US Congress wants to link F-16 sale to Türkiye to Nordic NATO bid


 ISTANBUL FEB 03, 2023 – 12:15 PM GMT+3

U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jets prepare to land at an air base in Ben Guerir, about 58 kilometers (35 miles) north of Marrakesh, Morocco, during the "African Lion" military exercise, June 14, 2021. (AFP Photo)

U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jets prepare to land at an air base in Ben Guerir, about 58 kilometers (35 miles) north of Marrakesh, Morocco, during the “African Lion” military exercise, June 14, 2021. (AFP Photo)

Abipartisan group of U.S. senators Thursday threatened to block the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Türkiye until Ankara agrees to ratify the NATO membership of Sweden and Finland in another setback for an already prolonged deal.

The move is all but sure to vex Türkiye, which has already called for the NATO issue not to be a precondition for sale and urged the Biden administration to persuade Congress to drop its earlier objection.

Sweden and Finland applied last year to join the trans-Atlantic defense pact after Russia invaded Ukraine but faced objections from Türkiye and have since sought to win its support.

Ankara wants Helsinki and Stockholm, in particular, to take a tougher line against terrorist organizations like the PKK, which is considered a terrorist group by Türkiye, the U.S. and the European Union, its Syrian affiliate YPG and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), which is behind a 2016 failed coup attempt, as well as their sympathizers.

The three nations reached an agreement on a way forward in Madrid last June but Ankara suspended talks last month following protests in Stockholm in which a far-right Danish politician burned a copy of the Islamic holy book, the Quran, outside the Turkish Embassy.

In a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden, 29 Democratic and Republican senators suggested the two Nordic countries were making “full and good faith efforts” to meet the conditions for NATO membership that Türkiye asked for, but Ankara says Sweden needs to do more.

“Once the NATO accession protocols are ratified by Türkiye, Congress can consider the sale of F-16 fighter jets. A failure to do so, however, would call into question this pending sale,” the senators wrote.

It was the first time Congress explicitly and directly linked the F-16 sale to Türkiye with the NATO accession bids of the two Nordic countries.

NATO member Türkiye has been seeking to modernize its existing warplanes to update its air force and sought to buy 40 Lockheed Martin F-16 jets and nearly 80 modernization kits from the U.S., a deal reportedly valued at $20 billion.

Türkiye made this request instead of a refund for the payment it had made for the next-generation F-35 fighter jets. The payment was issued before it was removed from the multinational program developing the aircraft over Ankara’s decision to acquire Russian-made S-400 air missile defense systems.

The Biden administration has repeatedly said it supports the sale and refused to link the two issues. It acknowledged that ratifying Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession would facilitate the sale process in Congress.

Türkiye ‘not without options’

This week, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned “there would be a price” to pay if the U.S. fails to supply Türkiye with F-16s.

Asked about these remarks, Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalın said Türkiye was “not without options” as far as air defense or other military defense industry products are concerned.

“If the American Congress makes the NATO accession process a precondition for the F-16 program, they can wait for a long time, we are not tying the two together,” Kalın told CNN International on Wednesday.

Ankara has vowed it might consider alternatives, including Russia if the U.S. fails to follow through on its promise to deliver the jets to the Turkish air force.

Türkiye has its own airpower and military and would like to cooperate with the U.S. on the defense industry and other related issues, Kalın said, adding: “But if they choose to go that path it’s their choice, we will not budge on that.”

He suggested the U.S. defense companies would be on the losing side if Washington fails to supply Ankara with warplanes.

“We have been developing our own national capabilities. Our drones have really shown the world how capable they are in the worst moments. So we will simply develop our own national capabilities and the U.S. defense companies will be on the losing end in all of this,” he asserted.

Türkiye has said it could approve Finland’s NATO membership application ahead of Sweden’s. Yet, Finnish officials argued that the security of the two Nordic countries is mutually dependent.

NATO requires unanimous approval from its existing members to admit new ones. Türkiye and Hungary are the only allies that haven’t formally endorsed Sweden and Finland’s accession.

Meanwhile, the senators went on to note Türkiye “has proven to be a valuable NATO ally as Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine continues.” They praised it for its “commitment to implementing the United Nations-brokered grain deal which has allowed Ukraine to export grain and avert a global food crisis.”

Ankara had previously ordered more than 100 U.S. F-35 jets, but Washington removed Türkiye from the program in 2019 after it bought the S-400s. Türkiye has called the move unjust and demanded reimbursement for its $1.4 billion payment.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu traveled to Washington earlier this month, where he said Türkiye expects the Biden administration to be decisive in its bid to sell F-16 warplanes and convince Congress to drop its opposition to the deal.

While Congress can block foreign arms sales, it has not previously mustered the two-thirds majorities in both chambers required to overcome a presidential veto.


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