US says potential sale of F-16s to Turkey would serve US interests, NATO – letter

A U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter taking part in the U.S.-led exercise Saber Strike flies over Estonia June 6, 2018. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

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WASHINGTON, April 6 (Reuters) – The Biden administration believes that a possible sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey would be consistent with U.S. national security interests and would also serve the long-term unity of NATO, the State Department said in a letter to Congress that did not explicitly support the deal.

Turkey asked the United States in October to buy 40 F-16 fighters made by Lockheed Martin and nearly 80 retrofit kits for its existing fighter jets. Washington has so far refrained from expressing an opinion on the sale, saying it should follow the standard arms sale process.

The sale of US arms to NATO ally Turkey has become controversial after Ankara acquired Russian-made defense missile systems, triggering US sanctions as well as Turkey’s withdrawal from the program F-35 fighter jets.

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The State Department letter, first reported by Reuters, is dated March 17 and signed by the agency’s top legislative official, Naz Durakoglu. She acknowledges the strained relationship while describing Turkey’s support and defense ties to Ukraine as “an important deterrent against harmful influence in the region.”

While the letter does not provide any assurances or timelines for the sale, it stresses that Washington’s punitive actions after Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 systems represent “a significant price paid.”

“The administration believes that there are nonetheless compelling long-term interests in the unity and capabilities of the NATO alliance, as well as national security, economic and commercial interests of the United States that are supported. through appropriate defense trade ties with Turkey,” the letter reads.

“The proposed sale will require notification from Congress should the State Department approve it,” he added.

Turkey shares a maritime border with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea, enjoys good relations with both and hosted talks between the two in Istanbul. He expressed support for Ukraine, but also opposed far-reaching Western sanctions imposed on Moscow following the invasion.

While forging close energy, defense and trade ties with Russia and relying heavily on Russian tourists, Turkey sold drones to Ukraine, angering Moscow .

The State Department letter was in response to a February 4 letter led by Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone and more than 50 lawmakers from both parties urging the Biden administration to reject the Ankara purchase, citing what they say is Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s lack of commitment to NATO. and its “vast human rights violations”.

The United States imposed sanctions on the Turkish defense industry after its purchase of the S-400s.

Ankara previously ordered more than 100 US F-35 jets, but Washington pulled Turkey from the program after buying the S-400s. Turkey called the decision unfair and demanded the return of its $1.4 billion payment. Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) manufactures the F-35 and F-16.

During a call on March 10, Erdogan told US President Joe Biden that it was high time to lift all “unfair” sanctions against the Turkish defense industry and that Turkey expected its F-16 purchase request be finalized as soon as possible.

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Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Chris Sanders and Alistair Bell

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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