US refuses to sell Turkey 7.62 mm machine guns

US refuses to sell Turkey 7.62 mm machine guns

It was difficult to grasp the issue at first. At the recent annual meeting of the Turkish-American Council held at one of Ritz Carlton’s meeting rooms in Washington D.C., after a panel on defense cooperation, a State Department official approached a Turkish military official to say there had been a mistake and they would solve it. The Turkish official replied kindly. When I asked, they said it was a “meeting scheduling” problem, but after seeing that the representatives of two countries had heated discussions throughout the conference during breaks, I was able to learn the details. 

The Americans, who had sold Turkey 7.62 mm machine guns without any problems until now, have declared that they will no longer allow the sale. They said this was based on “political reasons,” although these weapons do not have any strategic importance. The Turks, shocked by the decision, responded harshly during the meeting and said there would be consequences. 

There could be several aspects to the issue. The operation conducted against daily Cumhuriyet in Turkey and the latest arrests of Kurdish issue-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputies have created deep concern in the U.S. administration. You could argue that such expressions in the past were just lip service for pragmatic Americans. But this 7.62 mm crisis is a stark example of the dimensions to which relations have deteriorated. 

Defense Minister Fikri Işık has claimed that the problem is solved. However, even if has been solved, if a simple arms sale is in danger of being blocked for political reasons, that is enough to explain the predicament between Ankara and Washington. 

While these negative developments are unfolding, another problem is the question of Pennsylvania-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen. His file is proceeding, and the Americans have started to move toward a rational platform after their inexplicably casual stance after July 15. A source told the American press last week that Turkey may well be right in their arguments on Gülen, and the Gülenists were more like a criminal organization than a religious charity. 

What does all this mean? Both the State Department and the Justice Department have similar doubts over whether the movement has ever used force or whether it has been engaged in intimidation efforts against those it has targeted. Does it have a secret messaging method? Are its communications transparent? Does it have financial transparency? How does it make financial transactions? Is everything documented? What are its political, religious and economic aims? What is its strategy? 

The risk is that the Gülen file will end up before an American judge or a prosecutor. They will look at Turkey’s extradition demand. The judge will decide, based on both the information in the file and the circumstances in the country to which Gülen will be returned. They will evaluate whether Gülen would receive a fair trial, and whether he would be maltreated. 

Now ask yourself this question: Would an American judge accept Gülen’s extradition file, considering the jailed journalists in Turkey and the human rights violation reports of suspects in Turkey by international organizations?   

What will happen then? The Gülenists will declare “We have been acquitted.” Ankara will justifiably react. But the U.S. administration will also justifiably say “There’s nothing we can do.” Turkish-U.S. relations will enter an irreparable crisis.