The United States has officially approved an arms deal with Turkey, the sale of $23 billion worth of advanced F-16 fighter jets. This comes after the Turkish parliament ratified Sweden’s long-delayed NATO membership.
The U.S. Department of State notified Congress late on Friday about the agreement, which also includes a parallel $8.6 billion sale of cutting-edge F-35 fighter jets to Greece, another NATO ally.
The U.S.-Turkey deal encompasses 40 Lockheed Martin F-16s and equipment designed to modernize 79 of Turkey’s existing F-16 fleet.
This move has been awaited by Turkey, which had formally requested the fighter jets in October 2021. However, delays in the approval process were contributed to Turkey’s hesitance in endorsing Sweden’s NATO bid.
The negotiation happened as Turkey deposited its instrument of ratification for Sweden’s NATO accession with Washington, the designated repository for alliance documents.
The timing of this deposit was critical, as it preceded the U.S. State Department’s notification to Congress. The approval of the F-16 sale to Turkey is a moment in the expansion of the NATO alliance.
The Biden administration had expressed support for the sale, but it faced opposition from lawmakers who cited Turkey’s human rights record as a point of contention.
Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, addressed that his approval was contingent on Turkey’s endorsement of Sweden’s NATO membership.
Also Read: Donald Trump Wins Iowa Republican Caucuses
Cardin stated, “My approval of Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 aircraft has been contingent on Turkish approval of Sweden’s NATO membership. But make no mistake: This was not a decision I came to lightly.”
He also acknowledged the need for improvement in Turkey’s human rights record and addressed the importance of standing up to Russian aggression in the region.
Turkey had delayed Sweden’s NATO membership for over a year, expressing concerns about Stockholm’s perceived lack of consideration for Turkey’s national security interests, particularly its efforts against Kurdish fighters and other groups deemed security threats.
The delays had frustrations among U.S. and other NATO allies. Most NATO members accepted Sweden and Finland into the alliance after the Nordic states abandoned their military neutrality following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Sweden’s formal NATO accession now on Hungary, the only remaining NATO member yet to ratify Sweden’s bid. U.S. and NATO officials anticipate Hungary to act, especially in the wake of Turkey’s decision.
President Joe Biden’s administration had urged Congress to approve the F-16 sale without delay. The dynamics between the U.S., Turkey, and Greece were complicated by territorial disputes in the energy-rich Mediterranean region.
Greece had opposed the sale of F-16s to Turkey, but the agreement included provisions to address these concerns.
The U.S. commitment to providing Greece with 40 F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters and related equipment to assuage Greek apprehensions.
The arms deal with Turkey is a strategic move to upgrade its aging F-16 fleet but also a step mending diplomatic ties.
Turkey’s expulsion from the U.S.-led F-35 joint strike fighter program in 2019, following its acquisition of an advanced Russian missile defense system, had strained relations.
The deal represents an opportunity for Turkey to enhance its air capabilities and reposition itself within the NATO framework. Congress now has a 15-day window to object to the sale, after which it will be considered final.