Via Financial Times

Turkey has accused the US Congress of “hostile” behaviour after senators passed punitive measures against Ankara, underscoring the growing tensions between the two Nato members.

Ankara claimed on Wednesday that members of Congress were “acting under the influence of anti-Turkish circles” after they approved the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a sprawling military bill that included provisions intended to punish Turkey for its growing closeness with Russia — and for a simmering dispute with Cyprus over natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.

“The language of threats and sanctions will never dissuade Turkey from resolutely taking steps to ensure its national security,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement. “No one should doubt that necessary measures will be taken against these initiatives targeting Turkey.”

The sprawling $738bn defence bill, which was approved by the US Senate on Tuesday and is expected to be signed into law by president Donald Trump shortly, renewed a decision to exclude Turkey from the US-led F-35 fighter jet programme — a retaliatory move in response to Ankara’s purchase of a Russian-made S-400 air defence system.

The same bill created leeway for Mr Trump to lift a decades-old arms embargo on Cyprus if certain conditions are met. That move, which comes after Turkey took an assertive stance in a dispute over gas in the region, has alarmed the Turkish Cypriot administration in the northern half of the divided island. Turkey warned that the step risked “hampering efforts towards a settlement on the island and creating a dangerous escalation”.

The strain between Ankara and Washington has put fresh pressure on the Turkish lira in recent days. The currency has suffered its worst performance in more than two months this week, losing 1.67 per cent of its value against the dollar.

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The slide came after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday repeated a warning that he could close down Incirlik — an air base in southern Turkey that hosts US nuclear warheads — in retaliation for US sanctions. The US defence secretary Mark Esper responded by saying that those remarks raised questions about Turkey’s commitment to Nato.

Mr Erdogan has looked to Mr Trump to shield Turkey as it faces heavy criticism in Washington for its close co-operation with Russia and for launching an assault on Syrian Kurdish militias that had previously been backed by the US in the fight against Isis jihadis.

The US president, who has described himself as a “big fan” of Mr Erdogan, has largely obliged. But that stance has angered many in Congress, triggering a series of efforts to bypass Mr Trump or force his hand.

On top of the measures in the NDAA, the Senate foreign relations committee last week gave its backing to a draft package of sanctions, including measures against financial institutions deemed to be supporting Turkey’s military operations in Syria and a report on the net worth of Mr Erdogan and his family. 

The Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell must decide whether or not to bring the bill to a vote in the full Senate.

Atilla Yesilada, an Istanbul-based analyst at the consultancy GlobalSource Partners, said he believed that Mr Erdogan was likely to keep testing the patience of Washington, making further sanctions inevitable. 

“That’s the kind of process that will either exhaust [Mr] Trump’s patience or convince the Senate that they should pass such an ironclad law that the president has no manoeuvring room,” he said. “To me, sanctions are certain.”

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