President Biden has sent a letter to four key members of Congress, urging them to promptly approve a $20 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. This move comes in the wake of Turkey’s Parliament voting to allow Sweden’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on Tuesday, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the matter.
The White House dispatched the letter to the top Democratic and Republican lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which oversee arms transfers by the State Department to other nations. However, as of Wednesday night, these lawmakers had yet to give their approval. One or more of them may seek assurances from the Biden administration regarding Turkey’s stance on certain foreign policy issues before greenlighting the transfer, as per a congressional official.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, a NATO member, has tied his country’s approval of Sweden’s NATO accession to the F-16 sales, which had been pending. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, both Sweden and Finland sought NATO membership, with the majority of alliance members swiftly approving. However, Turkey, along with Hungary, had held back approval for Sweden.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with President Erdogan in Istanbul earlier this month and pressed him to endorse Sweden’s NATO accession. Blinken attempted to reassure Erdogan that the F-16 sale would proceed, according to U.S. officials.
The State Department initiated the review process by notifying the two congressional committees of the sale more than a year ago. However, congressional officials have raised concerns about how Turkey might utilize the jets and its foreign policy actions seemingly conflicting with U.S. interests.
One major concern is Turkey’s increasing airstrikes on Kurdish militias in northeast Syria, who have collaborated with the U.S. military in combating the Islamic State. Turkish authorities view these Kurdish fighters as members of a terrorist group, raising worries among members of Congress and aides.
Additionally, congressional officials are seeking assurances from Turkey regarding the timeline for formal ratification of Sweden’s NATO accession and documentation confirming Turkey’s commitment to de-escalating tensions with the Greek military in the Aegean Sea.
Once these concerns are addressed and lawmakers give their consent, it is expected that the State Department will move swiftly to formally notify Congress of the sale, paving the way for the arms transfer to proceed.
Meanwhile, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has pledged to secure approval from his Legislature for Sweden’s NATO accession, although no specific timeline for a vote has been provided.
The developments underscore the complex diplomatic negotiations surrounding NATO expansion and arms sales, as well as the intricate dynamics between Turkey, the U.S., and other NATO allies. As the Biden administration navigates these delicate negotiations, the outcome will have significant implications for regional security and the balance of power within the alliance.