The Biden administration is preparing to ask Congress to approve the sale of 40 F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, after weighing a Turkish request for the planes for more than a year, congressional sources familiar with the deliberations told CNN.
If approved, the sale would be among the largest arms sales in years. The administration is also discussing a separate sale of 40 F-35 warplanes to Greece. There are longstanding tensions between Turkey and Greece.
Turkey was removed from the F-35 program in 2019 in response to Ankara’s decision to purchase the Russian-made S-400 missile system.
The sale to Turkey could put pressure on Ankara to approve the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO, a process that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been blocking since last year.
Finland and Sweden were officially invited to join the alliance at the NATO summit in June last year, but as a NATO member Turkey could block them from joining.
A Finnish official told CNN that Finland has “not been part of any discussions” when it comes to the American F-16s.
“Finland has implemented everything that was agreed in Madrid in June. Now we hope all NATO members help us get our accession process over the finishing line. What comes to American F-16s, we obviously have not been part of any discussions. It is an internal US matter,” the Finnish official said.
It is not clear when the administration plans to make a formal request to Congress, as required by law for foreign military sales. But on Thursday night, the administration sent informal notifications about the prospective sale to the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations committees, kicking off the committee review process, the sources said.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the news.
Most administrations typically give Congress informal notification of proposed sales weeks before taking formal action. The informal notification process is a common practice in which the relevant committees get a heads up on planned sales, allowing committee leadership to raise concerns, give their input, or place holds.
Once the administration formally notifies the full Congress of the intended sale, lawmakers then have 30 days to block the deal, which they can do by passing a joint resolution of disapproval.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez said on Friday that he would not approve any proposed sale of F-16 aircraft to Turkey, continuing his longstanding opposition to providing the weaponry to Ankara.
“As I have repeatedly made clear, I strongly oppose the Biden administration’s proposed sale of new F-16 aircraft to Turkey,” the New Jersey Democrat said. “President Erdogan continues to undermine international law, disregard human rights and democratic norms, and engage in alarming and destabilizing behavior in Turkey and against neighboring NATO allies.”
Menendez has been highly critical of Turkey’s targeting of the Kurds and threatened incursions into northern Syria. He has slammed Ankara’s closeness with Moscow and warned the Turks against purchasing any more S-400 missile systems from Russia. Additionally, Menendez has accused Turkey of repeatedly violating Greek airspace with provocative overflights in the Aegean Sea, calling it “unacceptable behavior from a NATO country” in remarks in Athens last year.
“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.
At the same time, the New Jersey Democrat said he welcomed “the news of the sale of new F-35 fighter aircraft to Greece.”
“This defense capability is not only critical for a trusted NATO ally and enduring partner’s efforts to advance security and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean, but also strengthens our two nations’ abilities to defend shared principles including our collective defense, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law,” he said Friday.
A National Security Council spokesperson referred CNN to the State Department for comment.
“As a matter of policy, the Department is not going to comment on proposed defense sales or transfers until they’ve been formally notified to Congress,” State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said at a briefing Friday.
“But what I would say is that Turkey and Greece both are vital, vital, NATO Allies,” he added, noting that the US has “a history of supporting their security apparatuses.”