US officials have announced that President Biden intends to engage in discussions with Congress to accelerate the process of selling $20 billion worth of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.
“The president has expressed no opposition to the sale and is determined to facilitate the transition quickly,” stated Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, today. However, he did not provide a specific timeframe for the process.
This decision follows Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s recent approval on July 10 to forward Sweden’s NATO membership application to the country’s parliament for consideration. Previously, Ankara had rejected Sweden’s inclusion in the alliance, citing accusations of Sweden “hosting Kurdish terrorists.”
On the same day, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had a phone conversation with his Turkish counterpart Yasar Guler, expressing his support for Ankara’s endeavors to modernize its military forces.
On July 10, President Erdogan explicitly stated that there was no link between the sale of F-16 aircraft to the US and the acceptance of Sweden into NATO. Both President Erdogan and President Biden are expected to convene on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, scheduled for July 11-12, to engage in further discussions.
In 2019, Turkey, which had previously ordered over 100 F-35A stealth fighters from US corporation Lockheed Martin, was expelled from the project due to its acquisition of the Russian-made S-400 air defense system.
In October 2021, the United States proposed selling F-16 aircraft to Turkey as a means to offset the $1.4 billion Turkey had invested in the F-35 project. In response, Ankara offered to purchase 40 F-16 light fighters and nearly 80 spare parts to modernize its existing fighter force. This proposed deal amounted to a total of $20 billion.
In May 2022, Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO, marking the end of their longstanding policy of military non-alignment. Finland successfully joined the alliance on April 4, 2023, after receiving support from 30 member countries. However, Sweden has encountered obstacles in its NATO accession process, primarily from Turkey and Hungary.
There is a belief among some NATO allies that Turkey intends to use Sweden’s membership bid as a bargaining chip to exert pressure on the United States regarding the F-16 sale. Additionally, certain US congressmen, including Bob Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have opposed the deal. Their concerns stem from Turkey’s obstruction of Sweden’s NATO accession, the deteriorating Turkey-Greece relations, and various other issues.
On July 10, following Ankara’s approval, MP Menendez stated that Turkey’s “aggression against neighboring countries” had subsided. He plans to engage in discussions with the Biden administration to determine his stance on the F-16 deal and intends to reach a final decision next week.
In the meantime, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto remarked that Hungary’s acceptance of Sweden’s NATO membership was merely a “technical matter” now that Turkey has given its consent. Previously, Budapest had hinted at aligning with Ankara’s position on the issue.