MADRID – There weren’t any fireworks between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at a key NATO meeting in Madrid as the Turkish leader’s wheeling and dealing overshadowed tension and could see Turkey getting more US F-16s.
Erdogan went vowing not to talk to Mitsotakis, angry that the Greek Premier, in an address to the US Congress, urged lawmakers to reject President Joe Biden’s plan to sell Turkey more of the fighter jets.
Ahead of a possible showdown with Mitsotakis – which didn’t happen – Erdogan threatened to veto the hopes of Finland and Sweden to join NATO, saying the countries supported groups deemed terrorists in Turkey.
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That, said some analysts, was part of a ploy to get the US to sell the F-16s and reports said reports said that Biden, who met Erdogan, agreed to push for the fighter jet deal, which needs Congressional approval.
In the end, Erdogan withdrew the veto threat and opened the door for Finland and Sweden to get into the defense alliance, which requires ratification from all 30 NATO countries.
All sides claimed victory, the pro-government media in Turkey trumpeting a message Erdogan “got what he wanted,” while Greece said it wasn’t anxious although getting more F-16s could give Turkey an advantage in a conflict.
Government sources not named told Kathimerini that Mitsotakis’ New Democracy administration said the agreement between Finland, Sweden and Turkey didn’t affect Greece’s interests and that it was a retreat by Erdogan after he said he would block the entry of Finland and Sweden.
To get Erdogan’s support, Finland and Sweden said it would stop providing support to Kurkish groups in Syria and the Turkish-named VETO movement . “There is no link between these Kurdish organizations and terrorism, which is a long-standing demand of Turkey, but which is not being met,” the sources said, without explaining why it was agreed to otherwise.
The Associated Press said that a senior U.S. administration official not named said Biden wasn’t “put in a position that would bolster Turkish demands,” and that Erdogan didn’t demand the US to be part of the talks.
But Reuters reported that Biden’s Administration “threw its support … behind the potential sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey … after Ankara lifted a veto of NATO membership for Finland and Sweden.
FIRE IN THE SKY
Speaking at a briefing call, Celeste Wallander, Assistant Secretary for Defense for International Security Affairs at Pentagon, told reporters that strong Turkish defense capabilities would reinforce NATO’s defenses.
“The United States supports Turkey’s modernization of its fighter fleet because that is a contribution to NATO security and therefore American security,” she said. “These plans are in the works. And, they need to be worked through our contracting processes,” she added.
She didn’t mention that Turkey was barred from getting US F-35 fighter jets – that Greece now is seeking – after Erdogan authorized purchase of Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems that undermine NATO and could be used against Greece too, nor that Turkey getting more F-16s jeopardizes Greece.
Erdogan had support from NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg before the meeting, the alliance leader saying that Turkey had a point about Sweden and Finland, both European Union members, supporting terrorist groups.
Turkey made a request in October, 2021 to the US to buy 40 Lockheed Martin-made F-16 fighters and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes, Erdogan wanting to bolstering Turkey after Greece made deals to buy French Rafale fighter jets and warships, as well as from the US.
In March, the State Department wrote a letter to some members of the US Congress who had opposed the sale, saying “appropriate” US defense trade ties with Turkey would serve US interests – which could harm Greek interests.
Despite agreeing to try to get more F-16s to Turkey, Biden’s Administration said it wasn’t part of a deal to get Turkey to withdraw its objections to Finland and Sweden joining NATO, otherwise making it just a coincidence.
“The US did not offer anything to Turkey and was not asked for anything by Turkey” as part of its agreement with Finland and Sweden, a senior administration official said, also reported Reuters.
While all sides involved were spinning the story to their advantage, Kathimerin said that Greece will ask the US to okay sale of F-35 fighter jets that Turkey was barred from purchasing.
Mitsotakis made that known in Washington while Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos and the chief of the National Defense General Staff, Konstantinos Floros, are expected to travel to the US July 28.
Buying F-35s would “strengthen Greece’s defense capabilities, deepen US-Greek NATO interoperability, securing regional stability,” US Ambassador to Greece George Tsunis, tweeted following a meeting earlier between Panagiotopoulos and officials from the Joint Strike Fighter Program Office the new ambassador attended.