HR 6649 sought to give Turkey two "free" US Navy ships
At the urging of outgoing US House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and outgoing Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-CA), the US House voted to suspend the rules and pass the resolution with two-thirds majority. However, the legislation was not brought on time to the floor of the US Senate and will need to be re-introduced in the 113 th Congress.
Four Congressmen spoke in opposition of the bill. In particular, in his House Floor speech Rep. Brad Sherman of CA, while accepting that Turkey is a NATO ally and shares a border with Iran and Syria, urged Congress to not pass a bill “in the dead of night” offering two naval ships for free without markup and debate. He noted that Turkey cannot use such ships in its defense from Iran or Syria since they only share a land border and raised the issue of Turkey having used its navy for the 1974 invasion of Cyprus. Among other things he stressed that “Turkey has recently threatened legitimate Cypriot and Israeli efforts to cooperation on energy exploration. Ankara has boosted Turkish armed naval presence around the natural gas fields between Israel and Cyprus and declared invalid an agreement between Cyprus and Israel on demarcating their respective energy exploration areas.”
Other Congressmen who spoke in opposition of the bill were Eliot Engel (D-NY), the incoming Ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), and John Sarbanes (D-MD).
Congressman Engel, in his remarks, stressed: "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."
Representative Sarbanes, in his comments, remarked that: "This is not a non-controversial bill. I know it's being brought here on suspension as though it is, and I'm sure in the past when we've had these transfers of vessels, excess defense materials and so forth, often that is a non-controversial action to take. In this case, it's anything but non-controversial, and I'm surprised, frankly, that the majority would bring the bill to the floor in this form."
In his remarks, Rep. Bilirakis explained his opposition to H.R.6649, noting that: "the Turkish navy, as recently as last year, held naval live-fire exercises in the eastern Mediterranean. These provocative exercises took place near the natural gas fields of Israel and the Republic of Cyprus and threatened to disrupt peaceful and productive economic activity. Instead, Mr. Speaker, it is my hope that, in the eastern Mediterranean, Congress will continue to work to foster the relationships between the United States, Greece, Israel, and Cyprus in order to promote and foster issues of mutual, economic, and diplomatic importance."
In the end, the HR 6649 passed the US House but never made it to the floor of the US Senate for approval and was not signed into law. However, this was purely a timing issue and it will most likely be re-introduced during the 113 th Congress.
The American Hellenic Council, along with other Greek-American groups, notably the Hellenic-American Leadership Council and the American Hellenic Institute moved fast to oppose the passage of the bill or to instill language that opposes the unconditional transfer of those naval ships to Turkey without assurances that Turkey will abide by international maritime law and stop intimidating its neighbors Cyprus, Greece and Israel.
“We rushed to inform our elected officials from California to oppose this bill that was brought up at the last moment in the middle of the fiscal cliff crisis. We want to thank Rep. Sherman, Bilirakis, Engel & Sarbanes for taking the honorable position on this issue.” mentioned Alexander Mizan, Executive Director of the AHC.
“Although we were disappointed to find out that several Congress members that we have relationships with favored the bill, we did find some common ground with Los Angeles-based Congressman Sherman on the matter, who spoke against this bill. It will be an uphill battle but we are hoping that with the help of the Armenian and Jewish communities, with whom we are working together, we will be able to inform and educate our elected officials on the matte” Mizan mentioned.
The bill is expected to be reintroduced during the 113 th Congress and the AHC is already making contacts with Members of Congress asking them to oppose it.
photo credit: http://taxalia.blogspot.com