Biden administration tells Congress it intends to sell Turkey F-16s after Erdogan approved Sweden’s NATO membership

BALIKESIR, TURKIYE - MAY 22: An aerial view of  Turkish Air Force F-16 fighter aircrafts  in Balikesir, Turkiye on May 22, 2022. The 161st Fleet Command, the only fleet of the Turkish Air Force with two coded names - coded as "Eagle" during the day and "Bat" at night - takes an active role in both the protection of the airspace in Aegean Region and the combat against terrorism. (Photo by Ali Atmaca/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

An aerial view of Turkish Air Force F-16 fighter aircrafts in Balikesir, Turkey, on May 22, 2022.Ali Atmaca/Anadolu Agency/Getty ImagesCNN — 

The Biden administration told Congress it intends to sell F-16 fighter jets to Turkey after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed off on Sweden’s accession to NATO on Thursday – a development that caps off more than a year of quiet, complicated negotiations.

The State Department sent the formal notification about the proposed $23 billion sale to Congress on Friday after Turkey’s instruments of ratification were formally deposited at the department. The State Department also sent Congress a formal notification of its intent to sell $8.6 billion worth of F-35s to Greece. Congress is expected to approve both sales.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken was extensively engaged for months with Turkish officials and US lawmakers to reach the deal to stop Erdogan’s obstruction of Sweden’s NATO bid that would see Turkey receive the fighter jets – one of its top requests of the US.

When Sweden, along with Finland, first applied to join the defensive alliance in May 2022, Turkey sought to pull the US directly into the negotiations – a move the US rebuffed, according to a US official. However, the administration was cognizant the US had a key point of leverage – the F-16s – if that became necessary.

Once Turkey approved Finland’s accession in March 2023, Blinken worked intensely behind the scenes to try to get Sweden’s approval done by last summer’s NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

During a trip to Turkey in February 2023, Blinken met with Erdogan, who stressed the need for the US to give Turkey the F-16s before he would approve Sweden’s membership into the alliance. Blinken, in turn, told the Turkish president multiple times that members of Congress would not approve the sale of jets until Turkey allowed Sweden to join NATO.

It was at this point, the US official said, that the administration decided to leverage the jets more directly. The process moved forward more quickly with the appointment of Hakan Fidan as Turkey’s foreign minister. Fidan was seen as having a closer relationship to Erdogan than his predecessor. Blinken and Fidan met on the margins of a conference in London in late June 2023 to hash out details of a potential deal.

Following that meeting, Blinken discussed the matter with then-Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez – who had long opposed the sale of the jets to Turkey – and other members of Congress. The New Jersey senator and others made clear that they wanted to ensure Greece’s support. Blinken engaged extensively with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to discuss what Greece would need to feel comfortable with neighboring Turkey receiving the jets. Turkey and Greece have an incredibly tense relationship.

After those initial months of negotiations, the first hurdle was cleared at Vilnius, when Erdogan publicly committed to move forward on Sweden’s accession.

The intensive effort shifted to ensuring that the Turkish parliament would vote in favor of accession. As the US worked to solidify the deal, Blinken and Fidan spoke weekly over the autumn and winter, the US official said. The top US diplomat spoke with Greek Prime Minister half a dozen times. He spoke extensively with Menendez and his successor, Sen. Ben Cardin, and the leadership of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to try to assuage their concerns about the F-16 sale.

The Turkish Parliament finally voted in favor of Sweden’s NATO accession Tuesday, and Erdogan signed off on the instruments of ratification Thursday.

The documents were then sent from Turkey to the US to be physically deposited in a vault at the State Department, which serves as the treaty depositary for NATO, on Friday.

This was the final step needed before the agency sent the formal notifications about the F-16 sales to Congress. The US official said this was to assure Congress there was no way for Turkey to back out of the deal.

Hungary still must approve Sweden’s NATO bid for the nation to finally become a member.

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