NEW YORK — The Trump administration has withdrawn a proposal to let Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security guards buy $1.2 million in U.S.-made weapons, a congressional official said Monday, following violence against protesters during Erdogan’s visit to Washington this spring.
Earlier this year, the administration told Congress that it planned to allow New Hampshire gunmaker Sig Sauer to sell the weapons, which include hundreds of semi-automatic handguns and ammunition. The notification triggered a period in which Congress could review the deal before final approval is granted. The weapons would have gone to an intermediary in Turkey for use by Erdogan’s presidential security forces.
PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff interviewed Turkish President Erdogan on Monday. See their conversation on Tuesday’s broadcast of the NewsHour.
But U.S. lawmakers began expressing strong opposition to the sale after a violent incident on May 16, which was caught-on-camera outside the home of the Turkish ambassador to Washington as Erdogan was visiting. Nineteen people including 15 identified as Turkish security officials have been indicted by a U.S. grand jury for attacking peaceful protesters.
The incident was one of several during visits by top Turkish officials to the U.S. that have raised serious questions about the behavior of Turkish security forces on American soil.
In June, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., wrote Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging him to reject the deal and calling the conduct of the Turkish guards “unprofessional and brutal.” A Senate panel has also approved a measure that would block the sale.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said the move to cancel the deal “was a little late” but welcome nonetheless. “It should never have been something that we were considering,” Van Hollen said. He and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., succeeded earlier this month in adding a provision to a State Department spending bill that would have blocked the sale.
In a joint statement, Van Hollen and Leahy added, “We should also stop selling weapons to units of the Turkish National Police that have been arbitrarily arresting and abusing Turkish citizens who peacefully criticize the government.”
The State Department, in informing Congress that it was formally withdrawing the planned sale, said it was at the request of Sig Sauer, a firearms manufacturer, which had requested the license from the U.S. government that’s needed to export weapons outside the U.S.
But the U.S. had already quietly put the sale on hold after the violence, and the Trump administration had informed the Turkish government that the sale wouldn’t be allowed to take place. Sig Sauer appeared to have pulled its request for a license from the U.S. government after hearing from the Turks that it no longer expected to purchase the weapons.
A spokesman for Sig Sauer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Rep. Dave Trott, R-Mich., hailed the decision to withdraw. He said going ahead with the deal “would have been nothing short of an endorsement” of the attack by the Turkish security guards. Pulling out, Trott said, amounts to finally pointing “a finger in Erdogan’s chest” and telling him that Turkey is not above the law.
Word of the withdrawn sale came as President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were in New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly gathering. Erdogan arrived in New York on Monday for the meetings.
Lawmakers of both parties have asked the State Department to take extra precautions to ensure there’s not another violent incident this week by Turkish personnel during the U.N. gathering.