By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - A pair of U.S. senators jointly announced Wednesday they have reached agreement on an outline for bipartisan legislation that would impose sweeping sanctions on Turkey and its senior leaders.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, has been a vocal critic of Ankara's ongoing Operation Peace Spring and announced he was working on the sanctions legislation alongside Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen prior to the operation's formal launch.
"While the Administration refuses to act against Turkey, I expect strong bipartisan support," Graham said in a statement.
The legislation's framework, previewed by the senators in a pair of pictures posted to Twitter, includes sanctions on Turkey's top officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Vice President Fuat Oktay, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
The Treasury and Finance, Trade, and Energy and Natural Resources Ministers would also be blacklisted.
The bill would further prohibit military sales to Turkey, as well as U.S. military assistance to the Turkish Armed Forces, and would target Turkey's energy sector.
Sanctions would also be imposed on Turkey for its purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-air missile system.
If passed, all of the penalties would be mandatory unless the administration certifies to Congress -- every 90 days -- that Turkey is not operating unilaterally in Syria and has withdrawn its armed forces, including Turkish supported fighters.
Congress is currently on recess, but is set to return next week.
Trump announced Sunday the pullback of U.S. forces ahead of the start of Operation Peace Spring, a move that has drawn stiff resistance from Capitol Hill.
Turkey launched the operation on Wednesday to secure its borders by eliminating terrorist elements and to ensure the safe return of Syrian refugees and Syria’s territorial integrity.
Turkey has said the PKK terrorist group and its extension the YPG/PYD constitute the biggest threat to Syria’s future, jeopardizing the country’s territorial integrity and unitary structure.
Ankara has also stressed that supporting terrorists under the pretext of fighting Daesh is unacceptable.
Turkey has a 911-kilometer (566-mile) border with Syria and has long decried the threat from terrorists east of the Euphrates and the formation of a “terrorist corridor” there.
Turkey plans to resettle 2 million Syrians in a 30-kilometer (19-mile) wide safe zone to be set up in Syria, stretching from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border, including Manbij. However, the presence of terrorist groups such as the PKK, PYD and YPG risk its formation.
Turkey has rid an area of 4,000 square kilometers (1,544 square miles) in Syria of terrorist groups in two separate cross-border operations. Since 2016, Turkey has conducted two major military operations in northwestern Syria -- Operation Euphrates Shield and Operation Olive Branch -- to purge the region of the terrorist groups Daesh and the YPG, which is the Syrian branch of the PKK terrorist group.
The two operations were in line with the country’s right to self-defense borne out of international law, UN Security Council resolutions, especially no. 1624 (2005), 2170 (2014) and 2178 (2014), and under the right to self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter while being respectful of Syria’s territorial integrity.
During Operation Euphrates Shield, Turkish forces neutralized 3,060 Daesh terrorists. Turkey has suffered greatly from Daesh attacks inside the country. More than 300 people have been killed in attacks claimed by Daesh in Turkey, where the terrorist group has targeted civilians in suicide bombings and armed attacks in recent years.
In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK – listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union -- has been responsible for the deaths of some 40,000 people, including women, children and infants.