Turkish Diplomats Express Fear Over Senator Biden’s Chairmanship of Foreign Relations Committee

Defense News Reports Growing Anxiety that Human Rights Objections May Block Proposed Multi-Billion Dollar Attack Helicopter Deal

WASHINGTON–DC–Sources inside Turkish military and diplomatic circles have told the weapons-industry trade publication Defense News that Senator Joseph Biden’s ascension to the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee threatens to allow human rights considerations to restrict the flow of U.S. arms to Turkey–reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

"We welcome Senator Biden’s chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee as a positive–but long overdue–step toward demanding accountability from the Turkish military regarding internationally accepted human rights standards," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. "It appears as well that Senator Biden’s chairmanship will serve as a powerful impetus for officials at the departmen’s of State and Defense to ensure that all U.S. laws governing the international sale of U.S. weapons – including the Leahy Law – are honored – both in letter and spirit."

Defense News correspondents Umit Enginsoy and Burak Ece Bekdil described Senator Biden in their June 18-24 edition as a "prominent critic of weapons transfers to the Turkish army." They quoted an unnamed Turkish diplomat in Washington as saying that–based on Senator Biden’s "previous voting record and his attitude toward Turkey," he was concerned that he "could move to block the planned sale of U.S. attack helicopters to Turkey." A Turkish diplomat in Ankara told Defense News that "Biden’s new position will inevitably cause problems each time we shall seek an export license for U.S.-made weaponry… However we wish to believe the tripartite strategic alliance between Turkey–U.S.–and Israel should prove quite unbreakable [despite Biden’s] one-man’show."

A controversial multi-billion dollar attack helicopter deal is currently being negotiated between the Turkish military and Bell-Textron. The size of this sale was recently reduced from 145 to 50 helicopters. Other pending arms purchases have been dramatically scaled back in recent weeks as Turkey has been forced to confront a major financial break down that has devalued the Turkish Lira by more than 40 percent against foreign currencies.

Senator Biden became the committee’s chairman following Vermont Senator Jim Jefford’s decision last month to leave the Republican Party–a move which gave the Democrats a majority and the chairmanships of all Senate committees. He replaced long-time Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC)–who had regularly supported U.S. arms sales and transfers to Turkey.

Last year–Senator Biden briefly placed a hold on eight CH-53E Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopters to Turkey based on its intransigence in the talks to end Turkey’s 27-year military occupation of Cyprus. He eventually lifted his block on the sale–but noted that he would have remained opposed if it were "a sale of greater consequence." Referring to these commen’s by the Senator–the anonymous Turkish diplomat quoted by Defense News noted that the pending sale of "attack helicopters is a sale of greater consequence. I would be very surprised if Biden does not seek to block it when he receives the contract at some point in the next several months."

Senator Biden is facing re-election in 2002 and is among the leading Democrats being considered as a 2004 presidential candidate. He has actively supported Armenian American issues–having voted in 1990 for the Armenian Genocide Resolution and consistently advocated for aid to Armenia and Karabakh–Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act–the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act–and other issues of special concern to Armenian Americans. Additional information about his record can be obtained by writing to his office: The Hon. Joseph Biden–U.S. Senate–Washington–DC 20515.

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