A key Senate panel won’t take up bipartisan legislation sanctioning Turkey for its invasion of northern Syria until after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan completes his upcoming visit to the United States, according to senators and aides.
The move by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) to delay action on the sanctions bill ensures President Donald Trump won’t need to deal with a diplomatic flap during Erdogan’s Washington trip, tentatively scheduled for next week.
Turkish officials are unhappy over the sanctions bill approved by the House last week, as well as passage of a separate resolution condemning the Ottoman Empire’s genocide of Armenians from 1915 to 1923. More than one million Armenians were killed during that period. The State Department has come out in opposition to both measures.
The House in late October voted overwhelmingly in favor to sanction senior Turkish officials, as well as a prohibition of transfers of U.S. military technology to Turkish units involved in the Syria campaign, a remarkable rebuke of a NATO ally. More than 175 House Republicans, including the entire GOP leadership team, voted for the bill, authored by Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman and ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
The House bill also requires the Treasury Department to estimate the personal fortune of Erdogan and his family, a direct slap at the longtime Turkish leader.
In an interview, Risch said he opposed any action on the sanctions bill while Erdogan is in Washington, a nod to the diplomatic sensitivities of the visit.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to have a hearing on that bill while [Erdogan] is here,” Risch said.
A Foreign Relations Committee aide said that there had been discussions with Democrats about moving forward on the sanctions legislation, although no firm date for a committee hearing or mark-up had been agreed upon.
But Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), top Democrat on Foreign Relations, said that the panel was supposed to vote on the sanctions bill next week. Menendez acknowledged Risch may have changed his mind on the issue, however.
“We were supposed to have a mark-up on our legislation but I have a feeling that the chairman doesn’t want to do anything while Erdogan is here,” Menendez said.
“My hope is we’ll be actually marking up legislation. We’ve come close to an agreement … I hope that the White House isn’t slowing things down,” Menendez added.
White House officials did not respond to requests for comment on the issue.
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