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Biden administration approves sale of F-16 jets to Turkey

The State Department has notified Congress that it has approved a $23 billion sale of F-16 aircraft and related equipment to Turkey, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, following months of delays, signed off on Sweden’s membership bid to join NATO.

The notification occurred Friday. It came after a vote by Turkey’s parliament Tuesday in favor of Sweden joining the military alliance that lifted one of the last obstacles for a major NATO expansion sparked by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Turkey votes in favor of Sweden’s NATO membership after months of delay

The sale of U.S. fighter jets had become a main focus for NATO member Turkey in negotiations that dragged out for more than a year, as Ankara objected to what it said was Sweden’s support for groups it considers terrorist entities, among other issues. After Erdogan publicly dropped his opposition to Sweden’s NATO accession over the summer, the Biden administration said it planned to move forward with the transfer of F-16s to Turkey.

The proposed sale supports U.S. foreign policy goals “by improving the air capabilities and interoperability” of NATO ally Turkey, a statement from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said Friday. Lawmakers have 30 days to raise objections following the formal notification to Congress.

Biden faces objections in Congress to selling warplanes to Turkey

The sale would upgrade Turkey’s existing F-16 fleet and ease one source of tension between Ankara and Washington. The relationship has been strained in recent years by U.S. policy in Syria and Turkey’s decision to purchase a Russian-made air defense system.

The State Department also notified Congress on Friday that it had approved the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Greece, Turkey’s longtime rival. U.S. lawmakers had linked the two sales, insisting that there should be a military balance in the Eastern Mediterranean region and that one sale should not proceed without the other.

Sweden and Finland submitted bids to join NATO as the 2022 invasion of Ukraine reshaped Europe’s security landscape. It marked a tectonic shift for two Nordic nations that had long maintained a policy of military nonalignment.

Finland formally joined last year, expanding NATO’s land border with Russia. Sweden’s entry into the Western alliance would also boost NATO’s capabilities, along with its position in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic.

Sweden’s accession process was stalled by lack of support from NATO members Hungary and Turkey.

Now that Erdogan has signed off, Hungary remains the last holdout. Officials there have previously signaled that they would not ultimately stand in the way.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said earlier this week that he had invited Sweden’s prime minister to visit to “negotiate on Sweden’s NATO accession.”

Greece request for U.S. fighter jets sticking point for Turkey’s F-16s

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticized what he described as “Hungarian obstruction of Sweden’s path forward to NATO” and welcomed Turkey’s approval in a statement on Friday.

“My approval of Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 aircrafts has been contingent on Turkish approval of Sweden’s NATO membership,” Cardin said, adding it was “was not a decision I came to lightly.”

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