According to House Foreign Affairs Chair Mike McCaul, Washington’s drive to sell F-16 fighter fighters to Turkey may have improved prospects now that a key critic, Sen. Bob Menendez, has stepped down from a key congressional job.
Because of Ankara’s hostility against its neighbours and internal repression, Senator Menendez (D-N.J.) delayed the jet deal before he was sidetracked by federal corruption accusations. However, he is only a part of the equation; support from the top Republicans and Democrats on the foreign policy panels in both chambers is necessary for the U.S. to sell the jets.
The Hill still has plenty of opponents on both sides.
According to McCaul (R-Texas), “I’m reading the tea leaves,” and “he was one of the four that was still kind of holding out,” so it’s more probable it’s going to be accepted — but Sweden’s got to be allowed to NATO. We’re basically saying, “If you’re going to play hardball with Sweden, we’re not even going to consider this.”
After Ankara agreed to ratify Sweden’s membership in NATO, the White House announced in July that it intends to move forward with the delivery of 40 Lockheed Martin-built fighter jets to the NATO partner Turkey. According to the government, there is no connection between the two problems.
However, congressional gatekeepers have stated that Turkey must mend its ties with Greece in order to proceed with the deal.
McCaul has stated that he expects a clear path on that problem following last week’s meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on the margins of the United Nations general assembly. To paraphrase, “I don’t see that holding up the process.”
While still under indictment, Menendez resigned as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Friday. He is facing federal charges that he illegally accepted cash and gold in return for supporting the Egyptian government and New Jersey business connections.
After Menendez’s departure, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan indicated in public statements published on Tuesday that he sees a “opportunity to accelerate the process regarding the F-16s” through additional discussions between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan.
Erdogan told media on the trip back from Azerbaijan that U.S. Senator Bob Menendez’s actions against Turkey were “one of our most important problems” with the F-16s.
“Menendez’s exit gives us an advantage, but the F-16 issue is not an issue that depends only on Menendez,” Erdogan continued.
McCaul, Menendez, Senate Foreign Relations Rank-and-File Member Jim Risch (R-Idaho), and House Foreign Affairs Rank-and-File Member Gregory Meeks (D-New York) all oppose selling the planes to Turkey for grounds that are similar to those of the Turkish government. Menendez made the strongest pleas for a reduction in hostilities between Turkey and its neighbours.
Meeks remained unyielding this week. He is anticipating NATO membership for Sweden, a continuation of Turkey’s efforts to defuse tensions with its neighbours, and Turkey’s assistance in the alliance’s fight against illegal Russian financial flows.
I share some of Mr. Menendez’s problems,” she said. In a brief chat, Meeks emphasised his interest in the aforementioned topics.
I want to make sure that we have a reliable NATO partner with whom we can cooperate. So there’s talk and exchange on my end,” he continued. For the time being, “all we can do is wait.”
On Wednesday, Maryland Democrat Sen. Ben Cardin declined to tell reporters how he plans to address the issue after he succeeds Menendez as Senate Foreign Relations chair.
Aside from the chairs of the committees that handle U.S. foreign policy, other lawmakers have been taking a tough stance to put pressure on the administration. Legislation to restrict the executive branch’s ability to approve the transaction has been advocated by parliamentarians who are not as powerful as the committee leaders.
According to Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md. ), a strident Turkey critic, “nothing has changed” about Turkey’s acquisition of the F-16. Until certain conditions are met, the U.S. Congress will not approve the sale. Until Sweden is accepted into NATO and we see a commitment from Turkey to respect Greece’s airspace and end its aggression towards our Syrian Kurdish partners, I will keep pressing to prevent Turkey from receiving F-16s.
There is a lot of pushback in the House against the sale of fighter jets. Last year, lawmakers, headed by Democrats, blocked Biden’s attempt to sell F-16s to Turkey in their defence policy bill.
This provision did not make it into the final version of the defence bill after discussions with the Senate. It would have prevented the transfer of the jets unless the administration certified to Congress that the sale was essential to U.S. national security and that the warplanes would not be used to violate Greek airspace.
The leaders of this effort insist nothing has changed despite the marginalisation of the proposal’s most vocal opponent in the Senate.
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), one of the measure’s backers, said, “I have consistently opposed the sale of F-16s and advanced weapons to Turkey.” I’m going to keep urging the Biden administration to cancel the deal.