Biden Sarbanes to Oppose Helicopter Deal

Defense News cites growing congressional opposition to controversial sale.

WASHINGTON–The Department of Defense’s tentative approval of a $1.6 billion deal with Turkey for the co-production of US attack helicopters sets the stage for a legislative tug-of-war later this year between supporters and opponents of this controversial sale–according to DefenseNews–a leading publication serving the defense industry.

In its August 20th edition–DefenseNews correspondent Burak Ege Bekdil reported that the Pentagon plans to formally notify Congress of the sale after an official agreement has been reached between the Turkish military and the US Administration. Commenting on the likely opposition this sale will face in Congress–Bekdil writes that "Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.)–chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee–and committee member Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.)–have questioned the US security role in Turkey."

"We expect the holding of highly publicized hearings on the chopper contract–and I fear Senators Biden and Sarbanes will use all means available to prevent the deal’s completion. . . It will be up to the US administration to push for the deal despite all obstacles," an unnamed Turkish diplomat told DefenseNews. An aide to Sen. Biden informed DefenseNews that no hearings were currently planned but "stressed Biden’s interest in the issue." The aide noted–in particular–the Senator’s desire to see the Turkish government support a peaceful settlement of the Cyprus issue.

The Armenian National Committee of America and the American Hellenic Institute have worked together in mobilizing the Hellenic and Armenian American communities in opposition to this sale based upon the threat it presents to regional stability and the danger it poses to Turkey’s neighbors. Other groups–including Amnesty International and the Federation of American Scientists have also objected to the deal based on human rights consideration.

"The Turkish government sources cited in this article are correct in expecting Congressional opposition to military sales and other US-Turkish bilateral initiatives for as long as Turkey fails to meet the basic standards of conduct expected of a member of the international community–on issues ranging from genocide denial and the occupation of Cyprus to human rights and the blockade of Armenia," said Aram Hamparian–Executive Director of the ANCA. "We will continue to work with our friends in the Greek American community to educate elected officials about the threat that this sale would pose to US interests and American values."

Among the issues concerning this sale raised by the ANCA and AHI to US policy-makers are the following:

1. The State Department has officially reported that Turkish armed forces have used US-supplied helicopters to commit human rights abuses.

2. The Departmen’s of State and Defense had both pledged to only move forward with this sale if Turkey meets eight specific human rights benchmarks. These benchmarks have not been met.

3. The recent collapse of Turkish financial institutions and the multi-billion dollar IMF bailout that is now necessary to resuscitate its economy underscore the fact that Turkey cannot afford these weapons.

4. The Turkish government’s demand that the helicopters be manufactured largely in Turkey will result in a reduction in US production capacity and the loss of American jobs.

5. There are dangers inherent in the transfer of advanced military technology to Turkey–a nation which recently threatened to close US air bases over a non-binding–House-only resolution on the Armenian Genocide.

This helicopter deal was originally set for $4.5 billion–but was scaled back due to the current Turkish economic crisis.

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