US Approves $23 Billion F-16 Deal with Turkey

Sat Jan 27 2024
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WASHINGTON: The US government has granted approval for a $23 billion deal to sell F-16 warplanes to Turkey. This comes after Ankara ratified Sweden’s NATO membership, a crucial element in the negotiations. The State Department notified Congress of the agreement, along with a separate $8.6 billion sale of 40 F-35s to Greece.

As part of the deal, Turkey will receive 40 new F-16s and upgrades for 79 existing jets in its fleet. The approval process was contingent upon Turkey’s completion of the ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership, which arrived in Washington before the green light was given, underscoring the sensitivity of the negotiations.

Turkey’s parliament ratified Sweden’s NATO membership after a prolonged delay, impacting Western efforts to demonstrate unity amid Russia’s conflict with Ukraine. Initially, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had objections over Sweden’s NATO bid, citing concerns about Stockholm’s perceived acceptance of Kurdish groups considered “terrorist” organizations by Ankara. Sweden responded by tightening its anti-terrorism legislation and meeting other security demands.

However, Erdogan sought the unfulfilled US commitment to deliver a batch of F-16 fighter jets, facing resistance in Congress due to Turkey’s human rights record and disputes with fellow NATO member Greece. The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Ben Cardin, expressed cautious approval for the F-16 sale to Turkey, acknowledging the decision’s weight.

ALSO READ: Erdogan Signs Off on Sweden’s NATO Membership Ratification: Report

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken played a pivotal role in brokering the deal, emphasizing to Erdogan during a diplomatic visit that the planes would not be delivered if Turkey obstructed Sweden’s NATO bid. Athens opposed the sale due to unresolved territorial disputes with Turkey, but it agreed not to obstruct the deal, securing more advanced F-35s in return.

Turkey’s air force, expelled from the US-led F-35 program in 2019, stands to benefit from the new F-16s. The country’s decision to greenlight Sweden’s NATO membership leaves Hungary as the only remaining holdout in the accession process initiated by Sweden and Finland following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

While Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban invited his Swedish counterpart to discuss the NATO bid, tensions have surfaced between the two nations. Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson expressed willingness to meet with Orban but emphasized that negotiations over Stockholm’s NATO bid were not on the table.

The process in Washington is expected to take a few more weeks, with hopes for a flag-raising ceremony during the next NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels in April.

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