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U.S. sanctions NATO ally Turkey over Russian S-400 defense system

The action is certain to further worsen tensions with Ankara, which is already at odds with the U.S. on a number of issues and is being courted by Russia.

The United States has imposed long-anticipated sanctions on NATO ally Turkey over Ankara's procurement and testing of a Russian-made S-400 air defense system.

The sanctions announced Monday target Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries, its main defense procurement entity, as well as the group's President Ismail Demir and three other officers. The Turkish officials will face U.S. visa restrictions and their financial assets in the U.S. will be frozen.

The long-expected action is certain to further exacerbate tensions with Turkey, which is already at odds with the United States on a number of foreign policy issues and is being actively courted by Russia.

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“We very much regret that this has been necessary and we very much hope that Turkey will work with us to resolve the 400 problem as quickly as possible,” State Department Assistant Secretary Chris Ford said Monday, suggesting other countries take note of the decision and avoid acquiring Russian equipment.

Turkey purchased the Russian S-400 long-range surface-to-air missile system in 2017 through sanctioned Russian export entity Rosoboronexport. Turkey received the first associated delivery last July and tested the system as recently as October of this year. The U.S. responded by removing Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet program.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other U.S. officials have been threatening sanctions against Ankara as part of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) since even before the purchase of the Russian made weapons system but had refrained from taking action.

“It took time to work through this complex set of issues, including, in particular, the fact that Turkey is a NATO ally so I would not read too much into the timing of this and why today and not yesterday, or three months ago, this is the time that was necessary for us to conclude that deliberative process,” Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Matthew Palmer said.

The Trump administration offered Raytheon’s Patriot missile system on multiple occasions to Turkey as an alternative to the Russian system, but the deal fell through when Ankara insisted the U.S. also share the sensitive missile technology associated with the system.

Turkey condemned Monday’s decision.

“President Trump himself has admitted on many instances that Turkey’s acquisition was justified,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

NBC News has previously reported on the close relationship between President Donald Trump and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The State Department declined to comment on the internal deliberations surrounding the decision when asked if punitive actions had been delayed to avoid antagonizing Erdogan.

Under the National Defense Authorization Act passed with a vetoproof majority by Congress last week, the Trump Administration would be required to take measures against Turkey before departing office. The State Department denied the act played a role in the timing of the decision.

“What we have done today is consistent with what the provisions are on CAATSA in that legislation but it was not driven by it,” Ford said Monday. “It's driven by our desire to comply with the law as it currently exists on the statute books and I think we have indeed done so.”