image Photo: Reuters

US lawmakers oppose F-16 sale to Turkey

Eleven bipartisan members of the House of Representatives cited “a profound sense of concern” over Ankara’s reported bid to purchase 40 new Lockheed Martin F-16s and 80 modernization kits for the fighter jets.

By Erin Viner

In a letter to President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the Democrats and Republicans not only voiced objection but pledged that Congress would block any such arms deal.

“Following President (Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan‘s September announcement that Turkey will purchase an additional tranche of Russian S-400 missile defense systems, we cannot afford to compromise our national security by sending US-manufactured aircraft to a treaty ally which continues to behave like an adversary,” the letter read.

“While we are confident that Congress will stand together to block any such exports should these plans progress, the United States cannot afford to transfer any advanced military equipment to the government of Turkey at this time,” the American lawmakers further stressed.

The campaign to send the document was led by Republican Representative Nicole Malliotakis and Democratic Representative Carolyn Maloney.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while a spokesperson for State Department said it does not comment on correspondence with Congress.

The partnership between the NATO allies has been severely strained over the past 5 years due to disputes over Syria, Turkey’s strengthening ties with Russia, Erdoğan’s naval provocations in the Mediterranean Sea, the Biden Administration’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide, Washington’s charges against a state-owned Turkish bank, and rising US concern over Turkey’s problematic human rights track record.

Ankara had also previously ordered more than 100 Lockheed Martin F-35s, but Washington removed Turkey from the program in 2019 after it acquired the Russian S-400s. The purchase of Moscow’s defense system also prompted US sanctions, including the December 2020 blacklisting of Turkey’s Defense Industry Directorate, its chief Ismail Demir and 3 other personnel.

Despite repeated US warnings against further arms deals with the Kremlin, Turkish President Erdoğan defiantly declared his intention in September to buy a second batch of S-400s.

Meanwhile this past Wednesday, top aides to Biden and Erdoğan discussed defense issues and how to resolve their multiple rifts.

The talks came in the wake of a threat by the Turkish leader last weekend to expel 10 ambassadors from the US and other nations for seeking the release of jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala. Erdoğan backed down from his declaration on Monday, claiming that the envoys had stepped back and would be more cautious in the future.

According to a White House statement, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Erdoğan Advisor Ibrahim Kalin spoke about Afghanistan, the Middle East, the South Caucasus and the eastern Mediterranean, and “also agreed on the importance of continued dialogue to manage disagreements and maintain constructive bilateral ties.”

Ankara’s request for the F-16s and modernization kits were also discussed, reported the Turkish state TRT Haber broadcaster, as well as the planned meeting between Erdoğan and Biden in Glasgow later this month.

Additional efforts to avert an escalation between the 2 countries reportedly included a telephone conversation between the US and Turkish Defense Ministers, according to statements from Ankara’s Defense Ministry, also on Wednesday, in which both leaders underscored the importance of maintaining “mutual respect, understanding and within the framework of common interests” as well as adherence to international agreements.