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US envoy sees rapid F-16 sale to Turkey after Erdogan approves Sweden-Nato bid

Ambassador Jeff Flake tells Reuters that Turkey's president likely to sign off on Sweden's bid 'within days'
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a joint press conference with the German Chancellor (unseen) in Berlin on 17 November 2023.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a joint press conference with the German Chancellor (unseen) in Berlin, on 17 November 2023 (Tobias Schwarz/ AFP)

US ambassador to Turkey Jeff Flake said on Thursday that he expects Congress to work rapidly to endorse a $20bn sale of F-16 fighter planes to Ankara once Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gives the official sign-off on Sweden's Nato membership.

The deal would include modernisation kits for older planes and new aircraft deliveries. 

Flake said in an interview with Reuters that once the formal ratification document for Sweden's Nato bid is received in Washington, the State Department will immediately send Congress notification of the F-16s sale.

"I see no reason why, with the parliament having acted here, that Turkey would wait," he said. "So I would expect as soon as that is conveyed to Washington, then congressional notification [of the F-16 sales] will happen."

The ambassador said that he has been speaking with the chairs of the US House and Senate Foreign Relations Committees.

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"There are members of Congress who felt strongly that before proceeding with the F-16 sale that Sweden needed to be a member of Nato," he said.

"But they all see the value of Turkey's participation in Nato and they all see the value of interoperability that comes with this F-16 modernisation."

Final sign-off 'within days'

President Joe Biden sent a letter to leaders of key congressional committees on Wednesday, informing them of the administration's intention to begin the formal notification process for the F-16 sale once Ankara completes Sweden's Nato accession process.

That final sign-off from Erdogan, Flake said, is likely to happen "within days". The Turkish president needs to sign the legislation, which would be published in the country's "official gazette".

Turkey ratifies Sweden's Nato membership after months of blocking accession
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Turkey's parliament ratified Sweden's bid to join the western military alliance on Tuesday, clearing a major hurdle after 20 months of delay.

The majority of Turkish MPs voted for Sweden's bid, including members of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

Finland and Sweden requested to join Nato in 2022, a move that was sparked by Russia's invasion of Ukraine that year. The bids were blocked for months by Turkey, which accused the two Nordic nations of failing to crack down on groups considered terrorist organisations, particularly the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Ankara later approved Finland’s bid but continued to block Sweden’s accession, citing Quran-burning protests by far-right activists in the country, as well as rallies against Turkey and President Erdogan.

With the ratification on Tuesday, now only Hungary’s parliament needs to ratify the Swedish bid to finalise the Nato accession.

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