Turkey hopes the United States will not fall for the “game” being played by certain U.S. lawmakers against the potential sale of F-16 fighter jets, the country’s defense minister said, after the House of Representatives approved a bill creating a new hurdle to any Turkish purchase.
Turkey has sought to buy 40 Lockheed Martin-made F-16 fighter jets and modernization kits from the United States. President Joe Biden has said he supports the sale, and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said he believes it will go through after talks with Biden.
Last week, the House approved legislation that would bar the sale to Ankara unless the administration certifies that doing so is essential to U.S. national security, while also including a description of concrete steps taken to ensure they are not used for “unauthorized overflights” of Greece.
It marks the latest effort by the House, known for its anti-Ankara stance that has repeatedly damaged bilateral relations, to exert control over the sale of the Lockheed Martin aircraft to Turkey.
Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said talks on the sale were ongoing and Turkey is closely monitoring the process, adding U.S. officials were aware of the importance of NATO member Turkey as an ally in counterterrorism and migration.
“While that is the situation, how can you explain this? A lawmaker, a group is coming out and stirring things up through certain manipulations and disinformation,” Akar told reporters on Monday following a Cabinet meeting in the capital Ankara.
“We expect the United States not to fall for this game.”
About Greece, Akar said Athens is trying to influence the agreement reached between the Turkish and U.S. military delegations.
NATO members Turkey and Greece have been at odds over a host of issues, ranging from overflights and the status of Aegean islands to maritime boundaries, hydrocarbon resources in the Mediterranean and the ethnically split island of Cyprus.
Tensions flared recently over airspace and the status of demilitarized islands in the Aegean.
Ankara recently halted bilateral talks with Athens due to recent disputes over air space violations and the status of demilitarized islands in the Aegean, and Erdoğan cut dialogue with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for lobbying against the F-16 sale to Turkey during a visit to Washington this year.
Erdoğan said Mitsotakis “no longer exists for him” and has refused to meet the Greek leader until he “pulls himself together.”
Akar dismissed any conditions to the possible sale of the jets.
“There shouldn’t be a conditional issue like ‘I’ll give you this, but you won’t do this,’” he said.
“We will continue our work in military, political and diplomatic terms. Our wish is for common sense to prevail and reasonable and logical solutions to emerge.”
Biden last month openly threw his support behind the potential sale and modernization of Turkey’s F-16 fleet, saying that the U.S. should go ahead with the delayed process.
He said he was confident the congressional approval needed for the sale can be obtained.
“It’s not in our interests not to sell them,” Biden said on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Madrid.
“We should sell the F-16 to Turkey. I said that in December, and my position hasn’t changed since then ... We need congressional approval to get there, and I think we’ll get there.”
The process to finalize the defense bill, known as NDAA, is lengthy, and the Senate will also have to back similar language before it can be sent to Biden’s desk to be signed into law. Revisions to the bill in its current form are all but certain. The president can veto such legislation.
The decades-old partnership between the NATO allies has gone through unprecedented tumult in the past five years over disagreements on many issues, including Syria and Ankara’s closer ties with Moscow.
Turkey made a request to buy 40 Lockheed Martin-made F-16 fighters and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes, in what is estimated to be a $6 billion deal.
The sale of U.S. weapons to Turkey became contentious after Ankara acquired Russian-made S-400 defense missile systems, triggering U.S. sanctions as well as Turkey’s removal from the F-35 fighter jet program.
The Biden administration has on several occasions signaled its openness to the sale, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has said foreign military sales to key U.S. partners like Turkey should be expedited and bureaucratic hurdles removed.
In March, the State Department wrote a letter to some members of Congress who had opposed the sale, saying “appropriate” U.S. defense trade ties with Turkey would serve U.S. interests.