In a significant move, the Biden administration has formally notified Congress of its intention to proceed with the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, marking a pivotal step towards finalizing a long-awaited deal. The $23 billion sale includes 40 Lockheed Martin F-16s and nearly 80 modernization kits, underlining Washington’s commitment to bolstering its defence ties with Ankara. The announcement comes following Turkey’s ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership, a development directly linked to the progress of the jet sales.
Simultaneously, the Biden administration has advanced the sale of 20 Lockheed F-35 stealth fighter jets to Greece, valued at $8.6 billion. This move reflects the administration’s endeavour to strike a delicate balance between two NATO allies with a history of strained relations.
Turkey initially requested the F-16 jets in October 2021, but the delay in Ankara’s approval of Sweden’s NATO bid posed a significant obstacle to gaining congressional approval for the sale. However, after a 20-month delay, the Turkish parliament ratified Sweden’s NATO bid earlier this week. Subsequently, President Biden penned a letter to key congressional committee leaders, urging prompt approval of the F-16 sale.
The State Department’s notification to Congress, issued on Friday night, swiftly followed Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s final approval of Sweden’s ratification. This move underscores the intricate diplomatic manoeuvres involved in finalizing such arms deals.
Senator Ben Cardin, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, emphasized that his approval of Turkey’s request was contingent upon Ankara’s approval of Sweden’s NATO membership. However, he underscored the gravity of the decision, highlighting the need for Turkey to address concerns regarding its human rights record, cooperation on holding Russia accountable for its actions in Ukraine, and efforts to de-escalate tensions in the Middle East.
While leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House of Representatives Foreign Affairs committees routinely scrutinize major arms sales, U.S. officials are optimistic about the approval process. Despite some criticism of Turkey by certain members of Congress, there is an expectation that both the F-16 sale to Turkey and the F-35 sale to Greece will proceed without obstruction.
Following the formal notification by the State Department, Congress has a 15-day window to object to the sale. However, given the broader strategic considerations and diplomatic efforts at play, it is unlikely that Congress will impede the progress of these crucial arms deals.