Top U.S. lawmaker objects to potential F-16 sale to Turkey
WASHINGTON, Jan 13 (Reuters) – The Biden administration has told Congress it is preparing the potential $20 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, sources familiar with the matter said on Friday, sparking immediate opposition from a senior American lawmaker who. has long opposed the deal.
The State Department sent the informal notification to Congress on Thursday, three sources said, informing the committees that oversee arms sales in the Senate and House of Representatives of its intention to proceed with the proposed deal.
NATO member Turkey requested in October 2021 to buy 40 Lockheed Martin Corp ( LMT.N ) F-16 fighter jets and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing fighters. Technical talks between the two sides were recently concluded.
The Biden administration has said it supports the sale and has been in touch with Congress for months on an informal basis to win its approval. However, it has so far failed to secure a green light.
“As I have made clear repeatedly, I strongly oppose the Biden administration’s proposed sale of new F-16 jets to Turkey,” Sen. Bob Menendez, Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. .
While the sale is still in the informal review process, Congress is also unlikely to approve the sale as long as Turkey refuses to proceed with ratification of Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership.
Both countries ended decades of neutrality last May and applied to join NATO in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but Turkey objected and accused the countries of harboring militants, including from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party. (PKK) and requested that steps be taken.
THE TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER IS IN WASHINGTON
The announcement, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, comes as Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu prepares to visit Washington on Wednesday for talks as the two NATO allies grapple with a host of disputes, including Syria and arms purchases.
After the informal review, a process during which committee leaders can ask questions or raise concerns about the sale, the administration can technically proceed with a formal announcement. But a senior US official said he was “doubtful” the administration would be able to proceed unless Menendez dropped his objection.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was flouting human rights and democratic norms and engaging in “alarming and destabilizing behavior in Turkey and against neighboring NATO allies,” Menendez said in his statement.
“Until Erdogan stops his threats… and starts acting properly as a trusted ally, I will not approve this sale.”
Menendez also said he welcomed news of the sale of new F-35 fighter jets to Greece, referring to Athens as a “trusted NATO ally” and saying the sale “strengthens the capabilities of our two nations to defend common principles, including our collective defence, democracy”. , human rights and the rule of law”.
Turkey’s 2019 purchase of Russian air defense systems resulted in Ankara’s exclusion from the next-generation F-35 fighter jet program and antagonized the US Congress. Disagreements with Washington over Syria policy and Turkey’s worsening record on human rights and freedom of expression also weigh on Congressional sentiment.
A State Department spokesman declined to comment, saying the department does not confirm or comment on proposed arms sales or transfers until the administration has formally sought approval from Congress.
Under US law, Congress can block a sale by passing a resolution of disapproval after a formal announcement of a sale, but is unlikely to do so if President Joe Biden decides to proceed despite lawmakers’ objections. While Congress has passed such resolutions in the past, it has never mustered the necessary two-thirds majority in both houses to override a presidential veto.
Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Patricia Zengerle and Mike Stone; Editing by Josie Kao and William Mallard
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