Turkey faces prospect of US sanctions over Russia arms deal

Turkey faces prospect of US sanctions over Russia arms deal

Signing of $740bn defence bill would force Trump to act against Ankara over missile system purchase

US lawmakers have agreed defence legislation that will force the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Turkey for buying a Russian missile system and penalise companies linked to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

The House and Senate armed services committees reached consensus on a $740bn defence bill that is expected to pass Congress this month. Donald Trump has threatened to veto the annual defence spending legislation, but he will face pressure to sign it because it funds the salaries of military personnel.

The National Defense Authorization Act would compel the White House to impose sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of the Russian S-400 air defence missile system within 30 days of becoming law. That would force Mr Trump to take action before he leaves office on January 20.

Ankara’s purchase of the S-400 last year stoked tensions with Washington and should have triggered sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act. Congress has been frustrated by the president’s reluctance to apply sanctions to the US ally.

The defence bill requires Mr Trump to impose at least five sanctions outlined in Caatsa, including a ban on US banking and property transactions, the denial of US visas and forcing US lenders to deny loans to any sanctioned companies. 

The legislation also expands the list of sanctionable activities related to Nord Stream 2, the controversial pipeline that will carry natural gas from Russia to Germany, to include insurance companies.

The NDAA would also block Mr Trump’s plans to withdraw roughly one-third of the 34,500 US forces stationed in Germany. The president recently fired his defence secretary partly over opposition to drawing down troops in Afghanistan.

Mr Trump vowed this week to veto the bill unless Congress included language to strip social media companies of legal protections over content posted on their platforms. He has accused social media groups of bias against conservatives and attempting to damage his re-election.

Lawmakers also declined to remove a provision that would force the Pentagon to rename military bases named after Confederate generals associated with supporting slavery, despite a separate veto threat from Mr Trump.

While the NDAA includes language to restrain Mr Trump, it also includes measures targeting China that will put pressure on Joe Biden, the US president-elect, to take a tougher national security stance. The legislation would require the Pentagon to compile a list of Chinese companies operating in the US that have links to the country’s military.

Under White House pressure, the Pentagon this year started releasing staggered lists of Chinese companies under a 1999 law. On Thursday, it added four companies to the list, including Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation and China National Offshore Oil Corporation. The congressional directive would require the publication of an annual list.

The move reflects a bipartisan consensus in Washington of confrontation with Beijing. It also points to growing concern about China’s “military-civil fusion” strategy, which forces Chinese companies to share technology with the military.

Eric Sayers, an Asia security expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said Congress wanted to ensure that the issue was “front and centre” by mandating an annual list of companies that support the Chinese defence industrial base.

“This process is likely to create additional congressional action next year and put pressure on the Biden team to continue to take steps to hollow out China’s military-civil fusion strategy,” Mr Sayers said.

Demetri Sevastopulo and Aime Williams in Washington

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