Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sen. Bob Menendez expressed his opposition to the sale of US F-16 fighter jets to Turkey in a recent interview with the Air Force magazine.
“I personally am not supportive of giving them F-16s,” Menendez told Air Force Magazine during a visit to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
“I just really have a problem,” he said. “This is not the Turkey that we aspire for, is not the type of NATO ally that is behaving in a way that we should be able to go ahead and give it some of the most sophisticated fighting equipment.”
Menendez said Turkey has jailed more lawyers and journalists “than almost any place in the world.”
He also said Turkey takes adverse positions to U.S. interests in places such as Libya, where it has violated sanctions to send military aid to the UN-backed Government of National Accord. Turkey also has menaced U.S. support for the Kurdish militia group YPG in northern Syria, calling the group terrorists and pushing it back from the border as the U.S. tries to coordinate with the YPG to fight the Islamic State group.
Turkey asks for F-16 jets, threatens to turn to Russia
In October, Turkey asked to buy 40 F-16 fighter jets from the US to upgrade its Air Force. The move coincided with the recent deal struck by Greece to acquire from France Rafale jets and frigates.
The deal, worth billions, is still working its way through the Foreign Military Sales process which is subject to approval by the US State Department as well as the US Congress which can block deals.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also indicated that he wanted credit for the $1.4 billion already paid into the F-35 program that Turkey was removed from in 2019 when it bought the Russian S-400 missile defense system.
Turkey has threatened to buy jet aircraft from Russia if its request to the United States is denied. The head of Turkey’s Defense Industry, Ismail Demir, said recently:
“If the United States does not approve a deal on the F-16s after the situation with F-35 aircraft, Turkey won’t be left without alternatives,” Demir declared. “The issue of Su-35 and Su-57 planes may surface again at any time,” he reportedly said to the Turkish TV network NTV.
Erdogan met President Joe Biden in Rome Oct. 31 to win in his support for the F-16 deal, with Biden reportedly saying he would do “his best,” according to Air Force magazine.
Congress will decide F-16 sale to Turkey
But Congress may still stand in the way when the proposal reaches Capitol Hill. “It’s not Turkey, it’s Erdogan,” Menendez told the magazine. “At the end of the day, he needs to change course. We’ve given him off-ramps.”
The New Jersey Democrat has the power to hold up foreign military sales and stymie the formal notification to Congress.
Earlier in November, dozens of members of the US House of Representatives have sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken opposing the sale of F-16 fighters to Turkey.
The bipartisan letter was drafted on the initiative of Democratic Representative Chris Pappas, of New Hampshire, and the co-chairs of the Hellenic Caucus, Gus Bilirakis, a Republican from Florida, and Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York.