US Senators asks Biden to condition F-16 sales to Turkey on NATO enlargement

US Senators asks Biden to condition F-16 sales to Turkey on NATO enlargement
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Democratic Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Thom Tillis said Congress should not consider support for Turkey including F-16s sale until Ankara ratifies the protocols

Two US Senators have asked President Joe Biden to link Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership with the sale of F-16s to Turkey.

Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire) and Republican Senator Thom Tillis (North Carolina) have penned a joint letter to Biden, expressing “intense concern” over Ankara’s blocking the two Scandinavian countries’ joining the military alliance, Kathimerini reported on Thursday.

“Failure by Turkey to uphold its commitments made under the trilateral Memorandum of Understanding with Finland and Sweden should be taken into consideration as Congress cannot consider future support for Turkey including F-16s sale, until Turkey ratifies protocols,” the senators said.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb.24, Sweden and Finland officially applied for NATO membership. The final approval of the two Scandinavian countries’ NATO bids depends on the current 30 member states’ parliaments, where Ankara says it will not approve the accession documents should Stockholm and Helsinki fail to combat “terrorism”, in reference to Kurdish groups and Gulen Movement.

28 out of 30 NATO members have already ratified the accession protocols and Hungary has pledged to do so in February.

Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin on Tuesday said they will not accept any condition that may be imposed by the US Senate in the context of a potential sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.

Commenting on claims that the US administration might bring NATO enlargement to the table in exchange for the F-16 deal, Kalin said "We heard similar things as well, that the Congress may impose such conditions. There are rumors. We have also been informed that these are not the demands of the administration.”

"If they make this a prior condition, it will not be acceptable for Turkey, and we will take no further steps (...) It would be better not to have any negotiations at all if they are intending to bring the issue of Sweden's and Finland's NATO membership into the deal, because we will not take any step back," he said.

In October 2021, Turkey made an official request to buy 40 F-16s and some 80 modernization kits for its existing fleet, after Washington excluded it from the F-35 stealth fighter jet program over its acquisition of Russian S-400 air defense missiles in 2019.

While the President Joe Biden said the US administration supports the sale of the aircraft to Ankara, a possible deal needs approval from the Congress.

Bob Menendez, a top Democratic senator and the chairman of the US Senate's Foreign Relations Committee objects to the sale of F-16s to Turkey unless Ankara ends its aggressive stance against Greece, Cyprus and other actions in the Eastern Mediterranean that he deems to be contrary to Washington’s interests.