US Senators want to block Turkey F-16 sale until NATO expansion succeeds.

More than a quarter of the Senate sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Thursday threatening to tank a $20 billion arms sale that includes 40 Lockheed Martin Block 70 F-16 fighter jets and upgrades to Turkey’s current fleet so long as Ankara continues to block Sweden and Finland from joining NATO.

The letter comes days after another senator on the Foreign Relations Committee floated the prospect of sanctions on Turkey should it continue blocking the two Nordic countries from joining the alliance.

“Once the NATO accession protocols are ratified by Türkiye, Congress can consider the sale of F16 fighter jets,” Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., wrote in the letter to Biden, signed by a bipartisan group of 25 other senators. “A failure to do so, however, would call into question this pending sale.”

The signatories included multiple senators who sit on the Armed Services panel and the Foreign Relations Committee, which has jurisdiction over arms sales. The Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, also signed the letter.

The senators argued Turkey is violating its commitments under a trilateral agreement it signed last year with Finland and Sweden. Under that agreement, the two countries would take action on the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK, and potentially extradite certain individuals in exchange for Turkish ratification of their NATO membership applications.

“Sweden and Finland have moved forward to address the issues in their memorandum of understanding, so I hope that would trigger ratification,” Shaheen told Defense News.

Sweden in particular landed in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crosshairs last month after a far-right Danish politician travelled to Stockholm to burn a Qur’an near the Turkish embassy. The incident prompted Turkey to cancel a visit to Ankara from Sweden’s Defence Minister Pal Jonson, where he had hoped to discuss its NATO bid.

Still, the senators made it a point to note Turkey “has proven to be a valuable NATO ally as Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine continues,” and praised it for its “commitment to implementing the United Nations-brokered grain deal which has allowed Ukraine to export grain and avert a global food crisis.”

Looking to sanctions

At least two Senate opponents of the sale did not sign onto the Shaheen letter and favoured an even harder line on Turkey.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., has said he will use his position to hold up the F-16 sale in Congress over a much broader series of concerns that include Turkey’s jailing of journalists and political opponents as well as tensions with neighbouring Greece in the eastern Mediterranean. The State Department has yet to formally notify Congress of the F-16 sale amid Menendez’s threat to block it.

“The F-16 issue is far greater than just NATO ascension, although that is part of it,” Menendez told Defence News last month. “But just doing that, it doesn’t solve the problem.”

Menendez’s home state of New Jersey boasts large Greek-American and Armenian-American populations, making Turkey particularly unpopular among some of his constituents.

And on Tuesday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., raised the prospect of sanctioning Turkey for refusing to ratify Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership.


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One comment

  • Steve February 5, 2023  

    Turkey has never been a friend of the West since the Islamists took control of the country. Now I read Turkey has joined, or is joining, the Chinese/Russian alliance BRICS along with Egypt, white anting NATO, bleeding the stupid, gullible West of money, to waste on war with Greece, because Turkey is broke. Don’t give them anything and kick them out of NATO

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