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US Senator Bob Menendez says he still opposes Turkey F-16 sale

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Menendez, a noted Turkey critic, is able to put a hold on US arms sales
A Turkish F-16 fighter plane takes off at the Air Defender Exercise 2023 in the military airport of Jagel, northern Germany, on 9 June 2023.
A Turkish F-16 fighter plane takes off from the military airport of Jagel, northern Germany, on 9 June 2023 (AFP)

Bob Menendez, chair of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has said he has not changed his opposition to the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, weeks after the Biden administration said it would support the arms deal.

There is "nothing new", Senator Menendez told Reuters on Wednesday. "We continue to raise our concerns."

During a confirmation hearing for Biden's nominee to be assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, Menendez further discussed his opposition to the deal, citing Turkey's relations with Greece.

"How does it work for us to have one Nato ally be belligerent to another and someone sell them F-16s?" he asked.

After weapons sales are approved by the administration, there is an informal review process in Congress and the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees are able to put "holds" on the deals, stopping them over issues, including human rights concerns.

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A State Department spokesperson told Reuters that the department would continue consultation.

The spokesperson said Biden has long been clear that he supports the sale. "This is about facilitating Nato interoperability and is in the US national interest," the spokesperson said.

Menendez, a noted critic of Ankara, has long opposed selling F-16s to Turkey over issues including the country's resistance to the ratification of Sweden's Nato membership, concerns about human rights abuses, and Turkish overflights of Greek airspace.

'We should sell Turkey F-16s'

Turkey, a member of the Nato alliance, requested in October 2021 to buy $20bn worth of F-16 fighters and nearly 80 modernisation kits for its existing warplanes.

The Biden administration has stated on multiple occasions that it supported the sale, with Biden clearly saying last July: “We (the US) should sell [Turkey] the F-16 jets and modernise those jets as well. It’s not in our interest not to do that.”

Then last month, Biden openly told the media that he could satisfy Turkey’s request for $20bn worth of F-16 fighter jets, if Ankara approved Sweden’s Nato bid.

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Ankara had held out on the ratification of Sweden's Nato membership for months, accusing Stockholm of doing too little against groups Turkey sees as "terrorists", including members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). But President Tayyip Erdogan said on 10 July that he would forward the ratification to parliament when it reopens in the autumn.

Middle East Eye reported that several phone calls and meetings between senior Turkish officials and their American counterparts - including the foreign ministers, chief advisors and spy chiefs - established an understanding about the F-16 request.

Menendez said last month that there was a temporary "lull" in Turkey's "aggression against its neighbours" and said he is in talks with the Biden administration about the blocks he’d put on the deal.

However, he spoke more about Turkey later on Wednesday during the confirmation hearing, saying that "Sweden still hasn't received a vote from Turkey even though Erdogan said, 'Yes, OK, Sweden should be in.'"

"He could have called the parliament. He could have had the vote. He hasn't had it," Menendez said.

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