Shaheen, Senate group press for more sanctions vs. Turkey

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, joined a bipartisan group of senators backing tougher sanctions against Turkey even in the wake of a ceasefire in that region. Flanking Shaheen at this Capitol Hill news conference from left were Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. (Courtesy Photo)

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, and a team of bipartisan senators announced a series of proposed sanctions against Turkey Thursday, less than an hour before Vice President Mike Pence announced a ceasefire in that region.

Shaheen and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said a ceasefire does not erase the need for Congress to send this strong message to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that his attack on Syrian Kurds led to a resurgence of ISIS and must be repudiated.

“We can’t undo the damage that has already been done but we can demonstrate to President Erdogan that it is not just President Trump that speaks to foreign policy, it is also the Congress,” Shaheen said during a news conference on Capitol Hill.

Beyond a ceasefire, Shaheen said Trump should revoke his invitation for Erdogan to come to the U.S. for a state visit.

“I believe the President should withdraw his invitation to President Erdogan to be his guest here. When people are being killed because of President Erdogan’s aggression, we are extending hospitalities and niceties to Erdogan at the White House,” Shaheen said.

“That invitation should be rescinded and rescinded immediately.”

Graham said this action is needed to inform allies and potential adversaries that there’s a cost to harming America’s national security interests.

“The bottom line is I think what the administration has done has gotten Turkey’s attention, but it clearly hasn’t worked,” Graham said. “The reason we are doing this is China is watching, Russia is watching, Iran is watching. I want them to know you don’t get a pass. You (China) do something in Hong Kong we are going to do something even worse.”

Graham predicted if the sanctions bill came to a Senate vote, it would get a “veto proof” majority.

After Turkey’s troops went into Syria, Trump announced tariffs on steel.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., called this response a “pin prick,” maintaining that it represents only four-tenths of 1 percent of Turkish exports.

“The Syrian Kurds have been the tip of the spear in the fight against ISIS and its resurgence and we cannot abandon them,” said Van Hollen who just returned from a counter-terrorism trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan with Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH.

“We have to send a message that America will stand for our allies and make sure ISIS does not get oxygen and come back. They have been down but they are not out.”

Hassan also signed on as a co-sponsor to the sanctions bill.

“President Trump’s reckless decision to give the green light for Turkey to invade Syria has resulted in serious consequences that endanger our national security. Hundreds of ISIS soldiers have escaped from prison, and Turkey has slaughtered innocent civilians and Kurdish troops who fought alongside American soldiers against ISIS,” Hassan said in a statement.

“Today’s so-called ceasefire does not change the fact that Turkey’s actions violate the commitments it made as a member of NATO, and I stand firmly with my fellow Republican and Democratic cosponsors of this bill in our desire to levy strong sanctions against Turkey.”

Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., joined on the sanctions bill, which would restrict VISA access to this country from Turkey, impose sanctions on Turkish armed forces and prohibit any U.S. bank from purchasing Turkey’s debt.

Blumenthal spoke after he was in a top-secret classified briefing on conditions in Syria.

“My feeling was horror and shame. For the people of the United States, you should feel horror and shame and deep disappointment in the abdication of leadership and our values,” Blumenthal said.

In June 2018, Shaheen and Graham met with Erdogan about the imprisonment of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was released a few months later.

“Everywhere we went we saw children flashing V signs when they would see we were Americans,” Shaheen recalled.

“What we heard over and over again from the Kurds, from the Syrians, from the Arabs was ‘Please, don’t let the U.S. abandon us.’ Well, that is exactly what we have done.”

Shaheen said when Trump promised in 2017 he would withdraw U.S. troops in Syria, that “sowed the seeds” of what has happened.

“In just one week, we have undone five years of hard-earned stability in northeast Syria,” Shaheen added.

As part of the ceasefire deal, Pence said that the U.S. would not implement any more sanctions on Turkey and that it would revoke all economic punishments once a permanent ceasefire takes effect.

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