But in a statement drafted by Menendez’s office for the media and obtained in advance by POLITICO, the senator said he had not changed his mind.
“I strongly oppose the Biden administration’s proposal to sell new F-16 jets to Turkey,” Menendez said, slamming Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for continuing to “undermine international law, not to respect human rights and democratic standards and engage in alarming and destabilizing behavior”. in Turkey and against neighboring NATO allies.
“Until Erdogan stops his threats, improves his human rights record at home – including releasing journalists and the political opposition – and begins to act as a trusted ally he should, I will not approve of this sale,” the president continued, noting that he supports the F-35 sale to Greece.
A person familiar with the situation said Menendez, as recently as December, told the White House that he was not going to support the bulk transfer.
A State Department spokesman said he would not comment on potential military sales until Congress is officially notified.
The Wall Street Journal also reported that the deal to sell the fighter jets would depend on Turkey allowing Sweden and Finland to join NATO, a move Ankara has sided with. opposite since the two countries applied for membership last year. It’s unclear whether Turkey paving the way for them to join would lead Menendez to drop his opposition to the deal.
Another person familiar with the potential sale said the State Department discussed the deal with lawmakers just this week, but no decision has been made on formally notifying Congress that the administration planned to move forward.
The prospect of selling fighters to Turkey has bristled at some lawmakers in Biden’s party, who say they are concerned about Ankara’s slowness in NATO expansion, incursions into Greek airspace and the country’s drift towards authoritarianism.
Defense legislation passed by the House last summer included a provision, backed mostly by Democrats, to limit F-16 sales to Turkey. The provision was dropped from a compromise bill that eventually went to Biden’s desk.
Although the Senate did not pass its own provision, Senator. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and others have sought to block avenues to sell the fighters to Turkey.
Sweden and Finland have been waiting for approval to join the NATO alliance since their official bids in May last year. Turkey balked at joining, citing Sweden’s refusal to extradite four people Ankara said supported the 2016 coup attempt and harbored Kurds whom Turkey considered members of a terrorist group .
Turkey has been seeking alternative fighter jets from the United States since 2019, when Washington expelled Ankara from the multinational F-35 program for buying a Russian-made air defense system.