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US Senator Menendez digs in on opposition to F-16 sale to Turkey

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US Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Chairman Bob Menendez has said he will not abandon his opposition to the sale of F-16 jets to Turkey “until Erdogan halts his campaign of aggression across the region.”

“An #NDAA amendment is only one tool at our disposal to advance US interests in the Eastern Med. Let me be clear: as #SFRC Chairman, I will not approve any F-16 case for Turkey until Erdogan halts his campaign of aggression across the region. Full stop,” Menendez tweeted on Wednesday.

He was responding to news reports in the Turkish and Greek media suggesting that two amendments introduced by Democratic Senators Menendez and Chris van Hollen making potential F-16 sales to Turkey dependent on two conditions have been removed from the Senate version of the annual US defense spending bill.

The US Senate convened on Tuesday to finalize the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) bill, which includes the 2023 defense budget.

The first amendment required the American president to certify that “such a transfer is in the national interest of the United States” and requires “concrete steps taken to ensure that such F-16s are not used by Turkey for repeated unauthorized territorial overflights of Greece.”

The second amendment created additional conditions for Turkey to purchase or modernize its existing F-16 fighter jets, also involving Ankara’s efforts to undermine the Syrian Democratic Forces and requiring its ratification of Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO.

Many US lawmakers soured on Ankara after its 2019 acquisition of a Russian-made missile defense system, triggering US sanctions as well as Turkey’s removal from the F-35 fighter jet program.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian grip on power and eroding freedoms for journalists and rights defenders have also prompted many in Washington to argue against a weapons sale to Turkey.

Turkey turned its focus to buying F-16s to upgrade its aging fleet of American warplanes after it was kicked out of the program to help manufacture and buy the next-generation F-35 fighter. That move was made in response to Turkey’s purchase of a Russian S-400 missile-defense system, which Erdoğan said was urgently needed for the country’s defense.

Erdoğan in May accused Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of mounting a lobbying effort against Turkey in the US Congress to block the sale of the F-16s.

The two nations are bitter rivals involved in contentious geographic disputes, including over exploration for natural gas off the divided island of Cyprus and the Dodecanese — a group of islands off the Turkish coast that were ceded to Greece by Italy following World War II. They mobilized their navies and warplanes in opposition to one another in the Mediterranean in 2020.

US President Joe Biden said on June 30, after Turkey gave the green light to Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership, dropping weeks of opposition, at a NATO summit in Madrid that the United States should go ahead with the delayed sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey but said Congress needed to give its approval.

“We should sell them the F-16 jets and modernize those jets as well,” Biden said, adding there was “no quid pro quo” of linking the sale to Turkey’s approval for Finland and Sweden entering NATO.

Biden added that for the sale “I need congressional approval to do that, and I think I can do that.”

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