Washington approves sale of F-16 warplanes to Turkey

Ending months of negotiations, the US government on Friday approved a $23 billion deal to sell F-16 warplanes to Turkey, after Ankara ratified Sweden’s NATO membership, the State Department said.

As required by US law, the State Department notified Congress of the agreement, as well as a separate $8.6 billion sale of 40 F-35s to Greece.

Turkey will get 40 new F-16s and upgrades to 79 of the jets in its existing fleet, the State Department said in a news release.

The United States did not green light the transaction until Turkey’s instruments of ratification of Sweden’s membership had arrived in Washington, a US official said, highlighting the highly sensitive nature of the negotiations.

All instruments of ratification must be deposited in the US capital — a city NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will visit next week, and which will host a summit in July to mark the 75th anniversary of the trans-Atlantic alliance.

Turkey’s parliament ratified Sweden’s NATO membership on Tuesday after more than a year of delays that upset Western efforts to show resolve in the face of Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan initially objected to Sweden’s NATO bid over Stockholm’s perceived acceptance of Kurdish groups that Ankara views as “terrorist.”

Sweden responded by tightening its anti-terrorism legislation and taking other security steps demanded by Erdogan.

But Erdogan then turned to an unmet US pledge to deliver a batch of F-16 fighter jets that has met resistance in Congress because of Turkey’s perceived backsliding on human rights and standoffs with fellow NATO member Greece.

The powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Ben Cardin, said Friday he would permit the F-16 sale to Turkey but that it was “not a decision I came to lightly.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Turkey over two visits in the past three months that the Swedish candidacy’s ratification could help break congressional resistance to the F-16 sale.

Athens has meanwhile strongly opposed the sale due to unresolved territorial disputes with Turkey in the energy-rich Mediterranean region.

The US agreement with Turkey hinged first on Athens not obstructing the sale, for which it was given access to more F-35s, the US source said.

Turkey’s ageing air force would benefit from new F-16s, as it has suffered from Ankara’s expulsion from the US-led F-35 joint strike fighter program in 2019 over Erdogan’s decision to acquire an advanced Russian missile defense system.

Turkey’s green light of Swedish NATO membership leaves Hungary as the last holdout in an accession process that Sweden and Finland began in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago.