Kathimerini Greece Newsroom
Twenty-eight members of the House of Representatives, led by Congressmen David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Gus Bilirakis of Florida, wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken to “[express] concern over Turkey’s armed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program, which has destabilized multiple regions of the globe and threatens US interests, allies, and partners.”
Over the last two sessions of Congress, both the House of Representatives and the Senate have sent several signals to Ankara that it should not take its once privileged relationship with the American defense industry for granted. The Erdogan government did not take the signals seriously when it came to its purchase of Russia S400s, and Congress then forced Turkey’s removal from the F35 program and the imposition of CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) sanctions.
Now, Congress seems to have Turkey’s drone program in its sight. Just two weeks ago, Senator Robert Menendez questioned Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland about the program in a full Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. Now, members of the House are asking Secretary Blinken for an in-depth briefing.
According to Congressman Cicilline: “We have long given Turkey access to top shelf military technology. It is imperative that American technology is used consistent with American interests, values and alliances. That is why we are asking Secretary Blinken to investigate whether Turkey’s drone program violates American law or destabilizes regions in which we have national security interests.”
'That is why we are asking Secretary Blinken to investigate whether Turkey’s drone program violates American law or destabilizes regions in which we have national security interests'
Congressman Bilirakis drew a parallel with the controversy that led to CAATSA sanctions on Turkey: “As we did in the case of the F35s and the S400s, Congress has come together in a bipartisan fashion to ensure that American weapons and technology is not being transferred in a way that negatively affects our national security or breaks our laws. Turkey has violated the trust our defense establishment has placed in it, and that is why we would like the Biden Administration to brief us on this killer drone program.”
Since the beginning of the Biden Administration, Turkey has consistently tried to change its image in Washington, DC, hiring additional lobbyists and sending a new ambassador who immediately launched a charm offensive. But as was the case in other policy changes in the Eastern Mediterranean, coalitions of American civic organizations seem to be more than a match for these efforts.
The groups that were at the forefront of the #NoJetsForTurkey and #SanctionTurkey campaigns – the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), and In Defense of Christians (IDC) – are now part of an expanded coalition that includes American Friends of Kurdistan, the Hindu American Foundation, and the Middle East Forum pushing for strict scrutiny of Turkey’s drone program.
“Turkey has for too long treated its privileged relationship with the American defense industry as a license to disregard America’s core interests, its values, and its partnerships around the world. Turkey’s drone programs is but the latest way this purported ally threatens American interests – and arguably violates American law,” said HALC’s Executive Director, Endy Zemenides.
Turkish Bayraktar drones deployed by Azerbaijan against Artsakh last fall were discovered to contain at least 10 parts manufactured in the United States. According to ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian, “a State Department investigation is long overdue into Turkey’s drone program – with a special focus on the discovery of US parts in the Bayraktar drones deployed by Azerbaijan against the indigenous Armenian population of Artsakh.”
The Hindu American Foundation’s role in this coalition should be noted, as Hindu Americans are increasingly a prominent force in American politics, and because it might signal a Greece-Armenia-India “lobby” within the US that proves to be an increasing thorn to Turkey, Pakistan and Azerbaijan. “Pakistan’s introduction of terror drone warfare in Kashmir last month in an emerging threat to peace and stability in the region and the response from the US and world leaders must be swift,” noted Hindu American Foundation Director of Public Policy Taniel Koushakjian.
The 28 members of Congress criticized Turkey’s use of drones against Kurds partnership with US forces against ISIS, prompting Diliman Abdulkader – the spokesman for American Friends of Kurdistan – to declare: “The Turkish regime continues to use NATO as a shield while using its drone program to target our allies and partners in the region.”
In another indication of how drastically the impression of Turkey has changed in the US, Cliff Smith, the Washington Project Director of the Middle East Forum, a think tank that used to celebrate the US-Turkey alliance, cheered on the Congressional initiative: “Today, Erdogan’s Turkey has been put on notice that they cannot continue to ignore America’s interests and laws without earning the ire of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. I am optimistic that the Biden Administration will follow through and open an investigation into Turkey’s drone program and the potential flouting of American arms control laws and sanctions imposed on Turkey for past bad behavior.”