News Article

Lawmakers greenlight F-16s for Turkey after Erdoğan approved Sweden’s NATO bid
January 26, 2024


By: Joe Gould, Connor O’Brien, Nahal Toosi

The Biden administration on Friday notified Congress of its plans to sell Turkey new F-16 fighter jets in a deal valued at up to $23 billion, according to three U.S. government officials.

The four leaders of House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations Committees told the administration that they would not block the sale. The deal includes 40 F-16s, which are made by Lockheed Martin, and modernizing 79 of Turkey’s existing F-16s.

The administration simultaneously informed Congress it wants to sell Greece up to 40 more advanced F-35 fighter jets in a deal worth up to $8.6 billion, according to two U.S. government officials. It’s a move lawmakers sought amid tensions between the two Mediterranean neighbors.

The F-16 action comes after Turkey’s parliament approved Sweden’s accession into NATO on Tuesday and amid signs Turkey and its fellow NATO ally Greece were repairing ties.

The package would be the second major military sale to Turkey that Congress has approved in recent months. In April, Washington signed off on a $259 million package of avionics software upgrades for Turkey’s existing F-16 fleet.

Senate Foreign Relations Chair Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said in a statement Friday that he would permit the sale after Ankara approved Sweden’s membership bid.

Cardin, who is among lawmakers with misgivings over other issues related to Turkey, said he wants Turkey to make progress on human rights, take a stronger stance against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and tamp down its rhetoric in the Middle East.

“My concerns have been strongly and consistently conveyed to the Biden administration as part of our ongoing engagement, and I am encouraged by the productive direction of their discussions with Turkish officials to address these issues,” Cardin said in a statement.

“I look forward to beginning this new chapter in our relationship with Turkey, expanding the NATO alliance, and working with our global allies in standing up to ongoing Russian aggression against its peaceful neighbors,” he added.

The top four leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs panels must sign off on foreign arms sales presented to Congress, giving the top Democrats and Republicans on those committees an effective veto over Biden’s designs on selling U.S.-made fighters to Turkey.

Cardin’s move is a pivot from his predecessor atop the Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who relinquished the committee gavel after he was indicted on federal corruption charges, was a staunch opponent of selling U.S.-made jets to Ankara.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s stalling of Sweden’s accession to the NATO alliance is far from the only grievance that held up the deal. Turkey’s spotty human rights record, incursions into Greek airspace and purchase of the Russian-made S-400 air defense system had increased tensions with the U.S.

The sale of F-16s also comes after the U.S. booted Turkey from the program for the more advanced F-35 fighter, also built by Lockheed Martin.