(Washington, D.C.) — Last week, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Bob Menendez said he does not support the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, due to Ankara’s human rights abuses and foreign policy positions that contradict its membership in NATO.
Amid faltering relations, President Biden and Erdogan met on the side-lines of the G-20 summit in Rome last month where Erdogan lobbied for the purchase of 40 F-16s and 80 modernization kits as well as a $1.4 billion credit, after its exclusion from the F-35s jet purchase program.
In 2019, Turkey was expelled from the F-35s program after it turned to Moscow to buy Russian S-400 missile defense systems. The move also triggered American sanctions against key officials in the Turkish government, which came into force last December.
Senior NATO officials, including NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, believe that integration of Russian technology poses a severe danger to the Western alliance, as the S-400 system could enable Russia to gather intelligence on how NATO fighter jets function. Despite these concerns, Erdogan has publicly threatened to purchase yet more missiles from Russia.
Menendez asserted that “If they do so, then, you know, the interoperability gets diminished dramatically at NATO, and they further erode their position.”
Senator Menendez pointed to Erdogan’s increasingly bellicose foreign policy as a further reason to oppose the F-16 sale, noting attacks on American-allied YPG Kurdish militia in northern Syria and Turkey’s funneling of Syrian mercenaries and weapons to the Government of National Accord in Libya in violation of sanctions. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair also highlighted the Turkish President’s oppressive domestic policies, pointing out that his regime has jailed more lawyers and journalists “than almost any place in the world”.
Senator Menendez concluded that, “It’s not Turkey, it’s Erdogan. At the end of the day, he needs to change course. We’ve given him off ramps.”
Turkish Democracy Project Executive Director Madeleine Joelson said:
“Senator Menendez rightfully highlights the danger inherent in continuing to treat President Erdogan like a normal ally. Turkey under Erdogan increasingly acts in contradiction to the principles of democracy and human rights that are central to NATO and cannot be trusted to deploy any new F16 fighter jets in a responsible or humane manner.
The US Congress must follow Senator Menendez’s example and call out President Erdogan for what he is: a belligerent autocrat who cannot be trusted with additional firepower.”