US could buy Turkey’s Russia-made S-400 under Senate proposal

WASHINGTON ― The U.S. would be able to buy Turkey’s Russian-made S-400 air defense system under legislation proposed in the Senate last week. It’s one powerful lawmaker’s apparent attempt to alleviate the impasse between Washington and Ankara over the F-35 joint strike fighter.

Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., has proposed an amendment to the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act that would allow the purchase out of the U.S. Army missile procurement account. It comes a year after the U.S. has expelled its NATO ally from the multinational F-35 program because it received the S-400 in a $2.5 billion deal.

However, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch, R-Idaho, has introduced an amendment that would take a tougher stance, mandating the Trump administration implement CAATSA sanctions on Turkey within 30 days of passage of the NDAA. Risch has been critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and accused him of bad faith in dealings with the U.S. over the S-400.

Under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, passed in 2017, any nation procuring a major defense article form Russia should face major sanctions.

President Donald Trump has held off imposing sanctions against Turkey for its purchase, but it remains a sticking point in the relationship. Erdogan has refused to give up the system, despite warnings from Washington that the S-400 could compromise the stealthy F-35.

Thune and Risch are both influential senators but there’s no guarantee either their amendments would receive consideration to be included in the massive NDAA ― or, if passed into the Senate bill, that they would survive negotiations with the House.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s draft of the authorization bill already contains some language pertaining to Turkey and the F-35 program. Specifically, it gives the U.S. Air Force the authority to accept, operate or even modify the six F-35A conventional takeoff and landing models that were built by Lockheed Martin for Turkey but never officially delivered.

Senate leaders typically hash out agreements on non-controversial amendments, but the amendment process often falls apart before many of the hundreds of proposed amendments receive floor time.

Aaron Mehta and Valerie Insinna in Washington contributed to this report.

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