A senior Pentagon official confirmed on Wednesday that the US fully supports the modernization of Turkey’s F-16 fleet, hours after Turkish President Erdogan agreed to lift the threat of a veto on Finland and Sweden joining NATO.
As US President Joe Biden is scheduled to meet his Turkish counterpart on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Madrid, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Celeste Wallander said that “the US fully supports Turkey’s modernization plans for Turkey’s F-16 fleet.”
“Those plans are in the works, and they have to be worked through the contracting process, but the US supports the modernization of Turkey’s fighter fleet because that contributes to NATO security…Strong Turkish defense capabilities contribute to a strong NATO defense,” Wallander added according to Nick Schifrin, a journalist with PBS.
NEW on US policy on Turkish F16s: On the record from Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Celeste Wallander: "The US fully supports Turkey’s modernization plans for Turkey’s F-16 fleet…
— Nick Schifrin (@nickschifrin) June 29, 2022
On Tuesday, Erdogan criticized the US for delaying the sale of F-16 fighter jets.
Speaking at a press conference on the eve of the NATO Summit, he referred to his meeting with Biden and noted that one of the most important issues discussed between Ankara and Washington was the former’s request to purchase forty new F-16 warplanes and eighty modernization kits for its exiting fleets.
“Our most talk with the U.S. is about F-16s. But the process is being delayed,” Erdogan said according to the Turkish daily, Hurriyet.
US Congress must approve sale of F-16s
The final word on the possible sale of F-16s to Turkey rests with the US Congress where there is strong skepticism.
“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.”
“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.
Turkey’s Erdogan lifts threat to bloc expansion of NATO
Earlier on Wednesday, Turkey lifted its veto over Finland and Sweden’s bid to join NATO after the three nations agreed to protect each other’s security.
The breakthrough, ending a weeks-long drama that tested allied unity against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, came just before a NATO summit began in Madrid, averting an embarrassing impasse at the gathering of thirty leaders that aimed to show resolve against Russia.
In a joint memorandum with Turkey, the two Nordic countries pledged their “unwavering solidarity and co-operation in the fight against terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations”.
They also promised to abjure the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a radical Kurdish group that has fought decades of insurgency against Turkey and the closely related Kurdish militia in Syria, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
They agreed to lift their arms embargo against Turkey, clamp down on the financing of the PKK, “address” Turkey’s requests for the extradition and deportation of Kurdish activists, and amend laws to facilitate the extradition of terrorism suspects.