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Senators say no F-16 upgrades for Turkey if it blocks Finland, Sweden from joining NATO

President Biden should make clear to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that Congress is unlikely to approve fighter jet upgrades for Ankara if it fails to advance Sweden’s and Finland’s bids to join NATO, a bipartisan group of senators said Thursday.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), co-chairs of the Senate NATO Observer Group, led 25 of their colleagues in a letter to the president, saying, “Congress cannot consider future support for Türkiye, including the sale of F-16 fighter jets, until Türkiye completes ratification of the accession protocols.”

Of NATO’s 30 members, only Turkey and Hungary have yet to ratify Sweden’s and Finland’s accessions. Budapest is expected to take up the protocols this month. 

“Failure to ratify the protocols or present a timeline for ratification threatens the Alliance’s unity at a key moment in history, as Russia continues its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” the senators wrote.

They further provided support for Finland and Sweden’s commitments to address Turkey’s security concerns that were initially raised when Helsinki and Stockholm first announced their intent to join the alliance, but criticized Ankara as walking back on those commitments.  

The administration is unlikely to move forward on its plans to supply Turkey with modernization kits for its F-16s and allow Ankara to purchase more fighter jets, as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who did not sign on to the bipartisan letter, has said he would oppose any such sales. 

A senior U.S. official told Reuters that it was “doubtful” the administration would be in a position to proceed unless Menendez dropped his objection.

Biden administration officials have made the point to Turkey that Congress is opposed to security enhancements to its fleet of F-16s and the potential sales of new ones if Ankara fails to ratify Sweden’s and Finland’s bids to join NATO, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland said during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week. 

“We have made the same point to our Turkish allies … that we need this Congress’s support moving forward for the security enhancements that we think that they need, as allies, F16s, some of them are old, but that this Congress is likely to look far more favorably on that after ratification,” Nuland said, urging senators to “keep making your points and we will too.”

Erdoğan has said in recent days that he opposes Sweden’s bid to join NATO amid tensions between Ankara and Stockholm, in particular criticizing Stockholm as failing to impose costs after a far-right Danish politician burned a copy of the Quran during a protest. Stockholm says the action falls within the right to freedom of speech.

Turkey, Finland and Sweden signed a memorandum of understanding in June to address concerns by Ankara over a number of issues, but in particular how Sweden, and to an extent Finland, treats the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which Turkey, the European Union and the U.S. consider a terrorist organization. 

Erdoğan has said that Turkey looks favorably on Finland’s ascension but not Sweden’s. 

“Our position on Finland is positive, but it is not positive on Sweden,” he said in a speech to his AK Party deputies in parliament, Reuters reported.

In a joint statement, the presidential and government committee on Finnish security and foreign policy said that Finland plans to advance its membership process together with Sweden, Reuters reported. 

“The fastest possible realization of both countries memberships is in the best interest of Finland, Sweden and the whole NATO,” the statement read.

Source: The Hill

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