The Biden administration backed the prospective sale of US F-16 fighter fighters to Turkey on Wednesday, a day after Ankara withdrew its veto on Finland and Sweden joining NATO.
On a conference call with reporters, Celeste Wallander, Assistant Secretary of Military for International Security Affairs at the Pentagon, said that robust Turkish defense capabilities will strengthen NATO’s defenses.
“The United States supports Turkey’s modernization of its fighter fleet because that is a contribution to NATO security and therefore American security,” she said.
“These plans are in the works. And, they need to be worked through our contracting processes,” she added.
In October, Turkey requested that the United States purchase 40 Lockheed Martin F-16 jets as well as approximately 80 modification kits for its current airplanes.
Washington has previously had no open position on the deal, other than that any weapons sales would be subject to the proper legal scrutiny.
The State Department issued a letter to several members of the US Congress who had opposed the sale in March, claiming that “appropriate” US defense trade links with Turkey would promote US interests.
Wallander’s remarks follow an 11th-hour agreement reached on Tuesday between Turkey, Finland, and Sweden after four hours of discussions, averting an embarrassing standoff at the meeting of 30 NATO leaders aimed at demonstrating determination in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking on the margins of the NATO summit in Madrid, US President Joe Biden complimented Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to assist reach an agreement with the Nordic nations. “I want to thank you especially for what you done,” Biden stated.
The three countries agreed to ease Ankara’s ban on Finnish and Swedish participation in exchange for the candidates’ pledges not to assist the Kurdish terrorist PKK and YPG organizations, or the network of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for a failed coup attempt in 2016.
US officials denied any allegation that Washington was supporting the warplane proposal in order to overcome Turkish obstacles to Sweden and Finland joining NATO.
“The U.S. did not offer anything to Turkey and was not asked for anything by Turkey” as part of its agreement with Finland and Sweden, a senior administration official said.
According to the person, US authorities are continuing technical discussions regarding Turkey’s proposal to purchase F-16 fighter planes from the US. Any such transactions would be subject to final approval by Congress.
Erdogan criticized the United States over the F-16 deal before leaving for Madrid on Tuesday, but after speaking with Biden on the phone.
Erdogan did not mention the F-16 problem in his brief remarks before meeting Biden, although he did express his joy to meet Biden “after a long period.” Their conversation lasted nearly an hour.
The two leaders last spoke on the phone earlier this year and met in person in October 2021.
The supply of US arms to NATO member Turkey became difficult after Ankara bought Russian-made defensive missile systems, prompting US penalties and the exclusion of Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program.