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Among the many sources of conflict in the U.S.-Turkish relationship, Ankara’s imprisonment of U.S. citizens and State Department employees, its plans to purchase Russian air-defense missiles, and its systematic violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran have so far generated the strongest reaction in Washington. This timeline outlines the measures that Washington has taken in response over the past two years, as well as reciprocal actions taken by Ankara.


  1. United States 
    October 8, 2017: The U.S. Embassy in Turkey announced that it would suspend the processing of all nonimmigrant visas while it analyzed Turkey’s commitment to the security of its staff. This meant the embassy would no longer issue visas regularly used by students, business travelers, and tourists to enter the United States. This action came after Turkey arrested two Turkish employees of the U.S. State Department and threatened the arrest of a third. In response to the American suspension, the Turkish Foreign Ministry announced identical measures against the United States, including suspension of electronic visas and visas at the border – the way most tourists and other short-term visitors enter Turkey.

     

  2. United States 
    November 6, 2017. U.S. Embassy partially resumed issuing visas in Turkey.

     

  3. United States and Turkey
    December 28, 2017. The United States and Turkey resumed full visa services following assurances from the Turkish Government that no other employees of American diplomatic missions in Turkey were under investigation and that local staffers would not be prevented from doing their jobs. To date, the arrested State Department employees have not been released.

     

  4. Turkey
    January 3, 2018. Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla was convicted in a New York court of participating in a billion-dollar scheme to circumvent American sanctions against Iran. Atilla, the deputy general manager for international banking at Halkbank, a Turkish state bank, helped Iran evade American sanctions and gain access to billions of dollars of restricted petrodollar funds held at Halkbank. A co-defendant in the case, Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab, pleaded guilty before the trial began and claimed that the scheme received support from the highest levels of the Turkish government, as well as from Iranian officials and the leadership of Halkbank. Zarrab testified that he paid former Turkish Minister of Economic Affairs Zafer Caglayan tens of millions of dollars in bribes as part of the scheme.

     

  5. Turkey
    May 16, 2018. Atilla was sentenced to 32 months in prison for his involvement in the scheme. The United States is also expected to fine Halkbank for its participation in the scheme, a fine that, based on prior sanctions evasions cases, could be as high as ten billion dollars. For months, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo negotiated with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT) Chief Hakan Fidan about Atilla. There was reportedly a tentative deal whereby Atilla would serve the rest of his sentence in Turkey and the United States would not pursue prosecution against Halbank in return for the release of detained American pastor Andrew Brunson, but this deal collapsed in late July. According to Cansu Camlibel, a columnist for the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, new investigations by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Southern District of New York (the district where Atilla had been tried) into Halkbank were a major reason why the deal fell apart. Turkish government officials also blamed Vice President Mike Pence’s threat to impose sanctions on Turkey over Brunson’s captivity as a key reason the deal was scuttled.

     

  6. United States 
    June 21 2018. The U.S. Senate introduced its version of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2019. The draft Senate bill prohibits spending funds from FY 2019 or prior fiscal years to transfer or facilitate the transfer of the F-35 fighter jet to Turkey until Secretary Pompeo assures lawmakers that Turkey is not purchasing or receiving the S-400 air defense system from Russia. The bill is currently awaiting consideration before the full Senate, and then must be conferenced with the House version before it becomes law.

     

  7. United States 
    July 19, 2018. Legislation was introduced in the Senate that seeks to restrict loans from international financial institutions to Turkey until the Turkish government stops its “unjust” detention of American citizens. The bill, the Turkey International Financial Institutions Act,  directs the U.S. executive of the World Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to oppose future loans, except for humanitarian purposes, to Turkey. The United States is the EBRD’s biggest shareholder. The EBRD invested 1.5 billion Euros in Turkey last year alone. The legislation, S.3248 in the Senate and H.R. 6633 in the House, is currently awaiting consideration in both chambers.

     

  8. United States 
    August 1, 2018. The Trump administration imposed sanctions against two top Turkish government officials over the detention of Andrew Brunson. The sanctions imposed by the Treasury Department’s OFAC target Turkish Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Turkish Minister of the Interior Suleyman Soylu, who both played key roles in the arrest and detention of Brunson. The sanctions were imposed pursuant to Executive Order 13818, “Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption,” which builds upon the Magnitsky Act.

     

  9. United States 
    August 3, 2018. The Trump administration imposed sanctions against two top Turkish government officials over the detention of Andrew Brunson. The sanctions imposed by the Treasury Department’s OFAC target Turkish Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Turkish Minister of the Interior Suleyman Soylu, who both played key roles in the arrest and detention of Brunson. The sanctions were imposed pursuant to Executive Order 13818, “Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption,” which builds upon the Magnitsky Act.

     

  10. United States 
    August 10, 2018. President Trump imposes steep tariffs on Turkey, raising steel and aluminum tariffs to 50 percent and 20 percent respectively, which take effect on August 13. This move represented a doubling of existing tariffs on steel and aluminum that the White House had  imposed in March. President Trump seemed to link the new tariffs to the ongoing dispute over Brunson in a tweet that concluded “Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time.”

     

  11. United States 
    August 13, 2018. August 13. President Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2019. Section 1282 of the NDAA mandates that no later than 90 days after enactment, Defense Secretary James Mattis, in consultation with Secretary Pompeo, must submit a report on the current state of U.S.-Turkey relations to Congress. Critically, until this report is submitted, the Pentagon may not deliver any more F-35 aircraft to Turkey.

    The report must contain a review of the American military and diplomatic presence within Turkey. In addition, it must include an assessment of the proposed purchase of S-400s by Turkey, and an analysis on how Turkish acquisition of the S-400 would affect American weapon systems operated jointly with Turkey, including: the F-35 and F-16 fighter jets, Patriot surface-to-air missile system, and the CH-47 Chinook, AH-64 and H-60 Black hawk helicopters. It must also contain a study of Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program, including a review of how Turkish industry has contributed to the program and an assessment of how the overall program would be impacted by Turkey’s removal. Finally, it must discuss potential alternative air and missile defense systems that Turkey could acquire instead of the S-400, including those manufactured by the United States and other NATO countries.

     

  12. Turkey
    August 14, 2018. Erdogan proclaimed that Turkey would boycott U.S.-made electronic products and contended that Turkey has alternatives like those made by Turkey and South Korea. It is unclear when this boycott would begin and how it would be enforced.

     

  13. Turkey
    August 14, 2018. The New York Times reported that the Trump administration was considering sanctioning Turkish Airlines, the national flag carrier airline of Turkey. On the same day, it was reported that Turkish Airlines and its main telecoms firm, Turk Telecom, announced that they would stop advertising in American media.

     

  14. Turkey
    August 15, 2018. Turkey responded with its own tariffs. In a decree issued by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ankara imposed tariffs on American rice, tobacco products, vehicles, alcohol, coal and cosmetics. The decree raised Turkish tariffs on American passenger cars to 120 percent, on alcoholic drinks to 140 percent, and on leaf tobacco to 60 percent.