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US senator aims to block $20 billion deal with NATO member

Bob Menendez has spoken out against selling F-16 fighter jets to Türkiye, saying Ankara must act like a “trusted ally”

Plans by President Joe Biden’s administration to approve a $20 billion sale of US-made F-16 fighter jets to Türkiye have hit a potential roadblock, as a key member of the Senate has vowed to block the deal because he considers Ankara to be an untrustworthy NATO ally.

“I strongly oppose the Biden administration’s proposed sale of new F-16 aircraft to Türkiye,” Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said on Friday in a statement. He accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of disregarding human rights, undermining international law and engaging in “alarming and destabilizing behavior in Turkey and against neighboring NATO allies.”

Menendez spoke out, reiterating his opposition to the arms deal, after the US State Department reportedly notified relevant congressional committees of its intention to go forward with the F-16 sale on Thursday. Türkiye requested the aircraft in October 2021, saying it wanted to buy 40 new F-16s and 80 modernization kits to upgrade its existing fleet.

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As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez is an influential voice on arms sales and could try to push through a resolution condemning the deal with Türkiye. The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that the F-16 transfer is contingent on Ankara’s approval of bids by Sweden and Finland to join NATO.

Washington has made “endless” demands on Türkiye in connection with the deal, Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Erdogan, told reporters on Saturday. “If they keep pushing Türkiye in other directions with F-16 (and) F-35 sanctions, and then Türkiye reacts, they blame Türkiye again, then that’s not a fair game . . . . There’s always something.”

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It’s not clear whether Menendez will drop his opposition to the F-16 transfer if Ankara agrees not to veto NATO’s latest expansion. The senator, who voiced his support for a sale of F-35 fighter jets to Greece, has broader concerns about Türkiye’s conduct.

“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,” Menendez said.

Washington disqualified Türkiye from eligibility to buy its latest fighter jet, the F-35, after Ankara acquired Russian-made S-400 air defense systems in 2019.

January 15, 2023 at 12:19AM

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