A potential sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey would be consistent with US policy objectives, the State Department told lawmakers in a letter, months after Ankara asked to purchase dozens of warplanes and upgrade kits.
Dated March 17, the letter to Congress stopped short of endorsing the F-16 sale outright, but said Turkey is “an important deterrent to malign influence in the region” and suggested it may be willing to go through with the deal.
While Turkey is a NATO member and owns a fleet of F-16s, its defense ties with the United States have deteriorated since Ankara bought the S-400 air defense system from Russia in 2017. The Donald Trump administration insisted the missile platform is incompatible with other NATO defense infrastructure and could even compromise US weapons systems, ultimately expelling Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program and imposing sanctions on several officials in retaliation.
Despite the controversy, Ankara asked to buy 40 new F-16s and 80 F-16 modernization kits last October, having abandoned hopes to ever see the newer F-35 in its arsenal. It has so far received no public response from the White House.
With a new president in the Oval Office and in light of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, however, Washington now appears willing to overlook Turkey’s S-400 transgression and resume weapons sales after all..
“The administration believes that there are nonetheless compelling long-term NATO alliance unity and capability interests, as well as US national security, economic and commercial interests that are supported by appropriate US defense trade ties with Turkey,” the State Department letter said, adding that Turkey had already paid “a significant price” for its decision to buy the Russian system.
Before finalizing any deal, the State Department will have to formally notify Congress, but some lawmakers remain vocally opposed to the sale. The letter from Foggy Bottom came in response to a previous missive from more than 50 reps in both parties who “strongly” urged Biden to reject the transfer, citing “vast human rights abuses” in Turkey.