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US to sell F-16 Warplanes to Turkey after Erdogan approved Sweden’s NATO membership



President Recep Tayyip Erdogan approved Sweden’s NATO membership on Thursday, capping over a year of secret, difficult discussions. As a result, the Biden administration informed Congress that it plans to supply F-16 fighter fighters to Turkey.

Turkey’s ratification documents were formally deposited at the State Department on Friday, following which the department publicly notified Congress of the potential $23 billion sale. Additionally, the State Department formally notified Congress of its intention to sell Greece F-35s valued at $8.6 billion. Both sales should be approved by Congress.

For months, Secretary of State Antony Blinken worked closely with Turkish officials and US senators to come to an agreement that would end Erdogan’s blockade of Sweden’s NATO ambition, granting Turkey access to the fighter jets, one of its main requirements from the US.

According to a US official, Turkey attempted to drag the US into the negotiations when Sweden and Finland first petitioned to join the defensive alliance in May 2022. The US rejected this attempt. But the government knew that if it came to that, the US had the F-16s, which were a critical point of leverage.

Blinken worked tirelessly behind the scenes to try to get Sweden’s permission completed by last summer’s NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, after Turkey accepted Finland’s membership in March 2023.

When Blinken visited Erdogan in February 2023, he emphasized that before he would accept Sweden’s alliance membership, the US had to provide Turkey the F-16s. In response, Blinken repeatedly informed the Turkish president that Congress would not approve the jet deal until Turkey granted Sweden membership in NATO.

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The US official stated that the administration made the decision to use the jets more directly at this time. The nomination of Hakan Fidan as Turkey’s foreign minister accelerated the process. Compared to his predecessor, Fidan was perceived as having a tighter ties with Erdogan. In late June 2023, Blinken and Fidan got together outside of a convention in London to discuss the specifics of a possible transaction.

After that discussion, Blinken spoke with other members of Congress including then-Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez, who had long opposed the sale of the planes to Turkey. The senator from New Jersey and others expressed their desire to guarantee Greece’s backing. Blinken had a long conversation with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on what Greece would need to feel comfortable about the planes being sent to neighboring Turkey. Greece and Turkey have a very strained relationship.

Following those first few months of talks, Erdogan’s public pledge to proceed with Sweden’s admission in Vilnius removed the first obstacle.

The focus of the intense effort switched to getting the Turkish parliament to approve the accession. Blinken and Fidan communicated once a week during the fall and winter while the US tried to finalize the agreement, according to the US official. The Greek prime minister and the top US official had six conversations. To allay their fears regarding the F-16 deal, he had lengthy conversations with Menendez, Sen. Ben Cardin, Menendez’s replacement, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee leadership.

After a final vote in favor of Sweden’s NATO membership by the Turkish Parliament on Tuesday, Erdogan approved the ratification documents on Thursday.

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After that, on Friday, the papers were shipped from Turkey to the US to be physically placed in a vault at the State Department, which acts as NATO’s treaty depositary.

Before the government could formally notify Congress about the F-16 sales, this was the last step that had to be taken. According to the US official, this was done to reassure Congress that Turkey could not back out of the agreement.

Sweden’s NATO proposal still needs to be approved by Hungary before the country may join at last.

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