The government of US President Joe Biden has signaled its support to sell F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, one day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lifted a veto of NATO membership for Finland and Sweden.
“The United States supports Turkey’s modernization of its fighter fleet because that is a contribution to NATO security and therefore American security,” Celeste Wallander, the Assistant Secretary for Defense for International Security Affairs at the Pentagon, told media on 29 June.
This is the first time the Biden White House has expressed public support for Ankara’s request to purchase the fighter jets.
“These plans are in the works. And they need to be worked through our contracting processes,” Wallander added, before calling Turkey “a highly capable, highly valued, strategic NATO ally.”
On the same day, Biden thanked Erdogan profusely for revoking his opposition to the entry of Finland and Sweden into NATO.
“I want to particularly thank you for what you did putting together the situation with regard to Finland and Sweden,” Biden told Erdogan at a meeting on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid.
Erdogan signed a trilateral memorandum with the leaders of Sweden and Finland in Madrid following an hours-long meeting, in which Ankara “got what it wanted,” according to the Turkish presidency.
Ankara has been looking to purchase several dozen new F-16 fighter jets from Washington since last October. However, frayed ties between the two NATO allies have stalled negotiations.
Erdogan accused the US of “stalling tactics” over the F-16 purchase, which were part of Turkey’s effort to upgrade its existing, but outdated, fleet of the same planes.
Before this, a plan to equip Turkey with state-of-the-art US F-35 stealth fighters fell through after Erdogan bought Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft missile system, which Washington saw as a potential threat to the security of its F-35 program.
Positive US signs towards Turkey’s current arms purchase come just weeks after Ankara initiated a new military campaign in Syria on several villages in the northwestern countryside of Hasakah governorate and the city of Afrin.
The campaign targeted Kurdish militias, including the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).