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US lawmakers call for suspension of drone technology to Turkey

Twenty-seven members of Congress request a hearing from the Biden administration on Turkey’s drone proliferation

Turkey has emerged as one of the world's premier makers of armed drones.
Turkey has emerged as one of the world’s premier makers of armed drones (AFP)

More than 25 members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this month, calling for a suspension of drone technology to Turkey and for a hearing on Ankara’s drone proliferation.

The letter was the latest push by members of Congress against Turkey, an ally of the US under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato).

It claimed that the Turkish government was constantly violating its relationship with the US, particularly following Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile air defence system.

Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems move through Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow on 9 May 2021 (AFP)

“As a result of our long-standing alliance, Turkey has received favorable terms from the American defense industry, including co-production rights for weapons systems, advanced weapons sales, and technology transfers,” the letter read.

“Turkish actions have continued to run contrary to its responsibilities as a NATO member state, despite its ejection from the F35 joint strike fighter program and the imposition of sanctions. These actions include the proliferation of drones.”

“We request a briefing from the Department of State that details potential ramifications of Turkish drone proliferation.”

The lawmakers requested a “briefing from the Department of State that details potential ramifications of Turkish drone proliferation” and “answers on whether “Turkey’s actions constitute yet another violation of NATO rules and bylaws”.

A State Department spokesperson told Middle East Eye that it does not comment on congressional correspondence.

The letter was sent on 9 August and confirmed to MEE on 17 August. A congressional source told MEE there had been no response to the letter.

Turkey-US tensions

Turkey has emerged as one of the world’s premier makers of armed drones, which helped ally Azerbaijan make sweeping gains in a six-week war with Armenia last year over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Turkish drones have also been deployed to the conflicts in Syria and Libya.

The drone technology has also been sought after by a number of countries, including Saudi Arabia and Poland, which recently became the first Nato country to purchase Turkish-made unmanned aerial vehicles.

While Turkey and the US are allies under Nato, the rise of Turkish drone technology and its proliferation around the world has been a cause for alarm for both Democrat and Republican lawmakers in both the House and Senate.

Top Senate Democrat Bob Menendez, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, called the use of Turkish drones in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which he said used US parts, “completely unacceptable” in a hearing last month.

Relations between Turkey and the US have been beset by a number of issues over the past few years, with the US imposing sanctions on Turkish officials in December 2020 under a law that bars significant military transactions with Russia.

Turkey was also removed from the fifth-generation F-35 fighter jet programme by the Pentagon in 2019 due to concerns over possible Russian espionage through the S-400s.

US President Joe Biden also declared the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman forces during World War I a genocide, in a move that further strained the already tense relationship.

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