The U.S. House of Representatives passed bipartisan legislation on Tuesday sanctioning Turkey in a move aimed at reasserting congressional oversight of U.S. President Donald Trump’s foreign policy.
The legislation, co-sponsored by Democratic House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel of New York and ranking Republican Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas, would punish senior Turkish officials involved in the decision to invade northern Syria and perpetrate human rights abuses against the Kurds.
The House passed the bill by a 403-16 vote.
Trump announced the U.S. had brokered a “permanent” Turkish cease-fire in Syria last week, lifting sanctions imposed against Turkey via executive order. But U.S. lawmakers have expressed continued concern about the long-term impact of Trump’s unexpected decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, clearing the way for Turkish incursion into the area and endangering the United States’ Kurdish allies in the fight against Islamic State.
Trump ordered the withdrawal of troops from northern Syria following a phone conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was poised to invade Syria to create a buffer zone and to drive away Kurdish troops and civilians.
“President Trump has let Erdogan off scot-free for a heinous assault that is destabilizing the region and threatening international security,” Engel said Tuesday. “President Trump and President Erodgan are responsible for the catastrophe in northeast Syria — they both must be held accountable.”
Engel characterized the legislation as an effort to ensure Erdogan faces consequences for his behavior in Syria. But the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee emphasized the bipartisan nature of the effort, saying the legislation was a tool for U.S. negotiations with Turkey.
McCaul recognized Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “delicate negotiations” with actors in the region and said the legislation gives the White House greater leverage moving forward with Turkey.
“This bill incentivizes Turkey to comply with the cease-fire. If they do not, there will be consequences in the form of crippling sanctions,” McCaul said Tuesday.
The Protect Against Conflict with Turkey Act (PACT) would prevent sales of arms to Turkey for use in Syria, penalize Turkish financial institutions involved in the military sector and mandate U.S. reporting on Erdogan’s net assets and finances.
Engel noted the legislation also requires the Trump administration to come up with a comprehensive strategy to combat a revival of IS in the region and to safeguard Kurdish partners.
Earlier this month, the House passed a resolution condemning the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria by a vote of 354-60. The Turkish sanctions bill that was passed Tuesday still has to pass the Republican-majority U.S. Senate and gain the president’s signature before becoming law.
House lawmakers paired the sanctions bill with a piece of legislation that has long proved to be a sore point in U.S.-Turkish relations. A resolution affirming U.S. recognition of the Armenian genocide passed by a 405-11 vote, after resolutions have failed to come up for a vote in one form or another for decades.
The U.S. government has never formally recognized the murder of 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 to 1923 as a genocide.
“Turkey has not come to grips that this was a genocide,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters Tuesday. Hoyer said it was important to acknowledge genocides to ensure they never happen again. “The Turks are somehow taking this as if we are alleging that the present government or previous governments have committed to genocide. I don’t believe that’s the case,” he said.
Congressman Adam Schiff, sponsor of the legislation, told VOA’s Armenian Service that House passage of the resolution was “long overdue. And it is my hope that the passage of this resolution will bring about annual recognition of the genocide and much better education of the people in this country of the facts of that very dark chapter in human history.”
The resolution has two Republican co-sponsors — Congressman Gus Bilirakis of Florida, and Congressman Peter King of New York — but did receive some criticism during floor debate.
Republican Congressman Michael Burgess noted that other House resolutions have acknowledged injustices committed against the Armenians, and argued lawmakers’ time was better spent funding the government and securing the U.S.-Mexico border.
Arman Tarjimanyan, Armenian Service contributed to this report.