Berkley trying to block arms sale to Turkey

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Shelley Berkley is trying to block the military from completing a $111 million attack helicopter sale to Turkey, contending the United States should rethink its relationship with the NATO ally.

Berkley, D-Nev., and Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., have sponsored a resolution to freeze the sale of three AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters, engines, spare parts and training equipment.

Federal law requires the Obama administration to notify Congress 15 days before finalizing arms sales totaling $50 million or more to allied nations. Lawmakers can reject or modify the sale by taking action within that time.

The bid to halt the Turkey transaction, introduced Thursday, is considered to have a steep uphill climb. Even if Congress acts, President Barack Obama could veto the bill.

Berkley and Engel contend their resolution sends a message that members of Congress disapprove of Turkey's "increasingly bellicose rhetoric and policies" in Cyprus and against Israel.

"It appears as though our long-standing ally in Ankara is not only drifting toward confrontation with its friends and allies, but is also cozying up to some of our most entrenched enemies," Berkley and Engel said in a letter seeking co-sponsors.

"The U.S. should be busy raising these very serious concerns with Turkey rather than selling arms to them," said the lawmakers, who are among the most ardent supporters of Israel on Capitol Hill.

Turkey and Israel have had a frosty relationship since the May 2010 confrontation involving Israeli soldiers who boarded a Turkish-flagged ship that was trying to run a blockade of the Gaza Strip. Nine pro-Palestinian activists died.

Turkey in September expelled Israel's ambassador and reportedly has strengthened ties to Hamas, a militant Palestinian group.

Berkley and Engel said Israel was right not to apologize for "self-defensive actions" aboard the ship.

Besides Turkey's deteriorating relationship with Israel, Berkley and Engel also maintained the country is "intensifying" its military occupation of Cyprus, and is "threatening to freeze relations with our allies in the European union."

"As a NATO member, we would have expected Turkey to follow a different course on each and every one of these issues," the lawmakers said.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at or 202-783-1760.