January 31, 2023

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A senior US lawmaker objects to a possible sale of the F-16 to Turkey

  • A Biden official prepares for a potential sale of F-16s to Turkey
  • Selling for $20 billion
  • The State Department sent an informal notice to Congress on Thursday
  • The top lawmaker says he strongly opposes the sale
  • Turkish President’s Spokesperson Says US Demands ‘Endless’

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration has told Congress it is preparing to sell $20 billion worth of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, sources familiar with the matter said on Friday, prompting an immediate objection from a prominent U.S. lawmaker. I have always opposed the deal.

Three sources said the State Department sent the informal notification to Congress on Thursday, informing the committees overseeing arms sales in the Senate and House of Representatives of its intent to proceed with the proposed sale.

Turkey, a NATO member, ordered in October 2021 the purchase of 40 Lockheed Martin (LMT.N) F-16 fighters and nearly 80 upgrade kits for its existing warplanes. Technical talks between the two sides concluded recently.

The Biden administration has said it supports the sale and has been in informal contact with Congress for months to win its approval. However, it has so far failed to secure the green light.

“As I have made clear time and time again, I strongly oppose the Biden administration’s proposal to sell new F-16s to Turkey,” Senator Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.

While the sale is still in the informal review process, it is unlikely that Congress will approve the sale as long as Turkey refuses to proceed with the ratification of Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership.

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The two countries ended decades of neutrality last May and applied to join NATO in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but Turkey objected and accused the countries of harboring militants, including from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and demanded steps be taken. .

At a press conference on Saturday, Ibrahim Kalin – a spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his chief foreign policy adviser – said Washington’s demands for the supply of fighter jets are “endless.”

“If they continue to push Turkey in other directions with sanctions on F-16s (and) F-35s, and then Turkey retaliates, they blame Turkey again, it’s not fair game,” Kalin said. “Their list of demands seems endless. There is always something going on.”

Headed to Washington

The notification, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, comes as Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu prepares to visit Washington on Wednesday for talks as the two NATO allies face a host of differences including over Syria and arms purchases.

After the informal review, during which committee leaders can raise questions or raise concerns about the sale, management can technically move forward with a formal notification. But a senior US official said he “doubted” the administration would be in a position to move forward unless Menendez dropped his veto.

In his statement, Menendez said Erdogan was disregarding human rights and democratic norms and engaging in “disturbing and destabilizing behavior in Turkey and against neighboring NATO allies.”

“Until Erdogan stops his threats…and starts behaving like a trusted ally, I will not agree to this sale,” he added.

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Menendez also said he welcomed news of the sale of a new F-35 fighter jet to Greece, referring to Athens as a “reliable NATO ally” and saying the sale “strengthens our two countries’ capabilities to stand up for common principles including our collective defense, democracy, human rights and sovereignty the law “.

Turkey’s 2019 acquisition of Russian air defense systems kicked Ankara out of the next generation F-35 program and antagonized the US Congress. Disagreements with Washington over Syria policy and Turkey’s record on human rights and freedom of expression also weigh on congressional sentiments.

A State Department spokesperson declined to comment, saying the department does not confirm or comment on proposed arms sales or transfers until the administration formally seeks approval from Congress.

Under US law, Congress can block a sale by passing a disapproval resolution after formal notice of the sale, but it is unlikely to do so if President Joe Biden decides to go ahead despite the objections of lawmakers. And while Congress has passed such resolutions in the past, it has never mustered the two-thirds majority required in both chambers to override a presidential veto.

Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Patricia Zengerli and Mike Stone; Additional reporting by Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul. Editing by William Mallard and David Holmes

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