If Turkey “plays its cards right,” it can convince the U.S. Congress to allow a roughly $6 billion purchase of 40 Block 70 F-16 fighter jets and approximately 80 modernization kits from Lockheed Martin to upgrade its existing fleet, the Defense News reported referring to comments by Congress members.
Recalling that Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system prompted Congress to lead the way in kicking Ankara off the F-35 stealth fighter jet program, Defense News said Turkey’s support for Ukraine, most notably via the export of armed drones and diplomacy with Russia, has presented Ankara with an opportunity to bolster its tarnished image in Congress.
The media outlet reported that several key lawmakers who proved instrumental in expelling Turkey from the F-35 program have “cautiously signaled” to Defense News that they may be inclined to allow Ankara to purchase the F-16s after the Biden administration suggested that such a sale could serve NATO and U.S. security interests.
“We need to talk and work with Turkey and others that are working with us against Russia,” House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., told Defense News. “They’ve shown some movements in the right direction. There are other things that we still need to work with Turkey, certain things that still irritate us at times.”
Other Democrats and Republicans who worked to legislate Turkey out of the program have also signaled that they would not use their power to block a potential F-16 sale, according to the media outlet.
“I’ve talked to several of the parties involved in this,” Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told Defense News. “The Turks have made a credible argument for why they should get the F-16s.” “I’m positively disposed in that direction, but I’m not completely there yet,” he added.
Risch also emphasized that the F-16s are “a different case” than allowing Turkey to receive the F-35s.
The office of Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Defense News: “We expect Turkey to continue standing with its NATO allies who are in lockstep in supporting Ukraine as it defends its homeland.”
“The war in Ukraine is not over,” McCaul’s office said. “We expect that should the administration seek congressional authorization for this sale, Turkey will still be playing a constructive role in the conflict, but also addressing concerns over Turkey’s role in other global conflicts.”
“We need a relationship with Turkey; we need to find some way to build that back,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., told Defense News. “The president’s probably spot on in terms of trying to balance it. It’s hard because the S-400 complicated our relationship in many ways, but it’s not a relationship we can walk away from.”
The State Department reportedly sent a letter to Congress finding that “there are compelling, long-term NATO alliance unity and capability interests, as well as U.S. national security, economic and commercial interests, that are supported by appropriate U.S. defense trade ties with Turkey.”
The senator from Pallone’s home state of New Jersey, Democrat Bob Menendez, told Defense News, “At some point, we have to decide is Turkey the type of NATO ally that we expect or not.”
“It acts in ways that are contrary to our interests in a whole host of things. I think the administration has to stop seeing from the aspirational part of what we would like Turkey to be and realize that Turkey is under [President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan.”
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