The United States and Turkey are inching close towards signing the $20 billion F-16 contract after a previous F-35 deal hit the snag over Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile systems.
Turkey has been seeking to buy 40 new F-16 fighter jets as well as nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes from the U.S., looking to revamp and refresh its aging fleet.
Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, told reporters ahead of a summit of NATO leaders in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius on Tuesday, "(President Joe) Biden has been clear and unequivocal – for months he supported the transfer of F-16s…He has placed no caveats or conditions on that and he intends to move forward."
F-16 sale linked to Turkey’s nod for Sweden joining NATO?
Sullivan’s comments come hours after Turkey withdrew its objections to Sweden joining NATO.
Turkey was against Sweden joining the alliance because it believes the Nordic country harbors the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984, a charge Sweden denies. The PKK is designated a terrorist group in Turkey, Sweden, the U.S. and Europe.
Sweden has also criticized Turkey for human rights abuses and over democratic standards, irking politicians in Ankara.
Sullivan added that the U.S. “will work with the Congress on the appropriate timing for getting them to Turkey.”
Ankara and Washington have both rejected that the approval for Sweden's NATO accession was linked to the F-16 sale.
In late May, Biden told reporters he spoke to Erdogan on call. “(Erdogan) still wants to work on something on the F-16s. I told him we wanted a deal with Sweden, so let's get that done. And so we'll be back in touch with one another,” he said.
Erdogan to meet Biden on July 11
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a meeting scheduled with Biden on Tuesday evening.
“I stand ready to work with President Erdoğan and Turkey on enhancing defense and deterrence in the Euro-Atlantic area," Biden said in a statement late Monday.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has also shown support for Turkey to acquire the requested Lockheed Martin-built jets. “I welcome a dialogue between Turkey and the United States on the F-16 issue. However, this is not part of the compromise we reached yesterday," Stoltenberg told reporters on Tuesday.