MADRID – The United States on Wednesday signaled a new willingness to sell upgraded F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, moving closer to meeting its long-standing ally’s request a day after Turkey Turkey opposes Finland and Sweden’s attempt to join the NATO alliance.
Senior US officials had said just hours earlier that President Biden had not bargained with Turkey in exchange for its support for NATO expansion. A senior administration official told reporters late on Tuesday that Turkey had not requested the F-16 in the negotiations.
But a top defense official was blunt, if incorrect, when asked by a reporter Wednesday about the administration’s support for Turkey’s push for a more modern air force.
Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary of defense, said: “Turkey’s strong defensive capabilities contribute to a strong NATO defense. “The US Department of Defense fully supports Turkey’s plans to modernize the F-16 fleet.”
She added that efforts to help Turkey acquire advanced aircraft “need to be done through our contracting processes,” but she said the United States “supports modernizing.” Turkey’s fighter fleet, because it’s a contribution to NATO’s security, and therefore America’s Protection.”
Mr. Biden is scheduled to meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on Wednesday afternoon. Officials said the presidents would discuss a range of topics related to the common interests of both countries. But Ms. Wallander’s comments suggest that Turkey’s request for the F-16 may be a top priority.
The timeline for any potential U.S.-Turkish deal on fighter jets is unclear, and a deal will likely require congressional approval.
Bilateral relations with Turkey have been strained for some time, and Turkey has also lost the support of Congress. Over the years, Mr. Erdogan has become more authoritarian, callous and tough as an ally, while increasing repression at home by political opponents and independent press.
He blamed a cleric in exile living in the US – Fethullah Gulen, whom Washington has refused to extradite – for a 2016 coup plot. And Mr. Erdogan played a balancing game with Russia, choosing to buy. complex missile defense system S-400, despite objections from the US and NATO.
In response, the United States excluded Turkey from participating in the newest, most advanced American fighter jet, the F-35, and introduced a number of sanctions. Since then, Turkey has requested to purchase 40 older fighters – the F-16, but modernized – along with modernization kits for another 80 F-16s.
In March, after Russia invaded Ukraine, the State Department wrote to Congress, saying that the sale of the F-16 would be in America’s national security interests and would also serve the long-term unification. longstanding NATO, but did not explicitly support the agreement. .
The letter acknowledges the strained relationship but describes Turkey’s support and defense relationship with Ukraine as “an important deterrent to malign influence in the region.”
Before leaving for a NATO summit in Madrid this week, Mr. Erdogan said the sale of F-16s would be a key issue in his meeting with Mr. Biden. Mr. Biden is credited with urging Turkey to lift Sweden and Finland’s applications to join NATO, which he did on Tuesday night.