Turkish F-16D.
Turkish F-16D. Photo credit: Rob Schleiffert / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Members of the House of Representatives want to block the sale of F-16s to Turkey unless the country agrees to allow Sweden to join NATO.

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You might think that, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and with an expansion of NATO on the table, the various member states of the alliance would be working together as much as possible to present a united front.

However, that is not the case. And, as per usual, Turkey is prominently involved as it tries to use its unique position within NATO to pursue its own agenda and exert pressure on the other members.

A great example is Sweden’s request to join the alliance, which has to be approved by all member countries. Turkey is withholding its consent to get something out of the deal.

Specifically, Ankara wants Sweden to stop harboring members of opposition groups that it considers to be “terrorists.”

In addition, Turkey is also trying to get the US to supply it with F-16 fighters and upgrade kits for its existing planes, and President Joe Biden has indicated that he is considering throwing such a deal in as sweetener.

However, Congress also has to approve the sale of the weapons, and different lawmakers, including Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, have already said they would block any deal unless Turkey supports Sweden’s bid to join NATO.

As though all of that were not complicated enough already, a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Friday wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and made it clear that the purchase of the F-16s must come with strings attached and should be reversed if Turkey steps out of line.

The lawmakers, all of whom are members of the Hellenic Caucus, are especially concerned about how the arms deal would affect Greece, a NATO member but also a traditional adversary of Turkey.

In the letter to Blinken, they point to Ankara’s aggression in the Aegean region and say it “must stop” if the US supplies Turkey with new weapons.

“There must be guarantees that preclude American weapons being used to provoke a conflict within NATO,” the lawmakers wrote. “Given Turkey’s history of using American F-16s for overflights in the Aegean and to challenge Greek sovereignty, we request mechanisms that provide for the pause, delay, or snapback of the transfer of American weapons to Turkey if it resumes destabilizing actions in the Eastern Mediterranean that threaten or undermine US national security interests or NATO security architecture.”

The letter was authored by Reps. Chris Pappas (D-NH) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), the co-chairs of the Hellenic Caucus.

The lawmakers also point out that there is a precedent for imposing conditions on the sale of defensive weapons to other countries, and that the House of Representatives, with broad bipartisan support, added language to the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act that would “establish reasonable limitations” on the Biden administration’s ability to supply Turkey with F-16s and modernization kits for its existing fleet.


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