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The State Department allows the sale of F-16 jets to Turkey to move forward

An F-16 fighter jet is pictured in Santiago, Chile, in September 2023. The U.S. State Department is moving forward with sales to Turkey.
Javier Torres
AFP via Getty Images
An F-16 fighter jet is pictured in Santiago, Chile, in September 2023. The U.S. State Department is moving forward with sales to Turkey.

The State Department said it would allow the sale of some $23 billion worth of fighter jets and equipment to Turkey, among the final steps in a much delayed transaction that has severely strained the relationship between Ankara and Washington.

The sale of the 40 F-16 fighter jets and upgrades to dozens of other jets became linked to Sweden's accession to NATO, with the U.S. postponing the transfer of the Lockheed Martin-produced aircraft until the Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan approved Sweden's membership this past week.

New NATO members require unanimous approval by existing members. The fact that several Kurdish critics of the Turkish government were historically granted asylum by Swedish authorities had become a stumbling block to the country's accession to the military alliance, a move historically neutral Sweden decided to take soon after Russia's invasion of Ukraine in early 2022. Turkey has accused Sweden of allowing Kurds with links to terrorism to reside there.

The Swedish government had responded to Turkey's concerns by tightening its domestic anti-terrorism laws and taking other security linked measures. Now Hungary is the only NATO member that continues to withhold approval of the Swedish accession.

The aircraft sale went public when the State Department notified Congress of the plan Friday, alongside another set of 20 Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighters that the U.S. will permit Greece to purchase for $8.6 billion.

A hold-up to the Turkish sale had also involved the sometimes bellicose interactions between Ankara and Athens. But tension there had also softened in recent months, thanks to intense efforts by U.S. diplomats, including Secretary of State Blinken, who sought to increase public engagement between the two neighbors with a long history of animosity.

Congress had not objected to the aircraft purchases by Greece, but since October 2021 had been slowrolling the Turkish transaction.

As soon as Turkey's parliament approved the bid by Sweden to join NATO this past week, congressional leaders in Washington were urged by President Biden in a letter to approve the sale "without delay."

Some Democrats said they retained concerns about Turkey's human rights record and its policies toward Russia, Israel and Hamas, and had also expressly linked the F-16 sales to Sweden's bid.

Congress still has two weeks remaining to object to the Turkish sale after the State Department's formal notification. Despite ongoing questions about Turkey's foreign and domestic policy choices, Congress is not expected to attempt to block the sale.

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Willem Marx
[Copyright 2024 NPR]