US Senator Jeanne Shaheen has expressed opposition to the potential sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey until Ankara ratifies Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO, Voice of America (VOA) Turkish service reported on Thursday.
“I’m opposed to supporting providing F-16s to Turkey until they have ratified that agreement. I think a number of my colleagues share that concern,” Shaheen, co-chairwoman of the Senate NATO Observer Group, said during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Thursday.
Shaheen argued that although Sweden has moved very deliberately to address the concerns discussed with Turkey in terms of their accession into NATO, it appears that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is using the issue “for his domestic political interests as opposed to really addressing what is in the interest of NATO.”
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland said at the hearing that they agree with Shaheen that Finland and Sweden are ready to join NATO now.
“This comes up in every single conversation we have with Turkey. … We have made the same point to our Turkish allies that you just made, that we need this Congress’ support moving forward for the security enhancement that we think that they need as allies … that this congress is likely to look … more favorably on that after ratification,” Nuland added.
Shaheen’s statement comes after Senator Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said earlier this month that he strongly opposes the Biden administration’s proposed sale of new F-16 aircraft to Turkey.
When asked about Nuland’s statement at the hearing during a press briefing on Thursday, Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel said that although he didn’t catch the hearing, he would say broadly that President Joe Biden has been “very clear on F-16s” and that the sale and the ratification of Nordic nations’ NATO bids would “continue to be separate.”
“On the specifics of the sale … Of course, Congress is an actor here and they have made their opinions quite vocal, and we welcome those, but we have also been clear about our continued support for Türkiye, our important NATO Ally, and their security operability within the NATO system …” Patel added.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also said last week 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.
The Biden administration is finalizing a $20 billion package for Turkey that is expected to include around 40 new F-16 fighter jets and has been looking for ways to persuade 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.