Biden administration offers support behind potential F-16 sale to Turkey

A U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jet takes part in the U.S.-led Saber Strike exercise flying over Estonia on June 6, 2018. Reuters/Intes Calnins

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MADRID (Reuters) – The Biden administration on Wednesday voiced support for a possible sale of U.S. F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, a day after Ankara vetoed Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership.

Celeste Wallander, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs at the Pentagon, told reporters in a phone call that Turkey’s strong defense capabilities will bolster NATO’s defences.

She said, “The United States supports Turkey’s modernization of its combat fleet, because this is a contribution to NATO’s security, and thus American security.”

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“These plans are in the pipeline and must be worked on through our contracting processes,” she added.

Turkey placed an order in October with the United States for 40 Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes.

Washington has never before given an explicit opinion about the sale, except to say that all arms sales must go through the necessary legal process.

In March, the State Department wrote a letter to some members of the US Congress who opposed the sale, saying that “proper” defense trade relations with Turkey would serve US interests. Read more

Wallander’s comments follow an 11-hour deal struck Tuesday between Turkey, Finland and Sweden after four hours of talks, to avert an embarrassing stalemate at a meeting of 30 NATO leaders aimed at showing resolve in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. . Read more

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US President Joe Biden, speaking before his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid, praised Erdogan’s efforts to help conclude an agreement with northern countries. “I want to especially thank you for what you did,” Biden said.

The three countries signed an agreement under which Ankara lifted its ban on Finnish and Swedish membership, while the candidates pledged not to support the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) groups, or the US-based network of cleric Fethullah Gulen, which blames Turkey for its failure. 2016 coup attempt.

US officials dismissed any suggestion that Washington supported the request for the warplanes to remove Turkish objections to Finland and Sweden entering NATO.

A senior administration official said that “the United States did not give anything to Turkey and Turkey did not ask for anything” as part of its agreement with Finland and Sweden.

The official said US officials are participating in ongoing technical talks on Turkey’s order to purchase US F-16 fighter jets. Congress will have the final say on any such sales.

Erdogan, before leaving for Madrid on Tuesday, but after a phone call with Biden, criticized the United States over the sale of F-16 fighters, saying it was disrupting Ankara.

In his brief remarks before meeting Biden, Erdogan did not raise the issue of the F-16 but expressed his pleasure to meet Biden “after a long time”. Their meeting lasted about an hour.

The two leaders last met face to face in October 2021 and spoke on the phone earlier this year.

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The sale of US arms to NATO ally Turkey became moot after Ankara acquired Russian-made defense missile systems, which led to US sanctions as well as the removal of Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet programme.

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(Covering by Humaira Pamuk) Editing by Peter Graf and Alistair Bell

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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