July 21, 2021

Ranking Member Risch Opening Statement at Hearing on U.S. Policy on Turkey

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today gave the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing on U.S. policy on Turkey. The committee heard witness testimony from The Honorable Victoria Nuland, under secretary of State for political affairs.

Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

“One of the clear takeaways from this hearing is going to be that there is bipartisan agreement on the many issues that we have with Turkey.

“Turkey is the center of a complex and important geopolitical crossroads. It is where Europe, Asia, and the Middle East meet, and it borders the increasingly important Mediterranean and Black Seas.

“First and foremost in this hearing, we must discuss the direct bilateral relationship between the United States and Turkey – which of course the chairman has already done and I’m going to add to – and, at a deeper level, the role our relationship plays in the Eastern Mediterranean and across the region. Turkey is deeply interconnected, and of course we must deal with them.

“Before delving into the problems, I have to say how painful this is. Turkey has been a longtime ally of the United States and of our European partners. Obviously they are a NATO ally. Even though, they are not acting like a NATO ally at this time. Nonetheless, they are in the NATO alliance. And it is very painful to see the country deteriorate as it has deteriorated and left the commitments that all of the NATO partners have had to the things that we value in NATO.

“The most pressing aspect of our relationship is Turkey’s acquisition and continued use of the Russian S-400 missile system. This issue remains at an impasse and has now grown to define the significant part of our relationship and it is deeply troubling.

“It is unacceptable that Turkey believes it can reap the benefits of NATO membership while refusing to commit to the basic principle of a cohesive, interoperable alliance. They seemed to have forgotten that NATO was formed specifically to push back against Russian aggression. Dealing with them on military purchases like this is just simply unacceptable.

“This is an issue I raise with Turkish leaders at every opportunity. Indeed, I had a very clear discussion with President Erdogan in person, face to face, where I laid out the precise nature of the problems created and caused by the presence of Russian-made S-400s on the soil of a NATO ally. He understood but persisted. This issue will not go away and it greatly affects our overall relationship on several fronts when it comes to NATO matters, including the F-35s.

“Speaking of the F-35s, after our conversation, he understood clearly that even though they’ve paid for five of them, the five have been completed and are sitting here in the United States. Those F-35s will not be delivered to Turkey so long as there are S-400 missiles on Turkish soil.

“The same with construction of parts for the F-35. There were 900 parts for the F-35 being produced in Turkey. That is down to a very minimal amount right now and will eventually be completely phased out.

“Ending on a positive note, Erdogan has appointed a new ambassador to the United States. This ambassador is very engaging and says, and I believe, that he wants to do his best to attempt to repair what is obviously a deteriorating relationship. I hope he is successful in that regard.

“Turkey’s recent agreement to withdraw its mercenaries from Libya also shows it has the capacity for responsible stabilization through diplomacy, but it remains to be seen whether they follow through on this commitment and it’s important that we ensure that they do. Likewise, Turkey deserves international recognition for hosting millions of Syrian refugees for the past several years.

“We must take a clear-eyed look at our relationship with Turkey. We can appreciate and encourage the good while clearly condemning the bad. I expect our discussions today will help us define these matters and develop a better understanding of how to address them in this emerging era.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov.