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Analyst: Turkey’s F-16 order depends on supporting NATO’s admission of Finland and Sweden

Photos released by Turkey's presidential palace show President Recep Tayyip Erdogan watching fighter formations fly through the air during an exercise on Turkey's Aegean coast. (9 June 2022)
Photos released by Turkey’s presidential palace show President Recep Tayyip Erdogan watching fighter formations fly through the air during an exercise on Turkey’s Aegean coast. (9 June 2022)

WASHINGTON — Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington on Wednesday (Jan. 18), and expected Turkey’s request to buy F-16 fighter jets from the U.S. to be at the top of the agenda, with another priority expected to be Turkey’s possible resumption of military operations in northern Syria. Analysts say any F-16 deal is tied to Turkey’s timely support for NATO expansion and its refraining from any military action in northern Syria.

Turkey officially requested the purchase of 40 F-16 fighters and nearly 80 modernization kits from the United States in 2021. The Biden administration has expressed support for the sales package, but this requires congressional approval.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the Biden administration was preparing to begin negotiations with Congress seeking approval for the $20 billion arms sale.

James Jeffrey, president of the Wilson Center’s Middle East program, argues that any support from Congress depends on Turkey, as a NATO member, cooperating on two issues: not invading northern Syria militarily and not blocking NATO’s admission of Finland and Sweden.

“Senate resistance may require that the top of the administration must take into account the security arguments at the top of the administration,” he told the media, I’m not sure they’re ready to go that far, but if we don’t see progress on these two issues, I can’t imagine that they’re going to put a lot of effort into helping Turkey get the F-16. Former

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U.S. Central Command commander and retired Army Gen. Joseph Votel oversaw military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. He agrees.

In a written response to the media’s questions, Votte said the U.S. must link any F-16 deal to “Turkey’s support for NATO expansion and its agreement not to use military action to further destabilize northern Syria.”

Twenty-eight NATO members have ratified Sweden and Finland. Turkey and Hungary do not have it yet. Hungary said it would ratify in early February, leaving Turkey the only road blocker.

Turkey has demanded that Finland, especially Sweden, step up its efforts to suppress Kurdish militants and members of the Gulen movement. Ankara accused the movement of orchestrating the attempted coup in 2016.

Sale of F-35s

to Turkey’s regional rival Greece According to the Wall Street Journal, the Biden administration additionally plans to seek congressional approval to sell F-35 fighter jets to Greece. Greece is Turkey’s rival in the region and a NATO ally.

Turkey used to be a participant in the production of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, but it was removed from the program because Ankara purchased the S-400 missile defense system from Russia.

State Department spokesman Vedant Patel declined to comment on the possible deal at a regular daily news conference Friday.

Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, welcomed the news of the sale of F-35s to Greece. In a written statement, he called Greece a “trusted NATO ally.”

He stressed that the United States and Greece share common principles, “including collective defense, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.” Menendez opposes plans to sell the F-16 to Turkey.

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“I will not approve this arms sale until [President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stops his threats, improves his human rights record at home — including the release of journalists and political opponents — and begins to behave as a trusted ally should be,” Senator Menendez said. ”

U.S. military leaders continue to worry about possible Turkish military action in northern Syria against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), part of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

Army Gen. Michael Kurilla, commander of U.S. Central Command, noted that the Syrian Democratic Forces are responsible for protecting more than two dozen centers where Islamic State militants are being held.

“Anything we can do is important as long as we can de-escalate the situation and prevent the Turks from intruding,” he told a news conference last month.

The former commander of Central Command Voltel said the possibility of some kind of military activity by Turkey exists, although its scope may be limited.

Referring to Erdogan’s previous decisions, he said, “It usually impresses people loyal to him.” Reconciliation

efforts between the Turkish and Syrian governments are also expected to be mentioned during talks in Washington.

Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu recently said he might meet with Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad in February.

The United States has taken a clear position, saying it does not support countries “escalating” relations with the Assad regime.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reportedly said last week that “negotiations with Turkey should be based on ending the occupation of Syrian land” and stop supporting what he called terrorist goals.

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The Wilson Center’s Jeffrey, who served as the U.S. State Department’s special representative for Syrian engagement until 2020, believes that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is reluctant to reach any deal because the negotiations are driven by Russia and there is “no compromise on the security situation in Syria or the return of refugees”, which Turkey sees as two important issues.

“We shouldn’t have any interpretation of that, especially in light of Turkey’s upcoming elections. I’d rather wait until after the election to see what real Turkish policy will look like,” Jeffrey told the media.

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