US Congress says F-16 sale to Turkey depends on NATO approval

US Congress says F-16 sale to Turkey depends on NATO approval
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A bipartisan letter from 29 senators urged the Biden administration not to sell F-16s to Turkey unless it ratifies Sweden and Finland's accession to NATO

The U.S. Congress cannot support the sale of $20 billion worth of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey until Ankara ratifies the NATO memberships of Sweden and Finland, a bipartisan group of senators said on Thursday.

In a letter to President Joe Biden, 29 Democratic and Republican senators said the two Nordic countries were making "full and good faith efforts" to meet the conditions for NATO membership that Turkey asked, even though Ankara says Sweden needs to do more.

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

The Biden administration has repeatedly said it supports the sale and has refused to link the two issues, although it has acknowledged that ratification of Sweden's and Finland's NATO accession would facilitate the congressional sales process.

Sweden and Finland applied to join the transatlantic defense pact last year after Russia invaded Ukraine, but ran into objections from Turkey and have since sought its support.

Ankara wants Helsinki and Stockholm in particular to take a harder line on the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which Turkey and the European Union consider a terrorist group, and a religious sect it blames for a 2016 coup attempt.

The three countries had agreed on a joint approach in Madrid last June, but Ankara suspended talks last month after a far-right Danish politician burned a copy of the Muslim holy book, the Koran, in Stockholm.

Turkey has said it could approve Finland's NATO membership application ahead of Sweden's, but both Finland's president and foreign minister have rejected the idea, arguing that the two Nordic countries' security is interdependent.

Of the 30 members of NATO, only Turkey and Hungary have yet to ratify the Nordic countries' accession.

Turkey applied in October 2021 to buy 40 Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) F-16 fighters and nearly 80 modernization packages for its existing fighters.

During a visit to Washington last month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the NATO issue should not be a precondition for the sale and urged the Biden administration to convince Congress to drop its objections.

While Congress can block foreign arms sales, it has so far failed to achieve the two-thirds majority in both chambers needed to override a presidential veto.