The Biden administration is preparing to ask Congress to approve the sale of 40 F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, after weighing a Turkish request for the planes for more than a year, sources in the government tell CNN. Congress close to deliberations.
If approved, the sale would be one of the largest arms sales in years. The administration is also discussing a separate sale of 40 F-35 fighter jets to Greece. There are longstanding tensions between Turkey and Greece.
Turkey was dropped from the F-35 program in 2019 in response to Ankara’s decision to purchase the Russian-made S-400 missile system.
The sale to Turkey could pressure Ankara into approving NATO membership for Sweden and Finland, a process that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has blocked since last year.
Finland and Sweden were formally invited to join the alliance at the NATO summit last June, but as a NATO member Turkey may prevent them from joining.
A Finnish official told CNN that Finland had “not been involved in any discussion” regarding the US F-16s.
“Finland has implemented everything that was agreed in Madrid in June. We now hope that all NATO members will help us get over the finish line in our membership process. As far as the American F-16s are concerned, we obviously did not take part in any discussions. This is an internal matter in the United States,” the Finnish official said.
It’s unclear when the administration plans to make a formal request to Congress, as required by law for foreign military sales. But late Thursday, the administration sent informal notifications about the potential sale to the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committees, kicking off the committee’s review process, the sources said.
The Wall Street Journal was first to report the news.
Most administrations typically give Congress informal notification of proposed sales weeks before taking formal action. The informal notification process is a common practice in which relevant committees are notified of anticipated sales, allowing committee leaders to raise concerns, provide feedback or place reservations.
Once the administration formally notifies all of Congress of the proposed sale, lawmakers then have 30 days to block the deal, which they can do by passing a joint resolution of disapproval.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez said on Friday he would not approve any proposals to sell F-16 jets to Turkey, continuing his longstanding opposition to arms supplies to Ankara. .
“As I have made clear on multiple occasions, I strongly oppose the Biden administration’s proposed sale of new F-16 aircraft to Turkey,” the New Jersey Democrat said. “President Erdogan continues to undermine international law, disregard human rights and democratic standards, and engage in alarming and destabilizing behavior in Turkey and against neighboring NATO allies.”
Menendez strongly criticized Turkey’s targeting of Kurds and threatened incursions into northern Syria. He criticized Ankara’s closeness to Moscow and warned the Turks against buying new S-400 missile systems from Russia. Additionally, Menendez accused Turkey of repeatedly violating Greek airspace with provocative overflights in the Aegean Sea, calling it “unacceptable behavior from a NATO country” in remarks in Athens on Tuesday. last year.
“Until Erdogan stops his threats, improves his human rights record in his country – including releasing journalists and the political opposition – and begins to act as a trusted ally should the do, I will not approve of this sale,” Menendez said.
At the same time, the New Jersey Democrat said he welcomed “the news of the sale of new F-35 fighter jets to Greece.”
“This defense capability is not only essential for a trusted NATO ally and enduring partner in advancing security and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean, but also enhances the capabilities of our two nations to uphold common principles, including our collective defence, democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” he said on Friday.
A National Security Council spokesperson referred CNN to the State Department for comment.
“As a rule, the Department will not comment on proposed defense sales or transfers until they have been formally notified to Congress,” said State Department senior deputy spokesman Vedant Patel. , during a Friday briefing.
“But what I would say is that Turkey and Greece are vital, vital NATO allies,” he added, noting that the United States has “a history of supporting its devices of security”.