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Senate Foreign Relations chair: ‘Best’ not to pass Turkey sanctions bill ‘at this moment’

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) said Thursday he does not think now is the right time to pass a Turkey sanctions bill, further dampening the prospects such legislation passing the Senate.

“I think probably it’s best we don’t pass the sanctions bill at this moment,” Risch said. “But having said that, they’re there. I think the mood of the Congress, which we explained to President Erdoğan very clearly, was not in his favor. And that we could probably pass any one of those three bills if we simply put it for a vote.”

Risch was speaking to reporters a day after meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the White House. He described the meeting as “spirited” and said he focused on impressing upon Erdoğan the pitfalls of Turkey’s purchase of a Russian missile defense system.

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Despite his opposition to passing a sanctions bill, Risch said he still hopes to take up his and Sen. Bob Menendez’s (D-N.J.) sanctions bill in his committee in the “next few weeks.”

“Let’s get it ready,” Risch said of his plan to mark up the bill. “I want them to know we’re serious — I say I want them to know we’re serious, they know we’re serious. I am absolutely convinced when President Erdoğan left, he probably has a very different view than he did when he landed here.”

Earlier this year, Turkey took delivery of a Russian S-400 air defense system. The United States, concerned about the S-400 gathering data on the U.S. F-35 fighter jet, responded by booting Turkey out of the F-35 program.

A law known as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) also calls for sanctions for doing business with Russia’s defense industry.

In the wake of Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria, the House overwhelmingly passed a Turkey sanctions bill.

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In the Senate, two sanctions bill have been introduced: one from Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and one from Risch and Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Menendez.

Prospects for taking up a bill were already low after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned lawmakers against rushing to sanction a NATO ally such as Turkey.

On Thursday, Risch described not wanting to pass a bill right now as a way to maintain good faith during negotiations over the S-400.

“When you’re sitting at the negotiating table, it’s best everybody put their swords down while they’re talking,” he said.

Risch also said there are “real discussions” going on and that Erdoğan left Wednesday’s meeting “very clearly aware of the decisions that he has to make and the repercussions for those decisions.” 

He added he thinks the Senate should take up a bill “at a point that I believe that the negotiations have fallen off the rails enough that we need to take some more action for them to rethink it or that it’s not going anywhere.”

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