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US working with Congress towards Turkey F-16 sale

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The Biden administration is working with lawmakers in Congress in hopes of advancing a long-anticipated $20 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, Al-Monitor has learned.

Members of the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees were informally notified of the proposal, which includes 40 new F-16s and upgrades for some 80 of Turkey’s existing F-16s, on Thursday ahead of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s visit to Washington next week.

The notification triggers a 15-day window for internal committee deliberations before the administration can formally move forward with the sale, but the process is likely to take far longer than that, sources close to the discussions said.

A State Department spokesperson cited longstanding policy in declining to confirm or comment on the sale proposal, as it has not yet been formally notified to Congress. The latest progress was first reported earlier today by The Wall Street Journal.

Lawmakers were also notified this week of a separate proposal to sell up to 40 F-35s to Greece, another NATO ally and Turkey’s main rival in the eastern Mediterranean.

Why it matters: The Biden administration has billed the F-16 sale, which has the full support of the Pentagon, as key to maintaining its strategic relationship with NATO ally Turkey as Ankara drifts closer to Moscow.

The US expelled Turkey from the F-35 program in 2019 after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government acquired Russia’s S-400 missile defense system despite repeated warnings from Washington.

Turkey had originally ordered 100 of the fifth-generation stealth fighter jets. Erdogan said in 2021 that the Biden administration had proposed the F-16 sale as reimbursement for undelivered F-35s.

What’s next: Expect a drawn-out process of briefings and deliberations on Capitol Hill before the sale moves forward.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier today that progress on the sale was contingent on Turkey dropping its continued opposition to Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO, but it remains unclear whether such deal may be in the works in Congress.

Opposition in the Senate has been particularly strong, with Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) vowing today that he will block the sale.

In a draft statement provided to Politico, Menendez said, “Until Erdogan ceases his threats, improves his human rights record at home — including by releasing journalists and political opposition — and begins to act like a trusted ally should, I will not approve this sale.” A spokesperson for Menendez’ office did not return Al-Monitor’s request for comment.

Know More: Read Nazlan Ertan’s latest on the F-16 negotiations.

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