Defense, Middle East, Top Stories

Turkish defense industry hires ex-congressmen to unblock arms sales to Pakistan

A Turkish defense contractor has retained two lobbying firms to help unblock a US veto of a $1.5 billion arms sale to Pakistan.

Turkish Aerospace Industries has hired Greenberg Traurig for $25,000 per month for four months to help green-light the sale of 30 of its T-129 attack helicopters. The Miami-based law firm in turn retained Capitol Counsel of Washington as a subcontractor for $12,500 per month.

Turkish Aerospace is owned by the Turkish Armed Forces Foundation and the Presidency of Defense Industries. Both are under the purview of the Turkish ministry of national defense.

Working the contract for Greenberg are senior director Albert Wynn, a former Democratic congressman from Maryland, along with attorney Robert Mangas and Greenberg director Laurie McKay. Capitol Counsel for its part has registered former congressman Charles Boustany, Republican of Louisiana, along with fellow partner Charles Towner French and principal Allegra Han. All six were already registered as foreign agents for the government of Turkey.

The lobbying push comes after Turkish Aerospace struck a deal with Pakistan in 2018 to replace its aging fleet of Vietnam-era Bell AH-1F Cobra gunships, which are outmatched by rival India’s new Boeing AH-64 Apaches. The United States however has so far refused to clear the sale under the Exports Control Act, which comes into play because the gunship’s CTS800 engine is jointly made by Rolls-Royce and Honeywell, a US company.

The lobbying contracts call for assistance with the “executive and legislative review” of the export act. Greenberg’s contract suggests the bottleneck is mostly on Capitol Hill. It calls for meetings with leaders both parties on the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs panels.

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The stumbling block comes amid bipartisan concerns with both Turkey and Pakistan, both US allies with whom Washington has clashed repeatedly.

Last year Congress and the Donald Trump administration pushed for sanctions against Ankara and suspended its participation in the F-35 fighter jet program over its incursion into northern Syria and its purchase of Russian missile defense systems. Meanwhile Washington stripped Pakistan of $800 million in US assistance in 2018 over concerns it wasn’t doing enough to combat insurgents.

Both Turkey and Pakistan have vowed to press ahead even without the United States’ blessing.

Turkey is building a domestic engine for its helicopter to bypass US export restrictions, a process that could take years. In January, Ankara said Islamabad had granted it a one-year extension.

“We hope we will be able to develop our indigenous engine soon to power the T129,” Ismail Demir, the head of Turkey’s top procurement agency, said Jan. 6, Defense News reported. “After one year, Pakistan may be satisfied with the level of progress in our engine program, or the U.S. may grant us the export license.”

Meanwhile Pakistan has said it is looking at possibly acquiring Zhishengji-10 (Z-10) attack helicopters form China, Maj. Gen. Syed Najeeb Ahmed, the commander of the Pakistan Army Aviation Corps, announced in February.

Turkish Aerospace Industries previously lobbied Congress via Florida law firm GrayRobinson. The firm registered to work on the arms export issue in April 2019 but was terminated on Dec. 31, having only disclosed $15,000 in fees during the period. GrayRobinson worked as a subcontractor to Capital Keys of Washington, which itself never registered.