ANKARA — United States President Joe Biden said there’s only a “fifty-fifty” chance that the United States Congress and Senate would approve a Turkish request to buy American-made F-16 warplanes, but pledged to do “his best” to ensure that the sale goes through, Turkey’s president said on Monday.
Speaking on his return from the Group of 20 nations summit in Rome late on Sunday, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also told journalists aboard his plane that his meeting with Biden was held “in a very positive atmosphere” despite the often testy relationship between the two NATO allies.
Turkey was kicked out of a U.S. program to buy F-35 combat planes while Turkish defense officials were sanctioned after the country bought Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems. The U.S. says the Russian missiles pose a threat to the F-35 and strongly objects to their use within the NATO alliance.
Turkey wants to recover a $1.4 billion payment that it made before it was expelled from the F-35 program. Erdogan has previously said the U.S. proposed selling F-16 fighter jets to make up for it.
“As you know, we have a payment of $1.4 billion. On this issue, we negotiated the procurement of F-16s. I have not seen any negative attitude from (Biden) in this regard,” Erdogan said. His comments were reported by the pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper and other media.
The Turkish leader went on to quote Biden as saying: “As you know, the situation is fifty-fifty, but I will do my best.”
Erdogan said the two also discussed cooperation in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and the eastern Mediterranean where tensions between NATO allies Greece and Turkey – as well as neighboring Cyprus – have been ratcheted up over competing energy claims. Talks also focused on increased increased economic and trade cooperation, Erdogan said.
Turkey denies that the Russian missile system poses a security risk, insisting that the S-400s could be used independently without being integrated into NATO systems. The Turkish president has also said his country could purchase a second Russian missile system, despite controversy surrounding the initial purchase.
Turkey and the United States also strongly differ over the role of Syrian Kurdish fighters who are a key Washington ally in the battle against the Islamic State group. Turkey regards the fighters as “terrorists” affiliated with outlawed Kurdish militants fighting inside Turkey, and demands that Washington halt its support to the group.
“If we are allies in NATO, our partners in NATO should not attempt such a thing,” Erdogan said. He reiterated that Turkey was prepared to carry out another offensive inside Syria to chase Kurdish militants if the need arises.
Erdogan was due to fly on to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit, but decided to return to Turkey instead. He later told reporters a dispute with Britain over “protocol standards” was the reason behind his decision to miss out on the summit.