Led by US Congressmen Frank Pallone Jr. and Gus Bilirakis, 53 US representatives on Friday wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin urging them to reject a Turkish proposal to purchase Block 70 F-16s, according to a press release by Pallone.
In the bipartisan letter, the lawmakers — from the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues and the Congressional Hellenic Caucus — also demanded that the administration deny mechanical upgrades from the United States to modernize Turkey’s air force.
“Approving this proposal would reward President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for ignoring both Turkey’s alliance commitments to the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the vast human rights abuses his regime continues to commit at home and abroad,” the congressmen said.
US ties with NATO ally Turkey have been strained over a variety of issues including Ankara’s purchase of a Russian S-400 defense system, which prompted Washington to cancel Turkish involvement in its F-35 jet program and threaten sanctions.
Erdoğan has insisted on compensation, saying Washington could pay back at least part of the $1.4 billion advance payment Turkey made for the F-35s through the delivery of older-generation F-16 fighter jets.
“In November, Turkey requested 40 Block 70 F-16 fighter jets and 80 modernization kits for their current fleet from the U.S. The request comes after the Erdoğan regime has repeatedly used its military power to destabilize the Eastern Mediterranean, Middle East, South Caucasus, and North Africa for years. Turkish and Turkish-backed forces have utilized American-made weaponry and components during these incursions to commit war crimes, including purposefully bombing civilian targets like hospitals and schools in Iraq, Syria, and Nagorno Karabakh,” the lawmakers said.
“The purchase of advanced fighter jets from the United States for Turkey’s military arsenal will not incentivize Erdoğan to change course and become a good actor. It will more likely lead to further death and destruction in the region at the hands of his military. Turkey also continues to utilize S-400 missile defense systems, which potentially exposes important tactical information about U.S. weaponry and military operations to Russia. While this is antithetical to their commitments as a NATO ally and jeopardizes American national security, Erdoğan uses this tactic consistently to pit the U.S. and Russia against each other to achieve his desired goals.”
While relations between the two NATO allies had always been “delicate,” what made them “more strained than ever before” in the past decade, arguably, were President Erdoğan’s controversial foreign policy decisions and turn towards authoritarianism at home, according to the nonprofit research organization Center for International Policy (CIP).
“We strongly urge you to reject Turkey’s request for new F-16s and modernization kits and take immediate action to hold the Erdoğan regime accountable. The United States must not provide any further support to Turkey’s military until President Erdoğan takes tangible steps to halt his destabilizing actions and violations of international law at home and abroad. Precedent shows that he will not change his behavior until the United States uses all its diplomatic tools, including targeted economic sanctions,” the lawmakers said.
The State Department must approve the sale of new F-16 jets, and the US Congress can also block it.