A condition set out by the U.S. House of Representatives to ensure that F-16 fighter jets that might be sold to Ankara are not used to violate Greece’s airspace is not binding, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Wednesday.
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 Erdoğan has said he believes it will go through after last month’s 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” over Greece.
On Tuesday, Ankara called on its NATO ally not to fall for the “game” being played by certain U.S. lawmakers against the potential sale of F-16 jets.
Speaking to reporters on a flight returning from Tehran, Erdoğan said Biden had not set out any conditions for the sale when the two met on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Madrid last month.
Defense Minister Hulusi Akar on Tuesday 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 said.
“We expect the United States not to fall for this game.”
Akar said Greece was 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 recently flared over airspace violations and the status of the Aegean islands. Ankara has accused Greece of illegal overflights and secretly setting up military bases on the islands in violation of international agreements.
Erdoğan cut off dialogue with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for lobbying against the F-16 fighter jet 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.”
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.”
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.