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US approves sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey after Ankara ratifies Sweden's NATO membership

Turkey has long sought to upgrade its F-16 fleet and ratified Sweden's NATO membership based on the approval of the sale of the new planes. Turkey delayed Sweden's approval as it believed Stockholm did not take Ankara's national security concerns seriously enough.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Washington Published on: January 27, 2024 17:58 IST
US, F-16 fighter jets, Turkey, Sweden NATO membership
Image Source : REUTERS The US approved the sale of F-16 jets to Turkey.

Washington: The United States on Friday approved the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey after the Erdogan administration ratified Sweden's membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) earlier this week after a 20-month delay, a significant development in the expansion of the Western-led alliance in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war. The Biden administration also approved the sale of F-35 advanced fighter jets to Greece on late Friday.

The sale of F-16s to Turkey cost $23 billion, while that to Greece cost $8.6 billion. The moves came hours after Turkey's parliament deposited its "instrument of ratification" for Sweden's NATO membership bid on Tuesday, clearing the biggest remaining hurdle to expand the Western military alliance. 

The sale to Turkiye includes 40 new F-16s and equipment to modernise 79 of its existing F-16 fleet. The sale to Greece includes 40 F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters and related equipment. Turkey first requested the jets in October 2021, but Ankara's delay in approving the ratification of Sweden's NATO bid had been a major obstacle to winning congressional approval for the sale.

The US State Department issued the notification only a day after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan gave his final sign-off on Sweden's ratification, and hours after the instrument of accession was delivered to Washington. U.S. officials do not expect the Congress to block either sale, despite criticism of Turkey by some members.

The sale of F-16s to Turkey

Turkey has long sought to upgrade its F-16 fleet and had made its ratification of Sweden's membership contingent on the approval of the sale of the new planes. The Biden administration had supported the sale, but several lawmakers had expressed objections due to human rights concerns.

"My approval of Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 aircraft has been contingent on Turkish approval of Sweden’s NATO membership. But make no mistake: This was not a decision I came to lightly," said Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, one of four key committees that needs to approve arms transfers.

However, the objections from Cardin and Senator Jim Risch have now been overcome. “I look forward to beginning this new chapter in our relationship with Turkiye, expanding the NATO alliance, and working with our global allies in standing up to ongoing Russian aggression against its peaceful neighbours,” Cardin added.

Leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House of Representatives Foreign Affairs committees are tasked with review major foreign arms sale and regularly ask questions or raise concerns over human rights or diplomatic issues that can delay or stop such deals. Following the transfer of the formal notification by the State Department, the Congress has 15 days to object to the sale, after which it is considered final.

Sweden's accession to NATO 

Turkey's decision left Hungary as the only member state not to have approved Sweden's NATO membership, as it believes that it is "not a priority" for Sweden based on its actions. When Sweden and Finland asked to join NATO in 2022, Turkey surprised some alliance members in raising objections over what it said was the two countries' protection of groups that Ankara deems terrorists. 

Ankara had urged Stockholm to toughen its stance on local members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which the European Union and United States also deem a terrorist group. In response, Stockholm introduced a new anti-terrorism bill that makes being a member of a terrorist organisation illegal. Sweden, Finland, Canada and the Netherlands also took steps to relax Turkey arms-export policies. 

The delays had frustrated the US, and other NATO allies, almost all of whom had been swift to accept both Sweden and Finland into the alliance after the Nordic states dropped their longstanding military neutrality following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | Turkey approves Sweden's NATO membership bid after 20-month-long delay


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