WASHINGTON — The U.S. is still weighing whether to impose sanctions against Turkey for its purchase of a Russian-made air defense system, a top U.S. State Department official warned Thursday.
Turkey is “not out of the woods on an imposition of sanctions. That is still in play,” said R. Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, during an event hosted by the Defense Writers Group.
Turkey’s decision to procure the Russian-made S-400 has led to Ankara’s expulsion from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. Under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, passed in 2017, any nation procuring a major defense article form Russia should face major sanctions.
Members of Congress expected those sanctions to be applied in July following Turkey’s acceptance of the S-400, but President Donald Trump has been slow to act and has expressed sympathy for Turkey in this situation.
The decision on implementing sanctions against Turkey is not tied to a specific timeline, but rather “conditions-based,” Cooper said.
“There is no finite, I would say, [timeline] by statute as far as sanctions are concerned," the official added. "All the options are on the table as to how to address that. It’s something that has not been completely resolved.”
Interestingly, Cooper also indicated a split inside Turkey on the S-400 issue, saying that “depending on who one talks to in Turkish government, there are those who are acutely aware and sensitive and appreciate that this is not over, and are wanting to get back to the way things may have been at a different time, and decisions coming out of Ankara are not necessarily representative of the military institution or the foreign ministry.”
The diplomat also brought up on his own the importance of Turkey as something of a test case for America’s resolve to block major Russian systems from entering the inventories of allies and partners. “Turkey’s an interesting case because we have a number of partners where we have growing relationships with who are closely watching how Turkey is managed, and how they may either seek or choose not to seek acquisition from a near-peer adversary.”
Asked whether he was referring to India, which is considering buying the S-400, Cooper acknowledged that New Delhi is front of mind but that “there are other states that are watching as well.”
“We have been very clear with India — I have, [Secretary of State Mike Pompeo] has — that we are wanting to invest further in our relationship with India and their capacities, but they cannot expand into what I would say are larger defense articles with their previous relationship,” Cooper said. “We’re not saying get rid of our Kalashnikovs and all of your Kalashnikov rounds tomorrow. That’s not what we’re talking about. What we’re talking about is significant acquisitions. The S-400 is a perfect example of a significant acquisition.”
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.