Turkey 'not out of the woods' on sanctions over S-400 purchase as India, others watch

By Justin Doubleday / September 12, 2019 at 12:43 PM

The Trump administration is still considering imposing statutorily mandated sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system, as officials worry that not doing anything could send the wrong message to other countries considering buying weapons from Moscow.

The United States already kicked Turkey out of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program earlier this summer. But officials have yet to sanction Turkey in accordance with the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which requires the U.S. government to sanction those who buy from Russia's defense sector.

R. Clarke Cooper, the assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said officials are still weighing how to proceed with the CAATSA requirements and Turkey.

"They are not out of the woods on the imposition of sanctions," Cooper told reporters during a breakfast in Washington this morning. "That is still at play."

Cooper said the U.S. government remains "steadfast" in the "surgical precision" of Turkey's removal from the F-35 program. However, he said Washington wants to maintain the other elements of its military-to-military relationship with Ankara and added that Turkey should continue to play an "active role" in NATO.

But he said the United States is considering how other countries will react to Turkey's situation.

"Turkey's an interesting case, because we have a number of partners who we have growing relationships with, who are closely watching how Turkey is managed and how they may either seek or choose not to seek an acquisition from near-peer adversaries," Cooper said.

Asked if he was specifically referencing India -- which also has long-standing plans to purchase the S-400 system -- Cooper acknowledged how the United States is seeking to bolster its relationship with New Delhi.

"We've 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 large defense articles with their previous relationship," Cooper said, referencing India's historic reliance on the Soviet Union for military hardware.

The Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act granted limited CAATSA waiver authority for U.S. allies who depend on legacy Russian equipment for their armed forces and cannot immediately suspend all relations with that defense sector.

But Cooper emphasized how the State Department views such waivers as only applying to long-term sustainment lines that would be "catastrophic" to cut short in the near-term.

"We're not saying getting rid of your Kalashnikovs and Kalashnikov rounds tomorrow," he said. "What we're talking about is significant acquisitions. The S-400 is a perfect example of a significant acquisition."