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Public Statements

Naval Vessel Transfer Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. ENGEL. Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to this bill, H.R. 6649, as amended, and yield myself as much time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, this bill authorizes the transfer of decommissioned frigates to four foreign countries. The governments of Turkey, Mexico, and Thailand would each receive by grant two Perry class frigates. That means for free. Taiwan would be authorized to purchase four of the same class of frigates, which they clearly need to protect their territorial waters.

I object to this bill primarily because of Turkey. While I recognize that Turkey is an important NATO ally, I regret that I have to oppose this bill in light of Turkey's problematic behavior and disturbing rhetoric regarding Israel and Cyprus over the past year and a half. For example, in May, with no apparent justification, Turkey sent combat aircraft to intercept an Israeli aircraft that was flying near Cyprus. This could have turned into a significant confrontation between a U.S. NATO ally and the United States' closest ally in the Middle East. Fortunately, it did not.

In September 2011, Turkey announced that it would send warships to escort aid convoys to Gaza. It has not followed through with this threat, but nor has it rescinded it.

Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister Davutoglu have been famously competing to see who can issue the most vile denunciations of Israel, as we saw, once again, during the recent Gaza crisis. Indeed, their allegations of ``ethnic cleansing'' and ``crimes against humanity,'' quotes from them, topped even the claims of Hamas for stridency and falsehood. Of course, the prime minister called Israel a ``terrorist state.'' Is that the kind of rhetoric we should expect from a NATO ally?

Some people say this should continue because, after all, Turkey is an ally and we need to help them. Well, I look at it the other way. They're a NATO ally, so they have responsibility. And the way they're acting has been anything but responsible. This is not an inconsequential or trivial matter. As many public opinion surveys show, and as is widely acknowledged, Turkey wields enormous influence among Middle Easterners, with the sway to exacerbate or tamp down tensions as it sees fit. For too long, it has been exacerbating these tensions, particularly since the new government--well, it's not new anymore--a government for several years with an Islamist bent has been in.

Moreover, Turkey's longstanding recognition of Hamas has done nothing to moderate that group. It has merely lent legitimacy to a terrorist group and undermined the standing of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Indeed, in the aftermath of the Gaza hostilities, Turkey's extreme rhetoric and one-sided approach to Israel's conflict with Hamas disqualified it from playing the useful mediating role which should be its natural vocation.

Turkey's unnecessarily harsh anti-Israel rhetoric over the last several years actually did cost the Turks the support of Congress to authorize the transfer of two decommissioned U.S. frigates in the last Congress. It should have that result again in this Congress, and it should be denied.

But Turkey's poisonous rhetoric and menacing behavior towards Israel is not the only reason to oppose this ship transfer, and perhaps not even the most potentially explosive. To cite the other important reason: Turkey has repeatedly threatened Cyprus and its energy explorations. One year ago, Turkey used its naval forces--and, by the way, the very naval forces this bill would enhance--in an effort to harass and intimidate Cyprus and workers employed by the Houston-based Noble Energy company as they sought to explore for offshore natural gas in Cyprus' exclusive economic zone. Prime Minister Erdogan also threatened that Turkey would use force to stop these explorations. Probably because of U.S. opposition, it has not done so, but, again, Turkey has never rescinded the threat. Almost exactly 1 year ago, Turkey conducted a dangerous live-fire naval exercise in the vicinity of both the Cypriot and Israeli offshore natural gas explorations, which Cyprus and Israel are doing jointly.

The Turkish attitude is epitomized by Turkey's Minister for European Union Affairs, Egemen Bagis, who addressed the issue of Cypriot natural gas exploration last year. This was his warning, and I quote:

This is what we have a navy for. We have trained our marines for this. We have equipped the navy for this. All options are on the table. Anything can be done.

And I want to remind my colleagues that Turkey has continued to occupy the northern part of Cyprus since the 1970s. It's just unacceptable.

Mr. Speaker, I realize that Turkey is an important member of NATO. It accepted radar emplacements for NATO's missile defense initiative, and it is an important element of the solution to several regional problems--notably, Syria--but it has become a major problem for U.S. interests in terms of its relations with Israel and the inflammatory and distinctly unhelpful role it has assumed in the Palestinian issue, as well as its threats against Cyprus.

In the last several years, the once warm relationship between Israel and Turkey has unfortunately frozen over. We would truly like to see a thaw in that relationship, just as we would like to see Turkey respect the sovereign right of every country in the region, like Cyprus, to utilize their natural resources. Until then, I believe we should hold off on sending powerful warships to Turkey and encourage the government in Ankara to take a less belligerent approach to their neighbors.

Early in the next Congress, I would look forward to working with my colleagues on a new ship transfer bill that excludes Turkey, if we can defeat this bill, or appropriately conditions our ship transfer so that the government in Ankara gets the right message.

So I urge my colleagues to reject this bill, and I reserve the balance of my time.

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