Armenian bill threatens Turkish-US military deals

Monday, October 08 2007 @ 06:53 pm UTC

Any possible Turkish retaliation to an Armenian "genocide" resolution that the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs is expected to approve tomorrow is said to be likely to expand to include lucrative arms procurement deals between Turkey and the US. Turkey has long rejected the genocide tag for the World War I deaths of Anatolian Armenians. But this has not prevented over 20 nations from recognizing the events as genocide, and now the Committee on Foreign Affairs is highly likely to adopt the resolution during its scheduled meeting tomorrow.

If the resolution is approved by the committee, it would be up to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to decide whether to bring it to the House floor for a vote. Despite intense efforts launched by both the Turkish government and the US administration, Pelosi is said to intend to bring it before the House.

But the passage of the “genocide resolution” by the House alone (though it is not legally binding for the administration) is likely to have a serious negative impact on the Turkish public and to further affect the already damaged Turkey-US relations.

The most vulnerable areas in terms of possible Turkish retaliation are said to be limiting usage of the Habur border gate with Iraq for US goods, including oil and military spare parts, as well as limiting or even closing the İncirlik airbase in southern Turkey to US access. İncirlik has been heavily used by the US for its operations both in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

Any Turkish action to limit or close both Habur and İncirlik to US use will jeopardize US combat operations in Iraq, said an Ankara-based Western diplomat.

Arms deals to be affected

Another significant region of cooperation between Turkey and the US said to be at risk from the genocide resolution is arms procurement. Turkey was one of the leading countries in 2006 for US arms sales, totaling an estimated $2.1 billion.

Those US sales to Turkey have mostly taken place in the form of foreign military sales credits that did not involve any international tender being opened by Ankara. Turkey signed an arms deal based on foreign military sales with the US worth over $13 billion last year that involved Turkish purchase of an additional 30 F 16 fighters and Turkish participation in the US-led Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) project.

Turkey’s Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM) has in the meantime eased contract terms and conditions for the purchase of arms through international tenders -- conditions that were mainly affecting US companies due to the Turkish request for the transfer of high technology which ran contrary to US legal restrictions.

This relatively flexible Turkish policy has opened the way for US companies to re-enter the competition for Turkish arms procurement tenders. A decision to take the genocide resolution to the US House may prompt the SSM to harden contract terms and conditions for the US companies.

For example, US firm Sikorsky, which came close to negotiations with SSM for the sale of around 70 S-70 Black Hawk helicopters to Turkey may lose this tender as a result of a possible Turkish retaliation to the resolution, said a senior Turkish defense industry source.

Turkey had been planning to make a final decision on the acquisition of multipurpose helicopters some time in November, the month that US House may vote on the genocide resolution.

Similarly, the chance of US companies succeeding in Turkey’s $1.4 billion acquisition of four long-range air and missile defense systems may decrease, and Turkey may instead opt for the Russian S-400 missiles that Moscow is said to be planning to offer in response to the Turkish tender.

If the fact that almost half of the Turkish Air Forces generals are in favor of the Russian missiles is taken into consideration, the adoption of the genocide resolution will further weight this bid in favor of the Russians, said the same senior Turkish defense industry sources.

US Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are bidding in Turkey’s long-range missile project with a combination of Patriot 2 and Patriot 3 missiles under foreign military sales conditions.

PKK attack may heighten Turkish emotions

Many Ankara-based Western diplomats fear that the latest Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) attack over the past weekend in Şırnak in the Southeast, which killed 13 Turkish soldiers, just three days before the expected deliberations on the genocide resolution in the Committee on Foreign Affairs will heighten Turkish emotions.

Since the attack Turkey’s possible cross-border operation in northern Iraq to crack down on PKK terrorists has come to the agenda again. Turkey has long been accusing the US of not taking action against PKK bases in northern Iraq, from which terrorists have been infiltrating into Turkey to stage their violent attacks.

US inaction against the PKK in northern Iraq coupled with a potential genocide resolution may make Turkey turn more emotional and lead it to take tougher retaliatory measures against the US, said a Western diplomat.

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