America intends to sell fighter aircraft to Turkey

(CNN) — The Biden administration notified Congress of its intention to sell F-16 fighter planes to Turkey after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed Sweden’s accession to NATO on Thursday, ending more than a year of negotiations. . Silent and complex.

The State Department sent formal notification of the proposed $23 billion sale to Congress on Friday. The State Department also sent formal notification to Congress of its intention to sell $8.6 billion worth of F-35 aircraft to Greece. Congress is expected to approve both sales.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken had been working for months with Turkish officials and U.S. lawmakers to reach a deal that would end Erdogan’s obstruction of Sweden’s NATO candidacy and get Turkey fighter planes that the United States had been selling for years. One of his main requests.

According to a US official, when Sweden along with Finland first asked to join the defensive alliance in May 2022, Turkey tried to directly involve the US in the talks, which the US rejected. However, the administration knew that the US had a major support point, the F-16, if necessary.

Once Turkey approved Finland’s accession in March 2023, Blinken worked hard behind the scenes to try to get Sweden’s approval before last summer’s NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

During a visit to Turkey in February 2023, Blinken met with Erdogan, who stressed the need for the United States to deliver F-16s to Turkey before approving Sweden’s entry into the alliance. Blinken, in turn, told the Turkish president on several occasions that members of Congress would not approve the sale of the jet unless Turkey allowed Sweden to join NATO.

According to the US official, this was the time when the administration decided to take advantage of the reactors more directly. The process moved more quickly with the appointment of Hakan Fidan as Turkish Foreign Minister. Fidan was seen as having a closer relationship with Erdogan than his predecessor. Blinken and Biden met on the sidelines of a conference in London to hammer out details of a possible deal in late June 2023.

After that meeting, Blinken discussed the matter with then-Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez – who had long opposed the sale of the planes to Turkey – and other members of Congress. The New Jersey senator and others made it clear that they wanted to secure Greece’s support. Blinken held wide-ranging talks with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and discussed what Greece needs to feel comfortable if Turkey gets the planes. Turkey and Greece have incredibly tense relations.

After those initial months of negotiations, the first hurdle was cleared in Vilnius, when Erdogan publicly committed to pursuing Sweden’s accession.

Intensive efforts were made to ensure that the Turkish Parliament voted in favor of accession. As the United States worked to strengthen the agreement, Blinken and Biden spoke weekly throughout the fall and winter, according to the U.S. official. The top US diplomat spoke to the Greek prime minister half a dozen times. He spoke at length with Menendez and his successor, Senator Ben Cardin, and leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to try to assuage their concerns about the F-16 sale.

Turkey’s parliament finally voted in favor of Sweden joining NATO on Tuesday and Erdogan signed the documents of ratification on Thursday.

The documents were then flown from Turkey to the United States on Friday for physical deposit in the State Department’s vault, which serves as the treaty’s depository for NATO.

It was the last necessary step before the agency sends formal notification to Congress about the F-16 sale. The US official said it was about reassuring Congress that Turkey had no way to withdraw from the deal.

Hungary must still approve Sweden’s NATO candidacy for the country to eventually become a member.

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