US congressional critics, this week, are set to vote on a bipartisan measure to restrict President Joe Biden’s ability to sell Lockheed Martin-made F-16 fighter jets to Turkey that the NATO country had been demanding for more than a year.
Democrats are seeking a majority congressional approval to finalize the $20 billion sale with an additional next-generation F-35 warplanes sale to Ankara’s geopolitical rival Greece.
Turkey has been planning to upgrade its existing F-16 fleet with 40 new Lockheed Martin-made Viper class F-16 fighter jets and 80 modernization kits.
But the US Congress had been wary of Turkey’s hostile rhetoric against its ally Athens and created hurdles to the sales with a clause that would restrict their use.
Turkey’s Quest For Air Superiority, Military Build-Up Counter On Aegean Island
NATO member Turkey has been seeking to assert its air superiority and counter military build-up over the Greek Aegean island that lies in close proximity to Turkey’s coastline. It is also seeking to procure 900 air-to-air missiles and 800 bombs, officials familiar with the details reportedly confirm.
Turkey, in a geopolitical rift with Greece, warned it to stop militarizing the Aegean islands, threatening that it “will take the necessary steps on the ground.” Athens threatens Turkey with “another Ukraine situation” if it didn’t stop inflammatory rhetoric.
At a joint press conference with his Romanian counterpart Bogdan Aurescu in Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, warned that Turkey can no longer “remain silent about the disarmament of the islands.”
“Either Greece takes a step back, or we do what is necessary,” he retorted, adding that Athens must abide by the Treaty of Lausanne. The two countries have been at odds for decades despite being NATO members.
Cavusoglu, in an earlier interview with private broadcaster Haber Global TV, had also condemned the Congressional hurdles in the United States, saying that Ankara “would not agree to buy a product in a way that could tie our hands.”
“Why should we buy a product that we can’t use?” Cavusoglu hit back at the dissenting US lawmakers. Erdogan, in turn, denounced the deal opposing lawmakers saying that Biden “must not fall for the ‘games’ being played.”
Turkey had also threatened Washington that it would buy the fighter jets from Russia should the stalled deal fail to finalise. The United States is not the only country selling warplanes in the world.
“The UK, France, and Russia sell them as well,” Erdogan said in an angst-laden tone at a presser. “It’s possible to procure them from other places, and others are sending us signals,” he warned.
The sale of F-16 fighter planes strained ties between Ankara and Washington, despite that US President Joe Biden expressed his administration’s support for the deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The approximately $1.4 billion deal was proposed after the United States unilaterally ousted Ankara from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program in 2019 after it received a “regiment” of the S-400 missile defence system from Moscow.
US House and Senate reached an agreement on the annual defence policy bill, Fiscal 2023 National Defence Authorization Act, or NDAA in December that removed the articles that restricted the F-16 sale to Ankara.
The bill would enable a swift finalization of the sale that Turkey welcomed, saying that it would be “in everyone’s interest.” “We knew before [the bill’s text became public] that the two [conditions attached to the sale] were removed from the final text,” Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said at a press conference in Moldova. “What is important now is to finalize the process as soon as possible … which will be in everyone’s interests,” he insisted.
Some US lawmakers, however, have opposed the sale calling out at Turkey’s alleged belligerence. “How do you reward a nation that does all of those things?” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a Politico interview. “I don’t see it. Now, if they want to start changing their ways, that’s a different story,” he noted.
Biden’s sale of fighter jets is critical for United States national security, the lawmakers maintain, speculating that the jets will be used to violate Greece’s airspace. Other lawmakers, who oppose the sale, have condemned Biden for neglecting Ankara’s “antagonistic actions.”
Turkey’s acquiescence of the F-16 fighter jets might expedite the accession of Finland and Sweden to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, which Ankara has blocked over objections to its ties with Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK offshoots in Syria. If approved, the deal will coincide with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s visit to Washington, next week.