Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has said that Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 jets has nothing to do with Sweden and Finland’s bids to join NATO and that the US Congress shouldn’t present the two issues as related, BBC Turkish reported on Thursday.
Çavuşoğlu told reporters following a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that Turkey’s request to purchase F-16s and the NATO membership bids of Sweden and Finland aren’t connected and that therefore the US Congress shouldn’t view them as such.
The Turkish minister added that the US Congress’s opposition to the sale can be overcome if the US administration remains determined to see it through.
Çavuşoğlu’s meeting with Blinken included a discussion of Turkey’s request for the newest version of the mainstay F-16 fighter jets, a sale some US officials hope can coax Ankara to lift objections to NATO expansion.
However, it is bitterly opposed by Democratic Senator from New Jersey Bob Menendez, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who has vowed to block any sale.
Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked during a press briefing on Wednesday about Turkey’s stance on the Nordic nations’ NATO bids and if US President Joe Biden considers Turkey “a reliable ally.”
“We do see Turkey as a reliable ally,” Jean-Pierre told reporters, adding, regarding the Nordic NATO bids, that they have welcomed the rapid ratifications by their allies and urge all remaining allies to complete their own ratification processes as quickly as possible.
The United States is finalizing a $20 billion package for Turkey that is expected to include around 40 new F-16 fighter jets.
The sale would be simultaneous with a deal for top-of-the-line F-35 jets for Greece, Turkey’s historic rival with which tensions have risen sharply over disputes in the eastern Mediterranean.
The United States has been looking for ways to persuade Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to lift objections to allowing Sweden and Finland into NATO.
The two Nordic nations shed their earlier hesitation at formally entering the Western alliance following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But all NATO members must agree, and Turkey has accused Finland and Sweden, in particular, of providing a safe haven for outlawed Kurdish groups it deems “terrorists” as well as some political dissidents and has refrained from ratifying their NATO bids despite an agreement in Madrid in June.
The country has set the extradition of what it deems as terrorists from Sweden and Finland as a precondition for the approval of both countries’ NATO memberships.
Turkey in 2019 was kicked out of the F-35 program after Erdoğan went ahead with a major arms purchase from Russia, the key adversary of NATO.