US to move ahead with transfer of F-16 jets to Turkey

The decision comes a day after Ankara gave the green light to Sweden's path towards Nato membership

A Turkish military pilot flying an F-16 C Block-40 during an air show in Istanbul. EPA
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Washington will move ahead with the transfer of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey in consultation with Congress, national security adviser Jake Sullivan has confirmed.

The decision comes a day after Ankara gave the green light for Sweden to join Nato.

Turkey, which had been the main stumbling bloc on Sweden's path towards the alliance, had requested in October 2021 to buy $20 billion of Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters and about 80 modernisation kits for its existing planes.

Speaking ahead of a summit of Nato leaders in Lithuania, Mr Sullivan said on Tuesday that Mr Biden “had been clear that he supports the transfer.”

“He has placed no caveats on this … He intends to move forward with that transfer,” Sullivan told reporters, without giving details on the timescale of the F-16 transfer.

US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, a Democrat who had previously blocked the F-16 sale, said on Monday he was in talks with the Biden administration about his hold and that he could make a decision “in the next week.”

US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Secretary of State Antony Blinken had spoken to Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, Mr Menendez and other members of Congress, in recent weeks. “As the national security adviser said today, we will move forward with that sale, which we do understand needs to be approved by key members of Congress,” he told a daily news briefing.

Mr Blinken had pressed Mr Fidan on Sweden's accession to Nato during calls on Wednesday and Saturday. He spoke to Fidan again on Monday, hours before Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan announced that he had agreed to approve Sweden's membership.

“I am not going to characterise those conversations other than to say we have always made clear that we have supported the sale of F-16s to Turkey and we will continue to do so,” Mr Miller said.

Tensions between Turkey and fellow Nato member Greece – which wants to buy F-35 jets from the United States – could be a stumbling block for the F-16 sale.

Blinken also spoke to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Friday.

Menendez said he had concerns about Turkey that extended beyond Sweden joining Nato, such as human rights and Turkish overflights of Greek airspace.

Updated: July 12, 2023, 7:06 AM