By Katabella Roberts
The United States will move forward with its plan to transfer F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, the White House said on July 11, shortly after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan withdrew his objection to Sweden joining NATO.
“President Joe Biden has been clear and unequivocal for months that he supported the transfer of F-16s to Turkey,” U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters at a news conference during the NATO summit in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.
“This is in our national interest, it’s in the interest of NATO that Turkey gets that capability,” Mr. Sullivan continued. “He has placed no caveats or conditions on that in his public and private comments over the past few months and he intends to move forward with that transfer and consultation with Congress.”
Turkey first requested F-16 fighter jets and modernization kits from the United States in October 2021 as a form of compensation after the country was kicked out of the F-35 joint strike fighter program, an initiative launched by the Pentagon that includes participating nations like the UK, Italy, Netherlands, Australia, Denmark, Canada, and Norway.
Turkey, which joined the program in 2007, was removed after it purchased Russia’s S-400 missile defense system.
Since then, the United States and Turkey have held various discussions on the sale of $20 billion of Lockheed Martin Corp F-16 fighters and nearly 80 modernization kits for the latter’s existing warplanes. However, the United States has repeatedly warned that they must not be used for unauthorized overflights of Greece.
Turkey and Greece have repeatedly clashed over rights to oil and gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean.
U-Turn on Sweden’s NATO Bid
Mr. Sullivan’s comments came after Mr. Erdogan on Monday agreed to support Sweden’s bid to join NATO following a meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.
The decision came after months of objection from Ankara which has accused Sweden of providing a safe haven to members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union.
While the move came as a surprise to many, Mr. Erdogan’s approval of NATO’s accession to the bloc did not come without conditions, reportedly that Sweden help the nation in its progress toward joining the European Union.
In a news conference Monday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg described Turkey’s U-turn on Sweden’s NATO bid as a “historic” step, adding that the latter nation’s accession to the block “benefits the security of all NATO allies at this critical time.”
However, Mr. Stoltenberg made no mention of Turkey’s EU membership demands, noting instead that Sweden has “amended its constitution, changed its laws, significantly expanded its counter-terrorism cooperation against the PKK, and resumed arms exports to Turkey” to address Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns.”
Meanwhile, Dana Spinant, deputy chief spokeswoman for the European Commission, stressed during a news conference with reporters on Monday afternoon that there are a “very clear set of steps” that need to be taken by all countries wishing to join the EU.
Another condition of Sweden’s membership of NATO, as proposed by Erdogan, is F-16 fighter jets for the Turkish military.
Turkey ‘Waiting at the Gates’ of the EU
Asked Tuesday if there was a chance that the Biden administration would be selling the jets to Turkey before Turkey’s Parliament votes on Sweden’s accession into NATO, Mr. Sullivan told reporters, “The president has said all along that he is interested in getting these F-16s to Turkey. He has backed that up by actually sending the package to Congress.”
“So, we will work with the Congress on the appropriate timing for getting them to Turkey. But I can’t speculate on the precise day it’s going to happen—only that we support it getting done,” Mr. Sullivan said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Erdogan, who is also in Vilnius, stressed on Monday that Sweden’s NATO membership process depends on the “fulfillment of the issues set down in the Trilateral Memorandum” between Finland, Sweden, and Turkey that was signed in 2022.
That agreement addresses Turkey’s security concerns as they pertain to various “terror organizations” including the PKK, YPG/PYD, and FETO.
“We expect all promises made to us to be fulfilled,” the president said. “In Vilnius, we, together with our allies, will reaffirm the importance we attach to the Alliance in a period during which threats are on the rise. On this occasion, we highlight the fact that nearly all NATO members are also European Union members. I am making this call to these countries that have kept Turkey waiting at the gates of the European Union for more than 50 years.”
“First, let’s pave the way for Turkey in the European Union, and then we will pave the way for Sweden just as we did for Finland,” Mr. Erdogan added.
Reuters contributed to this report.