The United States has approved the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey after the Turkish parliament this week ratified Sweden’s NATO membership.
The US Department of State notified Congress of the $23bn agreement to sell the warplanes to NATO ally Turkey on Friday night, along with a companion $8.6bn sale of advanced F-35 fighter jets to Greece, also an ally in the Western military bloc.
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The department’s notification came hours after Turkey deposited its “instrument of ratification” for Sweden’s accession to NATO with Washington, which is the repository for alliance documents and after several key members of Congress lifted their objections.
The sale to Turkey includes 40 Lockheed Martin F-16s and equipment to modernise 79 of its existing F-16 fleet. Greece will get 40 F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters and related equipment.
Turkey has long sought to upgrade its F-16 fleet and requested the jets in October 2021, but its delay in approving Sweden’s NATO bid became an obstacle to winning congressional approval.
Ankara had made its ratification of Sweden’s membership contingent on the approval of the sale of the new planes.
President Joe Biden’s administration had supported the sale, but several lawmakers had expressed objections due to Turkey’s human rights record.
“My approval of Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 aircraft has been contingent on Turkish approval of Sweden’s NATO membership. But make no mistake: This was not a decision I came to lightly,” said Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, one of four key committees that needs to approve arms transfers.
“I look forward to beginning this new chapter in our relationship with Turkey, expanding the NATO alliance, and working with our global allies in standing up to ongoing Russian aggression against its peaceful neighbours,” he said.
Congress has 15 days to object to the sale, after which it is considered final.
Ankara had delayed its approval of Sweden’s NATO membership for more than a year, ostensibly because it believed Stockholm did not take Turkey’s national security concerns seriously enough, including its fight against Kurdish fighters and other groups it considers to be security threats.
The delays had frustrated the US and other NATO allies, almost all of which had been swift to accept Sweden and Finland into the alliance after the Nordic states dropped their longstanding military neutrality following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Finland became the alliance’s 31st member in April.
All eyes are now on Hungary, which is the only NATO member holding up Sweden’s bid. US and NATO officials have said they expect Hungary to act quickly, especially after Turkey’s decision.