US offers support for potential sale of F-16 jets to Turkey

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US President Joe Biden (C/R) gestures towards Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C/L) during a bilateral meeting in Madrid, on June 29, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

The administration of US President Joe Biden has expressed support for Turkey's delayed purchase of F-16 fighter jets after Ankara dropped its opposition to Finland and Sweden’s bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Washington "supports Turkey’s modernization of its fighter fleet because that is a contribution to NATO security and therefore American security," Celeste Wallander, Assistant Secretary for Defense for International Security Affairs at the Pentagon, said on Wednesday.

"These plans are in the works. And, they need to be worked through our contracting processes," she added.

"Turkey is a highly capable, highly valued, strategic NATO ally and Turkish defense capabilities, strong Turkish defense capabilities, contribute to strong NATO defense capabilities," she added.

This is the first time Washington expresses public backing for Ankara's request for the fighter jets.

Turkey, a NATO ally, requested to buy several dozen new F-16 fighter jets last October to boost its air force. But with relations between Turkey and the US and its European allies fraught, Washington had so far refrained from expressing any opinion on the sale.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had accused the US of “stalling tactics” over the F-16 purchase.

The warm words from the Biden administration came a day after Turkey agreed to support Sweden and Finland's membership of NATO, where unanimous consent is required for enlargement.

At the beginning of a meeting with Erdogan on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Madrid, Biden thanked his Turkish counterpart "for what you did putting together the situation with regard to Finland and Sweden."

Meanwhile, a senior US official said Ankara had not asked for any "particular concession" to give its green light.

The official said US officials were engaged in ongoing technical talks about Turkey’s request to buy F-16 fighter jets. Congress would have the final say about any such sales.

The sale of US weapons to Turkey became contentious after Erdogan purchased a Russian-made S-400 missile defense system.

Washington removed Ankara from its advanced F-35 fighter jet program and imposed sanctions on its defense industry as well.

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