Biden, in seeking F-16 sale to Turkey, faces pushback from Congress

Biden, in seeking F-16 sale to Turkey, faces pushback from Congress

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The Biden administration is preparing to ask Congress to approve a $20 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey and a separate sale of F-35s to Greece, in a proposal that is already facing considerable scrutiny in Capitol Hill, congressional aides familiar with the matter said.

The potential sale to Turkey, like NATO member Greece, would upgrade the country’s aging F-16 fleet and underline Ankara’s global influence as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tries to showcase his role as a dealmaker. in the Russia-Ukraine war.

While the Biden administration praised Erdogan’s steps last year to broker a deal allowing Ukrainian grain shipments from the Black Sea, it remains critical of the Turkish leader’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system and has privately expressed disappointment at the rejection. his to support Finland and Sweden’s admission to NATO regarding the attitude of those countries towards the Kurdish figures that Ankara sees as threats.

The impasse over Nordic membership in the alliance underscores not only the complexity of US-Turkey relations, but also Turkey’s ability to maintain NATO priorities. While Hungary, like Turkey, has yet to ratify Finland and Sweden’s accession, Hungarian officials have said they will take that step when their legislature reconvenes in February.

The decision to seek membership in the alliance after decades on NATO’s fringes required a monumental shift for the Swedes and Finns, underscoring Europeans’ strong concern about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

The countries’ advanced militaries would improve NATO’s capabilities while adding hundreds of miles to its shared border with Russia — a potential liability for the United States, which would be called upon to help the new members. in case of a Russian invasion. US officials have noted with satisfaction Putin’s strong opposition to NATO expansion – a direct result of his invasion of Ukraine.

NATO officials had hoped to finalize the expansion months ago. Nordic officials took some steps to assuage Turkish concerns, but Erdogan has not budged.

Some US lawmakers are expected to demand that Turkey commit to ratifying Finland and Sweden’s entry into NATO as a condition for moving forward with any F-16 sales, congressional aides said. News of the proposed sale was reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Friday he would oppose the sale unless Erdogan takes some steps he supports.

“President Erdogan continues to undermine international law, disregard human rights and democratic norms, and engage in alarming and destabilizing behavior in Turkey and against neighboring NATO allies,” he said in a statement. “Until Erdogan ceases his threats, improves his human rights record at home — including the release of journalists and the political opposition — and begins to act as a reliable ally should, I will not I approve this sale”.

Turkey first made its request for 40 new F-16s and 80 upgrade kits for existing fighters in 2021, following its withdrawal from the US F-35 program. The United States blocked Turkey from acquiring its most sophisticated stealth aircraft after Ankara bought advanced Russian air defenses, triggering US sanctions.

But the sale could benefit from a geopolitical landscape reshaped by the war in Ukraine. Since Putin’s takeover in February, Erdogan has held dialogue with both the Russian leader and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The split sale of the F-35s to Athens could serve to ease the concerns of Greek leaders and their supporters in Congress, given the long-standing tension between Greece and Turkey, which have fought over the island of Cyprus among other issues. Details of the sale have already been submitted to relevant congressional committees for informal review, aides said.

A State Department official declined to comment, saying it would not discuss the proposed deals or transfers until they have been formally announced to Congress. That official, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a possible military sale.

The US executive branch typically submits such information to Congress for an informal review before formally notifying lawmakers of the deal, giving them an opportunity to ask questions and raise objections. After the official announcement, Congress has 30 days to vote on a joint resolution of disapproval. To date, no sale has been blocked by such a resolution.

Last summer, the Defense Department and President Biden said the sale of F-16s to Turkey was in the US national interest and had their support. Conditions attached to the sale by Congress were removed from the National Defense Authorization Act of 2023 last month in exchange for a provision that said no NATO member should conduct “unauthorized territorial flights” over a member’s airspace other.

The Biden administration, seeking to demonstrate its cooperation with Congress, appears unlikely to use the unusual move the Trump administration took in 2019 to avoid legislative opposition to arms sales to Gulf states. At the time, Trump invoked his emergency authority to bypass Congress and end 22 arms deals sought by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries, despite opposition from lawmakers.

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