Turkish President says support for Sweden’s NATO bid hinges on US F-16 deal

Credit: Rank_X / flickr.com

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey would ratify Sweden’s NATO membership provided that the United States keeps its promise to deliver F-16 fighter jets to Ankara, according to Turkish media.  

This statement, which was reported on September 26, 2023, follows Erdogan’s prior assurances that the jet sale had nothing to do with Sweden’s NATO ambitions. 

“Unfortunately, our friends tie the F-16 package to Sweden,” Erdogan said during a press conference after the G20 summit on September 10, 2023. “This approach seriously upsets us.” 

Sweden applied to join NATO in May 2022. Its accession to NATO requires the consent of all NATO member states. However, NATO member Turkey withheld permission, accusing the Nordic country of sponsoring anti-Turkish Kurdish organizations and political dissidents. 

The Turkish government agreed to expedite Sweden’s NATO entry in July 2023, but will require parliamentary approval. Turkey’s parliament will return to session in October 2023. 

In October 2021, Ankara requested F-16 fighter fighters and upgrading kits. The $6 billion contract is expected to include the supply of 40 new Lockheed Martin F-16V fighter jets and 79 modernization kits for existing Turkish Air Force aircraft. 

The sale of F-16 fighter jets to Ankara has faced opposition in US Congress, particularly from New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, who raised concerns about Turkey’s human rights records. However, a recent corruption scandal involving Menendez could potentially ease the path for the F-16 sale. 

Erdogan was cited by Reuters as saying that Menendez is now “out of the picture” after being charged with accepting payments from three New Jersey businessmen. This is “advantageous” for Turkey, he added. 

Turkey is the world’s third-largest F-16 operator, after the US and Israel, with 270 of these fighters forming the core of its air force. 

Over the past few years, Ankara has been pushing for defense autonomy, as its weapon exports rose by 69% between 2018 and 2022, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).  

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