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26 Sep, 2023 22:46

Erdogan demands F-16s for NATO expansion

The Turkish leader says the approval of Sweden’s membership depends on the US
Erdogan demands F-16s for NATO expansion

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that Ankara’s ratification of Sweden’s NATO bid depends on whether the administration of US President Joe Biden delivers on its pledge to approve the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Türkiye.

“Turkish parliament will have the final say on Sweden's NATO membership,” Erdogan told journalists on a flight back from Azerbaijan on Monday. “If they [Washington] keep their promises, our parliament will keep its own promise as well.”

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

In July, the Biden administration promised to push forward with the sale of F-16s, after Ankara agreed to stop obstructing Sweden’s accession to NATO. However, a group of US lawmakers, including scandal-hit former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez, threatened to block the aircraft deal nevertheless.

“One of our most important problems regarding the F-16s were the activities of US Senator Bob Menendez against our country,” Erdogan claimed on Monday, adding that “Menendez’s exit gives us an advantage but the F-16 issue is not an issue that depends only on Menendez.”

Menendez was charged last week in a federal case for his alleged corrupt relationship and receiving bribes to benefit a foreign country. While he was forced to resign his role as chairman of the committee, the official claimed innocence and refused to quit the US Congress.

Sweden and its Nordic neighbor, Finland, applied to join NATO in May 2022, following the start of the Ukraine conflict. However, while Helsinki became a member of the US-led military bloc in April, Stockholm’s bid remains in limbo due to Hungary and Türkiye’s reluctance. 

Erdogan had exercised his veto power for months, arguing that it was not doing enough to extradite people linked to Kurdish groups that Ankara considers terrorist organizations. In turn, some US senators are threatening to block the F-16 deal unless Ankara approves Sweden's bid.