WASHINGTON ― President Joe Biden on Wednesday urged four key lawmakers to greenlight the roughly $20 billion sale of 40 F-16s to Turkey, noting the State Department intends to formally approve the deal as soon as Ankara finalizes Sweden’s NATO accession.
The sale of the Block 70 F-16 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin, which also includes 80 modernization kits, had been stalled for years, with the latest issue being Turkey’s nearly two-year-long blockade of Sweden’s NATO bid. Biden’s letter comes after the Turkish parliament ratified Sweden’s NATO accession 287-55 on Tuesday, though President Recep Tayyip Erdogan still needs to sign it.
A U.S. official, speaking anonymously to discuss correspondence with Congress, told Defense News the letter to lawmakers welcomed “the Turkish parliament’s ratification of Sweden’s NATO accession protocols and informing them his administration intends to formally notify Congress of the sale of F-16s to Turkey as soon as this process is complete.”
“The President urged Congress to proceed with the F-16 sale without delay,” said the U.S. official. Reuters first reported the letter.
The chairman or ranking member of either the Senate Foreign Relations or House Foreign Affairs committees can block any arms sale. Turkey scored a significant victory in September when the chief opponent of the sale, former Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., lost his position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after the Justice Department unveiled another corruption indictment against him.
But Menendez’s successor, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Ben Cardin, D-Md., hasn’t committed to approving the sale.
“The next step for us is to get the accession documents completed,” Cardin told Defense News. “I’m working with the administration.”
Cardin noted in October Sweden’s NATO accession was a prerequisite to the Turkey F-16 sale, but he also raised concerns over human rights issues and the use of the weapons systems. Turkey has previously used F-16s on U.S.-backed, Kurdish-majority forces in northeast Syria and stationed the fighter jets in Azerbaijan during the 2020 war with Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Lawmakers had also repeatedly voiced concerns about Turkish incursions into Greek airspace, but the two NATO allies agreed in December on a roadmap to improve their relations.
For its part, Greece is waiting on the Biden administration to approve the sale of 20 F-35As from Lockheed Martin that it requested in 2022.
Greece has also expressed interest in joining the F-35 co-production program. The U.S. expelled Turkey from the F-35 co-production program in 2019 over Ankara’s purchase of the S-400 missile defense system over fears Moscow could use its advanced radar system to spy on the stealth fighter jets.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.