Blinken: US believes Türkiye should get F-16 jets
Türkiye “should get” the upgraded F-16 fighter jets and modernization kits, said top United States diplomat on Thursday, in a move he said was important for NATO.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s remarks came as he testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Blinken was asked about the sale of F-16 jets to Türkiye and the steps the Joe Biden administration is taking to “ensure that American weapons are not used to threaten allies and partners.”
“We believe that Türkiye should get the upgraded F-16 and the modernization package for the existing F-16,” he responded. “We think it’s important for NATO, important for the alliance.”
Türkiye has been frustrated over the prolonged process of its request to acquire F-16 jets from the United States and has signaled it could look elsewhere in case Washington fails to provide it with the warplanes.
Türkiye has been seeking to modernize its existing fleet to update its air force and sought to buy 40 Lockheed Martin F-16 jets and nearly 80 modernization kits from the U.S., a deal reportedly valued at $20 billion (TL 379.15 billion).
The request came instead of a refund for the $1.4 billion payment Türkiye had made for the next-generation F-35 fighter jets. The payment was issued before being removed from the multinational program developing the aircraft over Ankara’s decision to acquire Russian-made S-400 air missile defense systems.
Some members of the U.S. Congress have voiced objections to the F-16 deal and lastly tied its approval to Türkiye’s ratification of the NATO membership of Sweden and Finland, which must be agreed upon by all 30 members of the trans-Atlantic defense alliance. Only the parliaments of Türkiye and Hungary are yet to consent.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said last week during a visit by his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto to Türkiye that the parliament would ratify Helsinki’s accession to NATO. However, Erdoğan held off approving the NATO membership bid of Sweden, which Ankara says has not gone far enough in cracking down on terrorists. The three countries signed a pact on the issue last year.
The Nordic countries dropped decades of military non-alignment and applied to join the trans-Atlantic defense pact last year after Russia invaded Ukraine.
Blinken, meanwhile, also said they were “working assiduously to ensure that any tensions that exist between NATO allies, in this case, Greece and Türkiye, are abated and that they do not engage in either actions or rhetoric that would inflame the situation.”
“The focus of our efforts, whether it’s with Türkiye, whether it’s with Greece, whether it’s with any other NATO ally, is to make sure that they have the equipment and technology that they need to be fully interoperable with,” he said.
“At the same time, of course, ensuring that to the extent there any dispute between them, that any equipment or technology we provide is not used in furthering those differences or disputes,” Blinken noted.
Ankara vowed it might consider alternatives, including Russia if the U.S. fails to follow its promise of delivering the F-16s to the Turkish air force.
Türkiye had previously ordered over 100 U.S. F-35 jets, but Washington removed Türkiye from the program in 2019 after the nation bought S-400s. Türkiye has called the move unjust and demanded reimbursement of the $1.4 billion payment.
While Congress can block foreign arms sales, it has not previously mustered the two-third majority in both chambers to overcome a presidential veto.