Senator Lankford Shares Frustrations with Turkey’s President for Lack of Democracy, Human Rights on the Senate Floor

CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s speech on the Senate floor.

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the visit of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to the White House. Lankford has been disappointed in the Turkish regime’s increasingly troubling relationship with Russia, particularly with regard to its acquisition of the S-400 missile system from the Russian Government. Lankford issued a statement in October 2019 supporting President Trump’s announcement to issue sanctions on Turkey amid the aggression in the region.

Lankford and a bipartisan group of Senators, who have been engaged in the F-35/S-400 foreign policy conversation, welcomed the news in July 2019 that President Trump blocked the sale of the F-35 to Turkey, about which the senators introduced a bill earlier this year.

In April 2018, Senators Lankford, Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced a bill to prevent the transfer of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft to Turkey after a number of human rights violations, including the unjust imprisonment of American pastor, Andrew Brunson. Pastor Brunson was released in October 2018 after being detained for two years. The same senators secured a provision in the FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that directed the Secretary of Defense to submit a plan to Congress that removed Turkey from participation in the F-35 program.

Senator Lankford is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.


The United States is always grateful to be able to receive heads of states from around the world. Heads of states come to the United States because they know we’re 25 percent of the world’s economy. We’re the most powerful military in the world, we’re the most moral nation in the world with how we try to manage freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of opportunity for all people within our country. When we see a problem in our country, we work to be able to address that. So with that, we’re welcoming another head of state to the United States today, President Erdogan of Turkey. Turkey has been a long-standing NATO ally. NATO was formed in the late-1940s. Turkey and Greece were the first two countries that came into NATO after its formation in the 1940s. So, Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952. We have a very important military base in Turkey—Incirlik Air Force Base. It is key in the war against terror in that entire region. Turkey hosts the largest Syrian refugee population. Turkey has been very engaged in NATO filling all of its billets, all of its requirements. They have worked to be able to be a good partner. They have partnered with us not only in the War on Terror in multiple countries and regions, but they have been very faithful to engage with NATO as a whole.

But something is happening in Turkey that I hope President Trump and President Erdogan had a very frank discussion on. Because since 2016 President Erdogan of Turkey is shifting Turkey away from NATO, toward Russia, towards a more authoritarian regime. Changing their constitution to give more power to Erdogan and to whoever his successor is, if there is a successor to Erdogan. If he doesn’t just maintain power and keep it forever from here on out. There was a mayoral election in Istanbul that President Erdogan didn’t agree with and so he just declared it null and void. And forced another election in Istanbul hoping to get the outlook that he wanted. But the Turkish people actually voted even more so against Erdogan in the next election in Istanbul putting in someone who is directly opposed to Erdogan and his party.

President Erdogan recently imprisoned an American pastor who had served more than 20 years in Turkey. Serving all people of all faiths and all backgrounds in the beautiful city of Izmir. He rounded up Andrew Brunson with tens of thousands of other people that President Erdogan and his government just considered a threat. Most of them they held without charges for years now. There are still thousands of people right now that are still awaiting their day in court from the 2016 coup, not knowing if any of these folks were actually connected to the coup. They rounded up teachers, journalists, law enforcement individuals, just everyone they could round up they had any suspicion of, imprisoned them, and said we’ll bring charges later, and many of those—thousands of them— are waiting for later. I happened to be in Turkey in December of 2016 to personally to meet with the Ministry of Justice in Ankara to talk about Andrew Brunson, an American who had been swept up in that time period, who had nothing to do with the coup that happened in 2016. President Erdogan solely had the ability to get him released but held him for years with all kinds of wild accusations against a missionary American who had been there for decades.

To add to all of our difficulties with President Erdogan, in the past couple of years, he has shifted his attention toward Russia and has now completed a purchase of Russian air defense system. The very first and only NATO country ever to purchase Russian military equipment. Equipment that’s not interoperable with the rest of NATO. Russian equipment that is specifically designed to take the fight to the F-35, and Turkey believes that it is going to purchase the F-35 from the United States and also they believe they can purchase the S-400 from Russia and have them side-by-side. Well they are wrong. Years ago Congress passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, commonly known as CAATSA. It was a very clear message to anyone who buys Russian military equipment that there are sanctions coming to your country and it is clear. We have applied those sanctions in the past, and those sanctions need to be applied to Turkey now. In addition to that Senator Shaheen and I have partnered together to put a bill to block Turkey from taking any of the F-35—not trained in the equipment, not simulators. No F-35s can go to Turkey. If they are interested in buying Russian air defense systems, they understand clearly what that means. We have made it clear to the Turks for two years now. If you buy Russian equipment, you cannot also have the F-35. President Erdogan was aware of that. His administration was aware of that. And I hope President Trump made it clear to him today. As clear as this Congress has made it clear in a bipartisan basis that Turkey cannot have the F-35 and also have Russian military equipment at the same time. That’s incompatible.

And we will continue to make that very clear in the days ahead in our legislation, and I believe the vote will not even be close to be able to send a message to Turkey that we are interested in maintaining our friendship and our NATO ally. But our NATO ally needs to make a decision if they are a NATO ally or if they are a Russian ally. Because those two are not congruent. I hope that was the conversation that happened today. We’ll find out in the days ahead. But even if it was not, I hope that President Erdogan and the Turkish Embassy hears it clearly now, this Congress would look forward to partnering with Turkey again in the future, as we have for decades in the past. We’ve had an economic relationship, a military relationship, a genuine friendship with Turkey. But we do not know who Turkey is anymore. We don’t recognize the Turkey of today from Turkey five years ago. We would never come to your country and beat up protesters in the street as President Erdogan’s security thugs did last year in the United States. We would never do that to your country. We would never counter NATO just to spite you, and we would certainly stay align with a friend who’s been a friend for decades. To the Turkish people, our beef is not with you. Our frustration is with the regime that is currently directing your country away from its traditional allies. And we continue to reach our hand out to the Turkish people and we continue to say to President Erdogan, this can be different in the days ahead, as it has been in the past. But some things need to change and we are not the ones that walked away.