan message: We are not going to let President Erdogan’s personal bodyguards attack peaceful American protesters on American soil — and we’re certainly not going to sell them weapons while they do it.”
A spokesperson for the gunmaker, Sig Sauer, could not be reached Thursday.
Van Hollen said he and Leahy will work with the State Department to ensure that the Turkish National Police also are held accountable for their actions. The police have assisted Erdogan in suppressing dissent, Van Hollen said.
The amendment, part of a larger spending bill for the State Department, now goes to the full Senate.
The House passed a similar restriction in July as part of a defense authorization bill.
“We need to block this arms sale and once and for all point a finger in Erdogan’s chest and tell him that a strategic location does not place Turkey above the law,” said Rep. Dave Trott, R-Mich., who sponsored the House measure.