The US government has finally given the green light to the long-delayed $23 billion (£18 billion) sale of 40 new F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. This decision comes after Ankara ratified Sweden’s accession to NATO, a move that had been pending for over a year.
The approved deal not only includes the purchase of 40 new F-16s but also provides modernization kits for 79 existing Turkish F-16s. Simultaneously, the US State Department informed Congress about its approval of the sale of 40 F-35 fighters to Greece, with a total cost of $8.6 billion.
Turkey’s initial request for the fighter jets in 2021 faced obstacles due to its delayed ratification of Sweden’s NATO bid, causing tension within the alliance. Turkey had expressed concerns about Sweden’s perceived support for Kurdish separatists. However, this week, Turkish MPs finally ratified Sweden’s NATO bid, and President Tayyip Erdogan gave his approval.
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US President Joe Biden urged swift approval of the F-16 sales, emphasizing Turkey’s crucial role as a NATO bulwark in the Black Sea region, especially in the context of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, emphasized that his approval of the F-16 sale was contingent on Turkey’s approval of Sweden’s NATO membership. He acknowledged that this decision was not made lightly and highlighted the need for Turkey to improve its human rights record and take more significant steps to hold Russia accountable for the invasion of Ukraine.
As of now, Hungary remains the sole NATO member yet to ratify Sweden’s accession, although recent signs suggest progress in this regard. In a related development from last year, the US had approved the transfer of American-made F-16 fighter jets from Denmark and the Netherlands to Ukraine, pending full training of Ukrainian pilots to operate them.