US Congress passes defense bill with tough measures on Turkey

The US Capitol is shown early December 18, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP)

The US Senate voted overwhelmingly to pass a bipartisan $738 billion defense policy bill on Tuesday which included the prohibition of Turkey from participating in the American F-35 fighter jet program and called for sanctions on Ankara to be imposed.

The bill worsens the already tense relationship between the US and Turkey, both members of international military alliance NATO.

In July the US government removed Turkey from the F-35 program over its purchase of Russia’s S-400 defense system, which Washington says is not compatible with NATO defenses and poses a threat to its F-35 jets. The bill reaffirmed Turkey’s removal from the program.

Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to the US legislation on Tuesday, calling the bill harmful to the improvement of Turkish-US relations.

“This bill demonstrates that the Congress persists in disrespecting Turkey’s sovereign decisions and in adopting an irrational hostile attitude by unfairly blocking our participation to the F-35 program,” the ministry said in a statement.

Known as the National Defense Authorization Act, the bill also ends a decades-old arms embargo on Cyprus. The US embargo intended to encourage conflict resolution on the island which has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded in response to a coup engineered by the then military regime in Athens.

Turkey’s foreign ministry condemned the US decision to end the embargo, saying it “will have no outcome other than hampering efforts towards a settlement on the island and creating a dangerous escalation.”

The US House of Representatives passed the Act, 377-48, a week earlier.

With the bill passing both chambers of US Congress, President Donald Trump is expected to sign it into law.

Relations between Ankara and Washington are at one of the lowest points in recent history.

On Thursday US Congress formally recognized the 1915-1917 murder of up to 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks as genocide, an accusation strongly denied by Turkey.

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