Washington – Turkey’s request for F-16 fighter jets from the US and the possibility of another Turkish military operation in northern Syria are expected to top the agenda during talks in Washington when Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu meets with Foreign Minister Antony Blinken on Wednesday. Analysts say any F-16 deal would be tied to Turkey’s prompt support for NATO expansion and no military action in northern Syria.
Turkey made an official request to buy 40 F-16 jets and nearly 80 modernization kits from the United States in 2021. Biden administration officials have expressed support for the proposed sale, subject to congressional approval.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the administration is preparing to begin consultations with Congress to seek approval for the $20 billion sale.
James Jeffrey, chairman of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center, argues that any possible support from Congress would be contingent on cooperation from NATO member Turkey on two issues: no military incursion into northern Syria and not blocking the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO.
“The opposition in the Senate will probably demand that higher levels of the administration weigh in with security arguments. I’m not so sure if they’re ready to go that far, but I can’t imagine they’re doing a whole lot to help Turkey get F-16s if we don’t see movement on those two issues,” he told VOA.
Sweden, Finland must send “terrorists” to Turkey for NATO bidding
Votel responded in writing to VOA’s questions, saying the U.S. must tie any F-16 deal to “Turkish support for NATO expansion and an agreement not to further destabilize northern Syria with military action.”
Twenty-eight NATO members have already ratified Sweden’s and Finland’s accession to the alliance. Turkey and Hungary have not. Hungary says it will do so in early February, leaving Turkey as the only side.
Turkey expects Finland and especially Sweden to do more to crack down on Kurdish militants and members of the Gulen movement, which Ankara accuses of being behind a 2016 coup attempt.
F-35 for Turkey’s regional rival Greece
According to the WSJ report, the Biden administration separately plans to seek congressional approval to sell F-35 jets to Turkey’s regional rival and NATO ally Greece.
Despite the rhetoric, Greek-Turkish armed conflict is seen from a distance
Turkey was removed from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program, where it was once a production partner, due to the purchase of the S-400 missile defense system from Russia.
US State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel declined to comment on the potential sale Friday at the daily press briefing.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez welcomed news of the proposed sale of F-35 jets to Greece, which he called a “reliable NATO ally” in a written statement first reported by Reuters and shared with VOA.
He underlined that the US and Greece share principles “including collective defense, democracy, human rights and the rule of law”.
Menendez opposes the proposed sale of F-16 jets to Turkey.
“Until [President Recep Tayyip] “If Erdogan ends his threats, improves his human rights at home – including by releasing journalists and political opposition – and starts acting like a reliable ally, I will not approve this sale,” he said.
US military leaders remain concerned about possible military action by Turkey in northern Syria against the Kurdish YPG, part of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
CENTCOM commander General Michael Kurilla noted that more than two dozen ISIS detention centers are secured by the Syrian Democratic Forces.
“Anything we can do to de-escalate the situation and prevent the Turks from intruding would be important,” he said last month during a news briefing.
Former head of CENTCOM Votel says the chances of some sort of military activity by Turkey is likely, though it may be limited in scope.
Pointing to past decisions by Erdogan, he says “this generally plays well with his loyalists.”
Reconciliation efforts between Turkey and the Syrian government are also expected to come up during the talks in Washington.
Turkey’s Cavusoglu recently said he could meet his Syrian counterpart, Faisal Mekdad, in February.
The US has already made its position clear, saying it does not support countries that “upgrade” their relationship with the Assad regime in Syria.
Is an Assad-Erdogan reconciliation likely before Turkey’s election?
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said last week that “talks with Turkey should be based on the goals of ending the occupation of Syrian land” and ending support for what he called terrorism.
Jeffrey of the Wilson Center, who also served as the State Department’s special representative on Syria engagement through 2020, claims that the Syrian president is unwilling to make any deals and that the talks are being driven by Russia, “without compromise on the security situation in Syria or on the return of refugees.” , which are two important issues from Turkey’s perspective.
“We shouldn’t read anything into this, especially with the looming election in Turkey. I’d rather wait until after the election to see what the real Turkish politics are,” Jeffrey told VOA.