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Senator Menendez tears into Turkey, says it does not deserve new F-16s

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US Senator and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez harshly criticized Turkey’s actions and human rights record on Wednesday, stating that the country does not “deserve” to acquire new F-16 fighter jets from the United States.

During a hearing in which US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the State Department’s budget increase to address “Russia’s autocracy and aggression” and the “long-term challenge” from China, Menendez listed several grievances against Turkey that included violations of Greece’s airspace and territorial waters in the Aegean Sea, purchasing Russian military equipment in violation of US law, imprisoning more journalists and lawyers than almost any other country and using force to block the rights of Cyprus, an EU member, to explore energy deposits off its continental shelf.

US concerns about Turkey’s human rights practices have grown in recent years, with the government cracking down on dissent, silencing opposition, and restricting freedom of expression. Thousands of people have been arrested on questionable charges, including academics, journalists, and human rights activists, leading to widespread international criticism.

Blinken characterized Turkey as a “challenging ally,” to which Menendez responded that he did not believe such a country deserved to have F-16s sold to it.

Turkey’s foreign policy has been increasingly bellicose, with tensions rising between Ankara and its NATO partners, particularly the US. The purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system in 2019 has strained relations with Washington, leading to Turkey’s removal from the F-35 fighter jet program. Furthermore, Turkey’s military operations in Syria and its support for Azerbaijan during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have raised concerns among its Western allies.

This criticism comes after Blinken reaffirmed on Feb. 20 Washington’s commitment to delivering F-16 jets to Turkey, despite Turkey’s insistence that approval should not be dependent on Ankara lifting objections to Sweden joining NATO. Blinken stated that the Biden administration “strongly supports the package to both upgrade the existing F-16s and to provide new ones.”

Turkey has yet to ratify NATO membership applications for Finland and Sweden, expressing opposition to Sweden’s refusal to extradite suspects linked to outlawed Kurdish militants and a failed 2016 coup.

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