TURKEY AND SYRIA; Congressional Record Vol. 165, No. 180
(Senate - November 12, 2019)

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[Pages S6512-S6514]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]

                            TURKEY AND SYRIA

  Mr. MENENDEZ. Madam President, When President Trump welcomes Turkish 
President Erdogan to the White House this week, he will be welcoming a 
known authoritarian, human rights abuser, and friend to Putin, whose 
behavior increasingly runs counter to the interests of the United 
States and our allies. It is yet another strategic mistake and a 
terrible misuse of the power of the Presidency.
  In recent years, the President of Turkey has made a series of 
decisions to part ways with NATO, with the United States, and with the 
basic principles of democracy. Make no mistake. Erdogan's actions are 
intentional. It is stunning to think that any American President would 
legitimize Erdogan's harmful policies by welcoming him to the Oval 
Office. This meeting is a mistake, plain and simple.
  I can only hope that instead of yielding to Erdogan's policies that 
are so squarely at odds with U.S. interests, President Trump treats 
this misguided meeting as more than just a photo op with yet another 
  The President should instead use this visit to actually stand up for 
America, for our principles, and for our allies. He can do this by 
raising the many serious questions that Turkey has yet to address.
  I would like to use this opportunity to outline 10 critical 
questions, each of which deserves real answers.
  Question No. 1: Will Turkey reverse course from Erdogan's decision to 

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and receive the S-400 air defense system from Russia?
  The President's National Security Advisor claims that the 
administration is very ``upset'' about Turkey's purchase of Russia's S-
400 weapons system. Well, ``upset'' is not a policy, and it falls well 
short of the Trump administration's legal obligations.
  Under the CAATSA sanctions law, Turkey's purchase of the S-400 is a 
significant and sanctionable transaction. These sanctions should have 
been imposed in July when Turkey first took delivery of the S-400s. 
Yet, by failing to implement the legal requirements of CAATSA, 
President Trump has done lasting damage to U.S. credibility, to the 
integrity of our sanctions, and to the rule of law.
  Is it too much to ask the President of the United States to follow 
the law?
  He can start by imposing CAATSA sanctions when Erdogan is in 
  Question Number 2: Will our President sanction the activities of 
Halkbank, a Turkish institution that facilitated the biggest evasion of 
Iran's sanctions in history? I repeat: It was the biggest evasion of 
Iran sanctions in history.
  We know that the Justice Department has finally brought charges in 
the case, but if the administration had followed the law, they would 
have already imposed sanctions on Halkbank and sent a message to other 
actors who seek to evade Iran sanctions.
  I understand that one of Erdogan's top priorities for his visit to 
the White House is to secure relief for Halkbank. That is the opposite 
of what the law requires, and I hope President Trump shows some 
backbone when Erdogan asks him for yet another favor.
  Let's not forget that President Trump's personal attorney, Rudy 
Giuliani represented Reza Zarrab, one of the players in Halkbank's 
sanctions evasion.
  It seems that the President likes to talk tough about his sanctions 
policy on Iran and yet all the tough talks suddenly stops when the 
interests of his authoritarian pals or his personal lawyer are on the 
  Question number 3: Will the President accept the commission of war 
crimes in Syria by Turkish-backed forces--the war crimes that he in 
effect invited Turkey to commit when he green-lighted its invasion of 
  The U.N. reports that more than 200,000 people have been internally 
displaced from the so-called safe zone controlled by the Turks. Some of 
those displaced have reported that Turkish-backed forces have beaten 
civilians and conducted kidnappings and summary executions.
  With the pullout of American troops, Turkey was effectively given 
license to commit these abuses and unleash unspeakable crimes. That is 
ethnic cleansing.
  So many in this Chamber have said never again to this kind of horror 
in the past. Can we depend on President Trump to do the same?
  Last week, I introduced a binding resolution that would require the 
State Department to report on Turkish human rights abuses in Syria. 
State's findings could have a direct bearing on arms sales to Turkey. 
Meanwhile, we have additional legislation to hold Turkey accountable 
that has been waiting for a vote for weeks.
  But where are we? Did we pass the Risch-Menendez bill on Turkey? No. 
Did we pass the House version of that legislation? No. Day after day, 
week after week, we sit on our hands, too timid to act on any 
legislation that might upset Erdogan while he is in town. Whatever 
happened to standing up for our American values?
  This weekend, National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien declared that 
``there's no place for ethnic cleansing, for war crimes in the 21st 
century.'' Will President Trump deliver that message to Erdogan on 
Wednesday? Will he seek to maintain any shred of dignity and U.S. 
credibility on human rights issues, or will he let Erdogan engage in 
these horrific human rights issues without consequence?
  Question Number 4: Will our President stand up to Turkish aggression 
against its neighbors throughout the region? Turkish naval ships 
routinely violate the exclusive economic zones of Cyprus and may take 
measures in Famagusta that would set the peace process on the island 
back even further.
  Turkey also routinely violates airspace that belongs to Greece, 
brazenly disregarding Greece's sovereignty and the safety of Greek 
pilots and those on the ground below.
  Has President Trump uttered a word of support for our Greek friends 
and NATO ally? Will he affirm America's relationship with Greece during 
Erdogan's visit to the White House?
  The EU has developed a sanctions framework that would address 
Turkey's actions in the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone. Will Donald 
Trump follow suit?
  Question No. 5: Will our President condemn or accept Erdogan's 
warming relationship with the Russian Federation?
  In addition to buying the S-400, Turkey is now in talks to purchase 
the Russian Sukhoi aircraft. Last week, Erdogan felt the need to 
coordinate with President Putin prior to coming to the United States. 
According to Reuters, he said he would hold a phone call with the 
Russian President over the weekend to ``form the basis'' of his talks 
with President Trump.
  Imagine this, a NATO ally--NATO comprised primarily to defend against 
the Russian Federation--a NATO ally going to have conversations with 
Putin to form the basis of his conversation with President Trump. Aside 
from perhaps Hungary, I can't imagine any other leader in NATO 
coordinating with Putin before a conversation with an American 
  Some say we need to tread carefully with Turkey lest we push it into 
Russia's arms. Push? It seems to me that Erdogan has jumped into 
Putin's arms long ago with no provocation from us.
  Question No. 6: Will President Trump call out Erdogan's assault on 
the democratic process in Turkey? Will he stick up for civil society 
groups, university professors, and others who have been unjustly 
detained? Will he stick up for journalists there, even as he demonizes 
the free press here at home? More journalists are imprisoned in Turkey 
than any other country in the world--in the world.
  Under article 2 of the NATO charter, member countries commit to a 
certain set of democratic principles. This is the basis of the 
alliance. At its core, this is why we commit to the mutual defense of 
these allies. They share our values, our belief in human rights, in 
human freedom, in democracy, and in the rule of law. Yet all of 
Erdogan's actions over the past few years run afoul of the democratic 
principles that define the NATO alliance.
  I know the President does not like to stand up for democracy at home 
or abroad, but I hope this meeting will be different in that he will 
finally come to understand what was clear to so many Presidents before 
him--Republican and Democratic alike--that how a leader treats his own 
people is indicative of how they will act on the world stage. An 
authoritarian at home is an authoritarian abroad, and both should 
matter to the United States.
  Question No. 7: Will President Trump ignore the violent attacks by 
Erdogan's security detail in 2017 against peaceful protesters and DC 
police? The last time Erdogan visited in 2017, his goons did just that, 
resulting in criminal charges against more than half a dozen members of 
his security detail.
  During his meeting, President Trump should insist that Erdogan hand 
over those guards implicated in the 2017 attacks. It is clear that 
Erdogan's visit will again attract demonstrators and rightfully so. 
While Erdogan may not believe in the right of peaceful protest in his 
home country, I hope Erdogan learned his lesson that here in the United 
States the right to peaceful assembly is enshrined in our Constitution 
and is core to our democracy. I hope President Trump clearly reminds 
him of this fact.
  Question No. 8: Will President Trump accept efforts by Turkey to 
convert Hagia Sophia, which was the largest Greek Orthodox Church in 
the world for more than 1,000 years, into a mosque? Will he advocate 
for the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who 
continues to work and live under pressure from the Turkish Government? 
I hear a lot about religious freedom. Well, this is one glaring example 
where the administration has been silent.
  Question No. 9: Will President Trump ignore Erdogan's violation of 
the U.N.'s

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arms embargo on Libya? Now, to be fair, Turkey is not the only country 
funneling weapons to clients in Libya in clear violation of U.N. 
Security Council Resolution 1970, but the grinding, protracted conflict 
heightened by these weapons is destabilizing North Africa and allowing 
for the trafficking and exploitation of desperate migrants and 
  Will President Trump call on all outside powers, including Turkey, to 
engage in Libya with diplomacy rather than weapons transfers and to 
encourage the warring parties to find a political solution to the 
  Finally, Question No. 10: Will President Trump call out Turkey's 
relationship with Hamas, the Palestinian organization that continues to 
terrorize Israel on a daily basis? Will he stand by our ally Israel or 
will his personal interest and affinity for strong men win out once 
  The President says he wants to put America first. Yet on every one of 
these 10 issues, the President has cowered to the demands of Ankara and 
  Look, President Trump can meet with Erdogan--that is his decision and 
his prerogative--but on these and so many other issues, President 
Trump's actions do not represent the values of the American people or 
their representatives in Congress. He does not represent those who 
support holding Russia accountable. He does not represent those who 
stand against war crimes in Syria. He does not represent those who want 
to see a democratic Turkey.
  Despite our objections, President Trump will welcome Erdogan to the 
Oval Office. At the same time, it is worth pointing out that so many 
months into the controversy surrounding Ukraine, President Trump has 
yet to set a date for an Oval Office meeting with Ukraine's President 
  President Zelensky is a true friend to the United States on the 
frontlines of the struggle for democracy in his country. He is standing 
up to Russian aggression and corruption. He is respecting the free 
press. He is working to strengthen democratic institutions. President 
Zelensky is everything that President Erdogan of Turkey is not. Yet it 
is Turkey that President Trump continues to admire and Ukraine that he 
continues to demonize.
  Something is wrong here. Something is wrong. We should not have to 
cross our fingers and hope that any American President stands up for 
our values, holds our adversaries accountable, and does the right thing 
when it matters most. It should not be a question. It should be a 
given. Yet all I can do at this time is hope that President Trump will 
reverse course and challenge the bad behavior of an authoritarian like 
Erdogan rather than celebrate it.
  With that, I yield the floor.