Dogfight Over Cost of Upgrading Greece’s F-16 Fighters

FILE - Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras rides on an F-16 C/D Block 52+ over the North Aegean. Photo: PM's Press Office via Eurokinissi/Andrea Bonetti

ATHENS – Stung over criticism Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ US visit to meet US President Donald Trump resulted in a deal for Greece to pay to upgrade American F-16 fighter jets, the government said it would cost $1.1 billion, not $2.4 billion – but the real cost wasn’t known.

Tsipras’ visit to the US was aimed at luring foreign investors but he found himself mocked after Trump said Greece would pay to create American jobs while Greeks are still floundering more than 7 ½ years into a crushing economic and austerity crisis that has resulted in the European Union’s highest jobless rate.

Greece’s Defense Ministry put out a statement that the upgrade will be for only part of the fighter jet fleet, not all of it, disputing details that came out of the White House meeting. But the ministry said the final cost will be determined after negotiations with the US – which said it’s $2.4 billion.

The initial announcement saw the major opposition New Democracy mock Tsipras as an allegedly anti-American leader of the Radical Left SYRIZA which doesn’t want American military bases in Greece, nor military deals with America, but which they are accepting.

The Conservatives also said Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, leader of SYRIZA’s junior coalition partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) was on a wild spending spree at the same time essential services such as health care were being cut in Greece.

Tsipras needs ANEL’s nine votes to have a three-vote majority in Parliament and has been criticized of kow-towing to his partner so that the coalition won’t crumble.

Greece’s European creditors, who are squeezing for more austerity and spending cuts, were also said to be caught unawares at the announcement, but the government said the deal won’t begin until after three bailouts of 326 billion euros ($385.16 billion) expire at the end of August, 2018 and don’t come under the creditors’ review.

“The rest (of the sum) includes taxes and various off-set agreements that will be assumed by the US side,” was the reaction by the government, at odds with what the US said, the contradiction a hallmark of SYRIZA’s reign so far.