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White House greenlights troubled arms deal with Türkiye

US President Joe Biden’s administration has agreed to push forward with the controversial sale of F-16 fighter jets to Türkiye, just hours after Ankara stopped standing in the way of Sweden’s membership in NATO.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan confirmed the decision on Tuesday, saying Biden would work with Congress to get the arms deal finalized.

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“He has placed no caveats or conditions,” Sullivan told reporters at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. “He intends to move forward with that transfer in consultation with Congress.”

A group of US senators threatened to block the aircraft deal in February unless Ankara approved the bid by Sweden and Finland to join the US-led military bloc. Finland became a NATO member in April.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on Monday in Vilnius, where he agreed to support Stockholm’s application to join the alliance. The 31-nation military bloc requires unanimous approval for all new members. Erdogan had exercised his veto power for months, arguing that Sweden was not doing enough to extradite people linked to Kurdish groups that Ankara considers terrorist organizations. 

Despite the change of Ankara’s position, some US lawmakers still have qualms over the F-16 deal. The US must “find a way to ensure that Turkey’s aggression against its neighbors ceases,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat. He also has raised concerns about Turkish human rights and Ankara’s overflights through Greek airspace.

Menendez added that he wants assurances that Türkiye will not use the warplanes “to act in the belligerent way they have against other NATO allies, not just Greece.”

In 2019, Washington removed Türkiye from a program to buy F-35 fighter jets because of Ankara’s purchase of Russian-made S-400 air defense systems.

Ankara requested US approval in October 2021 for a $20 billion purchase that would include new F-16 fighters, built by Lockheed Martin, as well as around 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes.

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