A letter by the State Department to Congress says that the Biden administration believes a potential sale of F-16s to Turkey would help U.S. national security interests and bolster NATO’s long-term unity, although the letter did not explicitly support such a sale.
The letter viewed by Reuters is dated March 17, and is signed by Naz Durakoglu, the agency’s top legislative official. In the letter, Durakoglu acknowledges that US-Turkey relations have been strained by Ankara’s procurement of Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile systems and its subsequent ejection from the F-35 program, but notes that Turkish support for and defense ties with Ukraine are “an important deterrent to malign influence in the region.”
The letter claims that sanctions imposed under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act on Turkey for the S-400 purchase are “a significant price paid”, but “the Administration believes that there are nonetheless compelling long-term NATO alliance unity and capability interests, as well as U.S. national security, economic and commercial interests that are supported by appropriate U.S. defense trade ties with Turkey”. However, the letter adds that a proposed sale would still require State Department approval and Congressional notification.
The letter was written in response to a February 4 letter by Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and over 50 other Democratic and Republican lawmakers urging the Biden administration to reject Ankara’s request to purchase 40 F-16Vs and 80 upgrade kits for existing Turkish F-16s, due to what the lawmakers say is Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s lack of commitment to NATO and “vast” human rights abuses by Ankara.
Ankara seeks to acquire the F-16s and the modernization kits to bridge the gap to the introduction of indigenous aircraft like the TF-X following its expulsion from the F-35 program, and has on occasion claimed that it is entitled to its request as compensation for the move. However, Biden has previously stated that any such sale would have to go through the Foreign Military Sales process. Several Foreign Military Sales to Turkey have been blocked by Congress since 2018, with points of contention driving the blocks including the aforementioned human rights issues in Turkey, further threats by Ankara to procure Russian weaponry, and Turkish incursions into areas of northeastern Syria formerly controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces.
While Turkey is believed to be providing military support to Ukraine following the Russian invasion, including the delivery of munitions for Ukraine’s fleet of Bayraktar TB2 attack drones, Ankara has so far opted against participating in wide-ranging Western sanctions on Russia in response to the invasion, instead offering to serve as a mediator between Ukraine and Russia.