ATHENS – US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez said he won’t remove his objections to Turkey getting more F-16 fighter jets unless newly re-elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan renews provocations against Greece.
The New Jersey Democrat has been aligned with Greek interests and indicated he’s not convinced the volatile Erdogan, who backed off tensions following an earthquake that saw Greece send aid and a train tragedy in Greece, won’t restart his previous bellicose talk.
“Now what’s important is how does Erdogan want to move into the future with Turkey. If he wants to change course from where he’s been, I look forward to seeing that,” he told reporters, said Reuters.
“If it’s the same, or more of the same, as what we’ve seen then I’ll still have the same positions as I’ve had before,” Menendez said. He opposes President Joe Biden’s plan to sell Turkey the fighter jets and upgrade the Turkish Air Force.
Critics of the plan said Erdogan could likely use the jets to reboot violations of Greek airspace, now likely emboldened by a third term that extends his strongman rule of the country into a third decade.
The US said Turkey getting the F-16s and upgrades isn’t linked to Erdogan withdrawing his veto of Sweden joining NATO, although Biden on the phone indicated it was a quid pro quo.
In October, 2021, Turkey said it wanted to buy $20 billion worth of Lockheed Martin Corp F-16 fighters and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes which Biden has backed, to the chagrin of Greece.
Menendez and others in the Congress wary of the clever Turkish leader also object to his jailing journalists and human rights violations that the US and the European Union – which Turkey has been trying to join since 2005 – overlook.
“Sweden is only part of the equation. For some members, it may be the whole equation. It’s not for me,” Menendez said, who added he hasn’t spoken to Biden since the US President called Erdogan to congratulate him for winning an election after holding down opponents and controlling the media.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Turkey to immediately finalize Sweden’s accession to NATO and contradicted Biden, saying the sale of the jets wasn’t linked despite Biden as much as saying that it was.
During the informal review process for major weapons sales, the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees can block deals, citing human rights concerns but Biden has power to authorize agreements if he deems it’s in the national interest.