ATHENS – US President Joe Biden’s push to sell Turkey F-16s that could be used against Greece in a conflict has drawn blowback from critics in Congress, but not from Greece, which wants to buy 30 F-35’s in response.
Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who heads the Foreign Relations Committee and is viewed as a friend of Greece – as was Biden – said he would fight it, as will New Hampshire Congressman Chris Pappas, a Democrat who is Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues.
Pappas had led an earlier amendment in which Turkey would not get more F-16’s while it’s violating Greek airspace repeatedly unless they weren’t used against Greece and Biden would state it was in the US national interest.
Biden is seen as wanting to appease Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the two talked at a NATO session in Madrid in 2022 and the Turkish leader said he would block accession of Sweden and Finland to the defense alliance unless he got the jets in a quid pro quo.
Greece is walking the line between the worry about Turkey getting F-16s – which would be offset if Greece gets F-35s – and after Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis asked the US Congress in an address in May 2022 to block the sales.
Greece and the US also renewed a military cooperation agreement that would see more American bases in Greece and a stronger military presence at the same time Biden wants to improve relations with Turkey.
The $20 billion arms package for Turkey would include 40 new F-16 fighter jets and 79 upgrade kits to refurbish the country’s existing fleet of aging F-16s, The New York Times said after the Wall Street Journal reported the sales plan.
Some members of Congress are also upset that Turkey bought S-400 missile defense systems from Russia, an ideological enemy of NATO, which could undermine the defense alliance.
THE UNDERMINING ALLY
Menendez, whose position gives him power to block his committee’s approval of the deal said that he “strongly” opposed selling “new F-16 aircraft to Turkey,” as do Greek-American organizations but there’s been little criticism from Greece.
Turkey and Greece are disputing rights to the seas between them and Turkey’s demand that Greece take troops off islands near its coast, and Erdogan warning that it would be a cause for war if Greece’s extends maritime boundaries to 12 miles.
In most cases, Congress must approve significant U.S. arms sales to foreign allies, and rejection or inaction would kill President Biden’s proposal, the Times noted in its report on where it stands.
“President Erdogan continues to undermine international law, disregard human rights and democratic norms, and engage in alarming and destabilizing behavior in Turkey and against neighboring NATO allies,” Menendez said.
“Until Erdogan ceases his threats, improves his human rights record at home – including by releasing journalists and political opposition — and begins to act like a trusted ally should, I will not approve this sale.”
Erdogan faces a tough re-election campaign in the spring and his approval ratings have fallen over record inflation and opposition from the young over his strongman style and protested against him.
Erdogan in October, 2022 told Turkish reporters – his government has jailed those it believes are critical of him – that “Menendez’s objection alone cannot stop” such a deal, without clarifying what he meant.
Later he said ahead of US mid-term elections that it would be “much easier” if Republicans were to win a Senate majority in the U.S. midterm elections, which did not happen and was a slap at Biden, who didn’t react.
The Biden administration hasn’t asked Congress to approve the sale but said it wants to discuss Erdogan’s request as well as those from Mitsotakis for F-35’s as he’s building an arsenal against Turkey, with Erdogan threatening an invasion.
At the Spain NATO meeting, Biden told reporters he supported giving Erdogan what he wants. “We should sell,” Biden said. “I need Congressional approval to be able to do that, and I think we can get that.”
Erdogan’s spokesman and chief foreign policy advisor Ibrahim Kalin said that US demands over conditions for the sale of the F-16’s were “endless” and that, “If they keep pushing Turkey in other directions with F-16 (and) F-35 sanctions, and then Turkey reacts, they blame Turkey again, then that’s not a fair game.”