Mon, 06 Feb 2023

Ankara is hoping to purchase 40 new Lockheed-produced jets, but the agreement has opponents in Washington

Trkiye's proposed purchase of F-16 fighter jets from the US and its gatekeeping of NATO as Finland and Sweden seek to join the US-led military bloc are "not related," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has insisted.

The weapons sale would benefit both the US and Trkiye, he told journalists on Wednesday, after a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington, DC. Ankara's acceptance of the NATO bids by the Nordic nations was never a "precondition" for the sale of warplanes, he added, as quoted by the Turkish press.

Trkiye wants to purchase 40 new Lockheed-produced warplanes, as well as 79 upgrade kits for F-16s that the Turkish Air Force already has in its fleet. The request was sent in October 2021, but the multibillion dollar deal has opponents in the US Congress.

Last week, the administration of US President Joe Biden sent an informal notice to lawmakers about its intention to go through with the proposed sale. Senator Bob Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is a long-time critic of the proposal and has vowed to block the deal.

"Until [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan ... begins to act like a trusted ally should, I will not approve this sale," a statement prepared by Menendez and obtained by Politico said. He also expressed support for selling F-35 jets to Turkish European rival Greece.

The administration of former US President Donald Trump kicked Trkiye out of the F-35 program in 2019. It claimed that Ankara endangered the secrets of the advanced weapons platform by purchasing S-400 long-range anti-aircraft missiles from Russia. The Erdogan government denied that this was the case.

Cavusoglu was asked about the planned sale of F-35s to Greece on Wednesday and remarked that the balance of military cooperation that the US had with the two NATO allies had "deteriorated."

Finland and Sweden applied for NATO membership last May, citing a purported threat coming from Russia. Trkiye conditioned its acceptance of their bids to their lifting of an arms embargo and an improvement in counter-terrorism action. The two Nordic nations, Ankara stated, served as shelters for forces that the Turkish government considers terrorists.

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