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Canada extended its arms embargo against Turkey, but no one will say why

Canada remained silent on the reasons behind its decision, which comes soon after it lifted an arms embargo on Riyadh
A Turkish military convoy is seen parked near the town of Batabu on the highway linking Idlib to the Syrian Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey, on 2 March (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

Canada indefinitely extended a ban on arms sales to Nato ally Turkey last week, baffling Turkish officials who did not see it coming.

In a statement on 16 April, the Canadian government said that the temporary suspension of the export of controlled goods and tech to Turkey will continue “until further notice”.

Ottawa initially imposed the embargo in response to Turkey’s military incursion into Syria last autumn. While the Canadian government would permit some exports following a case-by-case review, applications for military items would be denied.

Ankara officials were confused by the decision. Their inquiry on the reason behind the extension bore no fruit as Canadian officials remained mute.

“They didn't explain why they took this step,” a Turkish official told Middle East Eye. “It might be about domestic politics as the Armenian and Greek lobbies in the country have some political power.”

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A Canadian official, asked about the issue by MEE, only pointed to the public statement issued by the government, which did not state any reason.

Turkey’s operations in northern Syria have come to a pause following the declaration of a ceasefire deal brokered by the United States in October. Since then, the situation has stabilised. Washington lifted a similar embargo on Turkey last year.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday night called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss the ban. A statement from the Turkish presidency said that both leaders talked about cooperation against the coronavirus pandemic and bilateral issues.

“Trudeau didn’t provide any reasoning for his decision to extend the ban in the call,” the Turkish official said. “He said they would take some steps to alleviate Turkish concerns regarding the exports; that they would review everything case by case.”

Canada's decision also triggered some commentary on Twitter, where Turkish users pointed out that Ottawa earlier this month lifted a suspension of arms exports to Saudi Arabia, which were put in place following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Since then, the Canadian government has also negotiated a multibillion-dollar arms deal with Riyadh. 

Translation: "So-called Nato ally Canada is imposing an embargo on Turkey while lifting it for a country [Saudi Arabia] where there is an administration that melted a journalist's [body] at a consulate." 

According to the 2018 military export data released by the Canadian government, Turkey had purchased $115m worth of Canadian military goods, making it the third-largest buyer. Saudi Arabia takes its place at the top with more than $1bn in military purchases. 

The official said Turkey was giving utmost importance to the import of the optics and surveillance systems from the Canadian firm Wescam for its military drones.

Turkey has also been importing engines for its Hurkus training aircraft from Pratt & Whitney Canada. One person familiar with the Turkish defence procurement said that Ankara could easily find other suppliers for the engines.

Relations between the two Nato allies have been stable except for some minor bilateral issues, though sources in Ankara do not consider the relationship a particularly close one.

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