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Turkey’s defense minister discusses modernization of Turkish military with US counterpart

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Turkish Defense Minister Yaşar Güler had a phone call with his US counterpart, Lloyd Austin, on Monday during which they discussed the modernization of the Turkish military, according to a US readout released late on Monday.

The phone call took place shortly after Turkey ended its year-long objection to Sweden’s bid to join NATO and gave a green light to the Nordic country’s entry into the US-led military alliance.

“They … discussed the positive talks between Turkiye, Sweden, and NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, as well as the Department of Defense’s support for Turkiye’s military modernization,” the Pentagon said of the phone call between Gülen and Austin.

Turkey in October 2021 sought to buy 40 Lockheed Martin Corp. F-16 fighter jets and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes. Technical talks between the two sides have been concluded.

The Biden administration has said it supports the sale and has been in touch for months with Congress on an informal basis to win its approval. However, it has yet to secure a green light.

Some US senators such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez and US Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell expressed their opposition to the sale of F-16s to Turkey unless the country drops its objection to Sweden’s NATO bid.

Meanwhile, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said ahead of the NATO summit starting on Tuesday in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius that the US would transfer F-16 fighter jets to Turkey in consultation with Congress.

US President Joe Biden “has placed no caveats or conditions on [the transfer] . . . and he intends to move forward with that transfer in consultation with Congress,” Sullivan said, in a sign of softening of the US stance following the change in Turkey’s position on Monday on Sweden’s NATO bid.

NATO allies had been pressuring Ankara for months to give way and let the Scandinavian nation in to the alliance by the time of the two-day summit starting today.

Austin also tweeted about his phone call with Güler, saying: “I had a good discussion today with Turkish Minister of National Defense Yasar Guler on a range of important shared goals.  I look forward to seeing him in Vilnius and continuing to deepen our strategic relationship.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave a green light for Sweden’s entry into the NATO after meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Vilnius one day before the start of the NATO summit.

Turkey had been blocking Sweden’s membership bid, accusing Stockholm of harboring Kurdish activists and political dissidents Ankara regards as terrorists.

Sweden and Finland ended decades of neutrality and applied to join NATO in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but Turkey objected and accused the countries of harboring “terrorists” and demanded steps be taken. Finland joined NATO in April.

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