US advances fighter jet sale to Turkey, Greece; Congress likely to approve

The Biden administration has formally notified Congress of its intention to proceed with the $23 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey and the $8.6 billion sale of F-35 stealth fighter jets to Greece, taking a major step toward completing a long-delayed process that tested ties with Ankara and Athens.

The State Department sent the notification on Friday, a day after Turkey fully completed ratification of the NATO membership of Sweden, a move that became directly linked to the jet sales.

Turkey first made the request for the jets in October 2021, but Ankara's delay in approving the ratification of Sweden's NATO bid had been a major obstacle to winning congressional approval for the sale.

Following 20 months of delay, the Turkish parliament earlier this week ratified Sweden's NATO bid, and subsequently U.S. President Joe Biden wrote a letter to key congressional committee leaders, urging them to approve the F-16 sale "without delay".

The State Department's Friday night notification came only a day after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan gave his final sign-off on Sweden's ratification, and hours after the instrument of accession was delivered to Washington.

The Biden administration simultaneously advanced the sale of 20 Lockheed F-35 stealth fighter jets to fellow NATO ally Greece, an $8.6-billion deal that Washington advanced as it tries to strike a balance between two alliance members with a history of tense relations.

Greece has ordered 277 F-35 jets with options for another 200, while Turkey has ordered 40 F-16s and nearly 80 modernization kits.

The F-35 sale to Greece is seen as a counterweight to Turkey's purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system, which led to its expulsion from the F-35 program in 2019.

The F-16 sale to Turkey is seen as a gesture of goodwill and an attempt to repair the strained relationship between Washington and Ankara, which has been marred by disagreements over Syria, human rights, and regional issues.

"My approval of Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 aircrafts 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.

Cardin listed several concerns that Turkey needs to urgently address, such as improving its human rights record, cooperating better on holding Russia accountable for its invasion in Ukraine and helping lower the temperature in the Middle East.

"My concerns have been strongly and consistently conveyed to the Biden administration as part of our ongoing engagement, and I am encouraged by the productive direction of their discussions with Turkish officials to address these issues," he said.

Leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House of Representatives Foreign Affairs committees review every major foreign arms sale. They regularly ask questions or raise concerns over human rights or diplomatic issues that can delay or stop such deals.

Following the transfer of the formal notification by the State Department, the Congress has 15 days to object to the sale, after which it is considered final.

The fighter jet sales are expected to boost the military capabilities and interoperability of both Turkey and Greece within NATO, as well as create thousands of jobs in the U.S. defense industry.

The move is also a significant development in the expansion of the alliance, which has taken on additional importance since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The State Department said the sales would "support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a NATO ally that is an important force for political stability and economic progress in Europe and the Middle East".

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