WASHINGTON-Members of Congress from across the country joined in a bipartisan effort last week to urge the Clinton Administration to halt the controversial sale of four SH-60 Seahawk naval helicopters to Turkey–reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
Eighty-three members of the House of Representatives expressed their opposition to the helicopter sale in a February 18 letter to President Clinton–citing Turkey’s "provocative actions against Greece and Cyprus." In the letter–they argued that–"such a sale would send the wrong American message about Turkish aggression." Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY)–and Michael Bilirakis (R-Fla.) the co-chairs of the Hellenic-American Caucus–were joined by Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Gary Ackerman (D-NY) in leading the effort to secure Congressional support for the letter. The co-chairs of the Armenian Issues Caucus–Representatives Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and John Edward Porter (R-Ill.) also signed the letter.
The Turkish government signed an agreement last week to purchase four Seahawks–valued at over $120 million–from US based Sikorsky Aircraft. Before the sale can go through–however–the State Department and Congress must first give their approval. Over the past year–a number of proposed sales–including the sale of SuperCobra helicopters–have been blocked by strong Congressional opposition.
Brigadier General Robert T. Osterthaler–the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO affairs–recently expressed frustration at Congressional efforts to halt arms sales and transfers to Turkey. During a February 20 speech at the American Turkish Council annual conference– Osterthaler stated "The DOD [Department of Defense] fully supports the president’s initiative that the arms transfers [to Turkey] to which we have committed should in fact be carried out. I wish I could tell you that we’re very close to resolving those–but there continues to be concern on Capitol Hill-not necessarily about arms transfers specifically to Turkey-but about introduction of additional armamen’s to a region where every time we think it may be settling down has yet another security problem of some kind."
Turkish officials have sharply criticized the efforts of "ethnic communities" as barriers to the transfer of arms. During a February 20 speech in Washington–sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for Peace–Turkish State Minister Abdullah Gul said that–"When it comes to this side of the Atlantic–we have to be constantly on the alert against certain ethnic lobbies who would stop at nothing to undermine Turkish-American ties. In this connection–I must point out that the difficulties related to the transfer of certain arms to Turkey do not contribute to the friendship between our two nations."
Gul went on to note that–"Year after year–we are also confronted with anti-Turkish resolutions in the US Congress which are sometimes only narrowly defeated," referring to legislation like the Armenian Genocide resolution and the Visclosky and Radanovich/Bonior amendmen’s which penalize Turkey for its continued blockade of Armenia and denial of the Armenian Genocide.