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Politics

Biden Administration Asks Congress to Green Light Weapons Deal with Turkey

NEW YORK – With Ankara’s support for Washington’s position in the Ukraine conflict helping to repair damaged relations with the United States, the Wall Street Journal reports that, “the Biden administration has asked congressional leaders to approve the sale of advanced weapons and other equipment for Turkey’s fleet of F-16 jet fighters, U.S. officials said, setting up a showdown with lawmakers over a proposal to sell more of the aircraft to Ankara as it seeks to recalibrate ties with Washington.”

According the WSJ, “the proposed weapons sale, which was sent to congressional leaders last month, highlights how Turkey is hoping to leverage its role as a facilitator of Russia-Ukraine peace talks and its backing of the Ukrainian military as a way to repair frayed relations with Washington and obtain new weapons. The potential deal would include missiles, radar and electronics for Turkey’s F-16s, representing a significant upgrade for the country’s jet fighters.”

Turkey has supplied military drones to Ukraine and has stopped some Russian warships from entering the Black Sea. It has also hosted talks between Kyiv and Moscow, causing frequent contact with American officials that has resulted in a warming of ties.

“U.S. officials familiar with the request said the administration could be using the missile deal to gauge the level of support in Congress for a separate proposal to sell 40 new F-16s to Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally that has angered some officials in Washington over its ties to Russia,” the WSJ article noted.

Relations between the United States and Turkey have cooled through the years, reflecting among other things, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s hostility towards Israel – another relationship Ankara is trying to restore – Ankara’s ties to Russia, and human rights abuses in Turkey.

According to the WSJ, “the sale of AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, AIM-120 Amraam missiles, along with radar and other equipment would cost Turkey more than $400 million, said an official familiar with the proposal. The administration made the request through an informal notification to key leaders in both houses of Congress. If congressional leaders clear the sale, the administration must by law send a formal notification of the deal… The administration is expected to send a separate request to Congress involving the sale of a new fleet of F-16s along with upgrades for Turkey’s existing aircraft later this year, following a request by Ankara last year.”

Relations hit a low point when Erdogan purchased an S-400 antiaircraft system from Russia in 2017. That triggered “U.S. sanctions that resulted in Ankara being expelled from the advanced F-35 fighter program. The incident deepened distrust between Ankara and Washington, where officials are also divided over U.S. support for Kurdish militants battling Islamic State in Syria and Turkey’s clampdown on political opponents,” the WSJ noted.

Nevertheless, with Turkey supporting the United States regarding Ukraine, “Turkish and American officials have been in more frequent contact since the beginning of the war, and the two countries also resumed their dormant ‘strategic dialogue’ channel in a sign of warming ties,” the article said. The United States and Greece also have a highly touted strategic dialogue.

CONGRESS HAS SOMETHING TO SAY ABOUT IT

Erdogan said Ankara, “expected its demand from the U.S. for the procurement of 40 new planes and the modernization of the existing F-16s to be completed as soon as possible,” according to a readout from the Turkish presidency, the WSJ reported, while the article also cautioned that, “the main obstacle to the sale is in Congress, where lawmakers from both parties have objected to the F-16 deal. Members of the House from the pro-Greek Hellenic Caucus objected to the deal in letters to Secretary of State Antony Blinken last year, citing Ankara’s Russian arms purchases and Turkey’s dispute with Greece over maritime borders in the Mediterranean.”

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has strongly criticized Erdogan over the S-400 purchase.

Even Republican senators – in the past the GOP was more friendly to Turkey than the Democrats – are skeptical. “Turkey is a critical NATO ally, and so I have an open mind on allowing them to buy the F16, but it will take substantial convincing. I’m not there yet,” said Sen. Jim Risch, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, the WSJ reported, also quoting Merve Tahiroglu, Turkey program coordinator at the Project on Middle East Democracy, a think tank in Washington, who said, “there is a softening in Congress toward Turkey because of Ukraine and Afghanistan, but I am not sure they are on board with any military sales just yet.”

The article emphasized that, “after months of staying silent about the F-16 sale, the Biden administration has begun to quietly advocate for the deal. The State Department said selling F-16s to Turkey was in the U.S.’s interests in terms of maintaining unity and military capabilities within NATO, according to a letter sent to Congress in March and first reported by Reuters. The newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Turkey, former U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, has also spoken in favor of the sale with his former colleagues in Congress, according to people with knowledge of the conversations.”

The question is whether the administration chooses to pressure Congress about it, analysts say. “It depends on the enthusiasm within the administration to spend capital on Turkey,” said Soner Cagaptay, according to the WSJ. Cagaptay is director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank.

(Material from the Wall Street Journal was used in this article)

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