By Safvan Allahverdi
The U.S. Senate on Monday overwhelmingly approved a $716 billion defense budget that fulfills President Donald Trump’s desire to strengthen the U.S. military.
The 85-10 vote for the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) will give the Pentagon a $617.6 billion base budget plus an additional $68.5 billion for possible overseas operations, $21.6 billion for defense-related programs linked to the Department of Energy and $8.2 billion in other defense related expenditures.
By passing the defense bill, Senators additionally adopted a provision to reinstate tough penalties on Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE Corp for violating U.S. sanctions laws and prevent American institutions from buying products from the firm.
The Senate NDAA also includes an amendment prohibiting sales to Turkey of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets, citing the purchase of the S-400 air defense system from Russia and detaining U.S. citizens as the reasons.
The amendment claimed that purchasing the S-400 system from Russia increases tensions and risks to the NATO alliance. It also demands the release of American Pastor Andrew Brunson, who is facing terror charges in Turkey.
Criticizing the U.S. for trying to force Turkey not to purchase the S-400 air defense system from Russia, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu last week recalled that Turkey had been trying to purchase the Patriot air defense system from the U.S., but the missiles have never been sold to Turkey when they were needed the most.
"This is the reason why Turkey, which is in urgent need of these weapons, has chosen to purchase them from Russia," he added.
Touching upon the F-35 fighter jets, Cavusoglu also emphasized that if Washington as the worst-case scenario decides not to sell F-35s to Turkey, then no one can tell Turkey not to buy aircraft from a second country or not to produce its own.
The bill must now be reconciled with one already passed by the House of Representatives in May and a compromise measure must then be passed by both chambers and signed into law by Trump.