Graham’s Turkey Sanctions Bill Includes Sovereign-Debt Ban
(Bloomberg) — Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is proposing a prohibition on anyone in the U.S. from buying Turkey’s sovereign debt, according to the sanctions bill, as lawmakers aim to escalate pressure on the Turkish government over its actions in Syria.
The prohibition is part of a menu of sanctions in a bipartisan measure Graham introduced Thursday with Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen. The bill would also target the top levels of the Turkish government, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his cabinet, the country’s energy sector and military sales.
Speaking with reporters Thursday, Van Hollen said it is “within Turkey’s power” to avoid these sanctions by drawing back from its invasion of Syrian territory that had been controlled by the Kurds allied with the U.S. in the fight against Islamic State.
“We do not want these sanctions to have to go into effect,” Van Hollen said. However, he added that Congress will insist on punishing Turkey if it doesn’t change course.
The bill was introduced as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo met with Erdogan in Turkey and said they agreed to pause military action to allow Kurdish fighters to evacuate the border area. Pence said part of the agreement include re-evaluating Trump administration sanctions ordered last week, although that would not necessarily change proposals from Congress.
Graham called this development “encouraging,” adding that he doesn’t trust Erdogan.
“We’re ready to come and hit Turkey hard if they don’t get out of Syria and reset the table,” Graham said. Referring to his sanctions bill, he said he will “continue to get co-sponsors, but this sounds positive.”
Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, said he didn’t see Pence’s announcement as a win for the Kurds.
“From what I understand it’s not a cease-fire,” Rubio said. “You have one hundred and x number of hours to get out of here before we kill you.”
The sanctions in the Graham-Van Hollen bill would be effective immediately upon enactment unless the Trump administration comes to Congress every 90 days to certify that Turkey is not operating unilaterally in Syria and has withdrawn its armed forces, including Turkish supported rebels, from areas it captured beginning on Oct. 9.
The version of the bill introduced Thursday also includes sanctions on Halkbank and any other financial institution that “knowingly facilitated transactions” for Turkey’s military. The Trump administration has come under scrutiny for not fining Halkbank for its alleged involvement in a massive scheme to evade sanctions on Iran.
The same version of the bill would have to pass the House and the Senate before going to President Donald Trump to be signed into law. There is strong bipartisan opposition to Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria, but Senate leaders haven’t committed to bringing the bill to a vote.
Graham said he thinks there is enough support for the legislation to win a veto-proof majority in the Senate.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee introduced its own Turkey sanctions bill, which doesn’t include the provision to sanction sovereign debt. That bill does include the Halkbank sanctions, as well as penalties on senior Turkish officials and the military.
Both the House and Senate bills include penalties already mandated by a 2017 law that requires sanctions on Turkey for its purchase of the Russian-made S-400 missile.
Separately on Thursday, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jim Risch and ranking Democrat Bob Menendez introduced another sanctions proposal targeting Turkish leaders and people providing arms to Turkish forces in Syria. That bill would also direct Trump to oppose loans to Turkey from international finance institutions and review Turkey’s participation in NATO.
The Graham-Van Hollen bill is the only one that would restrict purchases of Turkey’s sovereign debt, by directing that “the president shall prescribe regulations prohibiting any United States person from purchasing sovereign debt of the Government of Turkey.”
The U.S. Treasury Department has been reluctant to sanction the sovereign debt of other countries, an option that was floated in 2014 to punish Russia, citing concerns that the impact would spill over into the global financial markets. Congress has proposed, but not passed, measures to sanction Russian sovereign debt.
Timothy Ash, a strategist at BlueBay Asset Management in London, said sanctioning sovereign debt would be “lights out for Turkey.” He said the penalties against Halkbank and other Turkish banks are “also pretty severe.”
Ash said the bill could be “softened” as it goes through Congress, with some of the more severe provisions removed, but “the warning signal to Turkey is pretty stark.”
In a show of bipartisan opposition to Trump’s decision to pull troops out of northern Syria, the House Wednesday passed a mostly symbolic resolution by a 354-60 vote to disapprove of the U.S. withdrawal and call on Erdogan to “immediately cease unilateral military action” in the region.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday he was encouraged by the House’s bipartisan vote and wants the Senate to pass an even stronger measure.
McConnell said he wants a measure tougher than the version passed in the House, which he said doesn’t address the plight of the Sunni and Christian minority in the country and doesn’t take a stance on whether the U.S. should maintain a military presence in Syria.
“My first preference is for something stronger than the House resolution,” he said. McConnell has not yet commented on the cease-fire Pence announced or the timing for a vote on sanctions legislation.
(Updates with cease-fire beginning in the fourth paragraph.)
Source : Bloomberg Link