US Congress could agree to F-16 sale to Turkey contingent on continuing support for Ukraine

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Turkey’s sale of armed drones to Ukraine and its efforts for mediation between Ukraine and Russia may convince US lawmakers to agree to the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, Defense News reported, based on the information it obtained from some US lawmakers.

Washington excluded Ankara from NATO’s F-35 stealth fighter jet program in 2019 after Turkey purchased Russian S-400 air defense systems in defiance of warnings from its Western allies.

The acquisition has imperiled Turkish-US relations and blocked Turkey’s plans to purchase about 100 of the F-35 fighters.

“If it plays its cards right, the NATO ally could convince Congress to allow a roughly $6 billion purchase of 40 Block 70 F-16 fighter jets and approximately 80 modernization kits from Lockheed Martin to upgrade its existing fleet,” Defense News claimed in a report on Wednesday.

Several key lawmakers who proved instrumental in expelling Turkey from the F-35 program have cautiously signaled to Defense News that they may be inclined to allow Ankara to purchase the F-16s after the Biden administration suggested that such a sale could serve NATO and US security interests.

Still, Congress wields considerable power in blocking potential arms sales, and lawmakers made clear that an F-16 transfer would be contingent on Turkey continuing to support Ukraine even as it tries to strike a tricky balance in its relationship with both the United States and Russia amid a myriad of other regional disputes.

“We need to talk and work with Turkey and others that are working with us against Russia,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks, Democrat from New York, told Defense News. “They’ve shown some movements in the right direction. There’s other things that we still need to work with Turkey, certain things that still irritate us at times.”

Other Democrats and Republicans who fought tooth and nail to legislate Turkey out of the program have also signaled that they would not use their power to block a potential F-16 sale.

“I’ve talked to several of the parties involved in this,” Sen. James Risch, a Republican senator from Idaho and the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, told Defense News. “The Turks have made a credible argument for why they should get the F-16s.”

“I’m positively disposed in that direction, but I’m not completely there yet,” he added.

Turkey has steadily maintained a fleet of the older F-16s since the 1980s as Ankara seeks an upgrade.

Risch also emphasized that the F-16s are “a different case” than allowing Turkey to receive the F-35s.

Washington blocked the transfer of the advanced F-35 fighter jets to its NATO ally out of fear that the S-400′s powerful radar system would allow Russia to spy on the state-of-the-art aircraft, thereby compromising the technology.

The S-400 purchase also prompted the United States to sanction Turkey’s military procurement agency in 2020, as required under a Russia sanctions law. But President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has sought a détente with its NATO allies in recent years.

NATO member Turkey, which has friendly ties with both Russia and Ukraine, has been mediating for an end the ongoing war, which began on Feb. 24. Turkey has so far held two rounds of peace talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, in the southern province of Antalya in March and in İstanbul in April.

Turkey has also been selling Bayraktar TB2 combat drones, medium-sized tactical unmanned aerial vehicles that can carry anti-tank missiles, to Ukraine, said to play a crucial role in the defense of Ukraine against the Russian invasion, which began on Feb. 24.

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