Democratic US Congressman Chris Pappas has drafted a text requiring strict oversight of US sales of F-16 fighter jets and related equipment to Turkey over security concerns for NATO ally Greece, The Hill reported on its news website on Monday.
Pappas is introducing the text, which has 15 co-sponsors, as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual must-pass defense bill.
The amendment would restrict the US president from selling or transferring F-16s or F-16 modernization kits to Turkey unless the president can certify to the US Congress that Turkey has “not violated the sovereignty of Greece” for at least 120 days prior to the sale or transfer.
The amendment defines violations as including “territorial overflights, or violated the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Athens Flight Information Region.”
Pappas’s proposed amendment marks the first concrete effort by lawmakers to constrain US President Joe Biden’s intent to strengthen Turkey’s F-16 fleet and as Ankara pushes for the US to deliver more of the critical warplanes.
The US State Department has notified Congress it intends to sell military equipment to modernize Turkey’s existing fleet of F-16’s, and Biden late last month expressed support for selling the jets to Ankara.
The president, speaking to reporters during the NATO summit in Madrid last month, rejected suggestions that the sales served as a quid pro quo for Ankara to withdraw its objections to Finland and Sweden’s application to the defense alliance.
“I said back in December, as you’ll recall, we should sell them the F-16 jets and modernize those jets as well,” Biden told reporters. “There was no quid pro quo with that. It’s just, we should sell … I need congressional approval to be able to do that, and I think we can get that.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a pariah on Capitol Hill, but lawmakers are largely cautious about handicapping a NATO ally that serves as an important bulwark against Russia in the Black Sea.
“I think it’s important for us to keep Turkey as a strong NATO ally,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, co-chairwoman of the Senate NATO Observer Group, told The Hill in May when asked if she supported the F-16 upgrades.
In May Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned in a speech to a joint session of congress to consider carefully “defense procurement decisions concerning the eastern Mediterranean” that could contribute to “instability on NATO’s southeastern flank.”
Mitsotakis alluded to Turkish overflights of Greek islands, which Athens accuses Ankara of provocatively carrying out but Ankara denies.
“I want to be absolutely clear, we will not accept open acts of aggression,” Mitsotakis said.
US Senator Tim Kaine, another Democrat, told The Hill after the Greek prime minister’s speech that lawmakers could use the 2023 NDAA as a vehicle to address concerns about Turkey’s actions in the eastern Mediterranean.
“You might see us take up some aspects of this as we do the NDAA this year, in the military sales or military cooperation space,” he said but added that the military-to-military relationship between the US and Turkey “is still pretty strong.”
“It’s at the diplomatic and senior elected level where things are really rocky right now,” he said.
Meanwhile, 35 US congressmen pledged on Friday to “take every action afforded to us as Members of Congress” to block the sale of F-16 fighter jets and upgrade kits to Turkey, in a bipartisan letter to President Biden.
According to a report by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), the letter came in light of Erdoğan’s government’s repressive actions at home and aggression abroad.
“Armenian Americans join with all our coalition partners in thanking Congressman Pallone for his leadership in checking Erdogan’s escalating threats of aggression against Greece, Cyprus, Armenians, and Kurds,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “We express our appreciation to all who joined this bipartisan appeal and who support legislative initiatives to block the reckless sale of F-16’s to Turkey.”