US congressional critics have made clear their opposition to the planned $20 billion sale of Lockheed Martin-made F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, which has been demanding the deal for over a year. Democrats, who are seeking a majority congressional approval for the sale, are also pushing for an additional next-generation F-35 warplane sale to Greece, Ankara’s geopolitical rival. This week, the critics will vote on a bipartisan measure to restrict President Joe Biden’s ability to finalize the deal.
Turkey had planned to upgrade its aging F-16 fleet with 40 new Lockheed Martin-made Vipers and 80 modernization kits, but the US Congress has been critical of Turkey’s belligerent rhetoric against Athens and has stalled the sales by introducing a clause that restricts the jets’ usage.
NATO member Turkey has been making attempts to establish their air superiority and military power over the Aegean island that is close to their coastline. According to reports, Turkey is attempting to acquire a total of 900 air-to-air missiles and 800 bombs. Turkey has issued warnings to Greece to stop militarizing the Aegean island, threatening to take “the necessary steps on the ground.” In response, Athens has challenged Turkey with a “strong response” to any form of aggression.
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 heavily criticized the Congressional hurdles in the United States, claiming that Ankara “would not accept being forced into buying a product in a manner that would restrict their autonomy.”
“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 Turkey 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.