New US Senate foreign relations chair to ”look at” Turkish F-16 deal

New US Senate foreign relations chair to ”look at” Turkish F-16 deal
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Senator Ben Cardin, the new chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he will scrutinize Turkey's F-16 fighter jet deal, considering various factors beyond Sweden's NATO accession, including human rights concerns and airspace overflights

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee's new chairman on Thursday said he would look at Turkey's $20 billion Lockheed Martin (LMT.N) F-16 fighter jet deal and that more issues than Sweden's ascension to NATO would affect the decision on lifting his predecessor's longstanding hold.

"I need to talk to the administration on a lot of these issues, because it's beyond just one issue involved, and I need to understand that," Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat, told reporters, one day after he took over leadership of the influential panel.

Cardin said he had discussed Sweden's NATO accession with Turkish officials at a NATO ambassador's meeting on Wednesday.

"They claim that will be done in the first part of next month," he said. "If that is in fact true, then at least we have the NATO issue resolved, but there are other issues in addition to just NATO accession that need to be part of our discussions as we move forward."

The F-16 deal has been a contentious issue in recent months, primarily due to Turkey's objections regarding Sweden's bid to join NATO. The previous chairman, Senator Bob Menendez, had been a staunch opponent of the arms sale, using it as leverage to express disapproval of Turkey's stance on Sweden's NATO accession. However, the decision to block the sale was not solely based on NATO concerns.

Senator Menendez also cited several other issues, including President Tayyip Erdogan's human rights record and Turkey's overflights of neighboring Greece's airspace. This multifaceted approach to evaluating arms sales underscores the complex nature of international diplomacy and arms deals, which often involve a broad spectrum of political, diplomatic, and human rights considerations.

Senator Menendez's tenure as chairman came to an abrupt end when he was forced to step down from his leadership position following the announcement of felony bribery charges against him and his wife, Nadine Menendez. This unexpected turn of events has added a layer of uncertainty to the committee's direction and priorities.

Ankara has been reluctant to ratify Sweden's NATO membership due to its perception that Stockholm has not done enough to combat individuals Turkey views as terrorists, mainly members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). President Erdogan previously stated that he would submit the ratification to parliament in October, prompting some members of the U.S. Congress to express frustration that he did not recall parliament earlier to expedite Sweden's NATO membership.

In an unexpected twist, President Erdogan saw Senator Menendez's legal troubles as an opportunity to push forward with the fighter jet deal. Erdogan was quoted in Turkish media as saying, "Menendez being out of the picture is an advantage."

The situation has also affected Sweden's neighbor, Finland, which applied to join NATO alongside Sweden in the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Finland's NATO membership was confirmed in April, but Sweden's application remains stuck, primarily due to objections from Turkey and Hungary.

Senator Jim Risch, the leading Republican on the Senate panel, has also taken a stance on the matter, putting a hold on arms sales to Hungary due to its role in this diplomatic deadlock.