President Biden sent a letter to four senior members of Congress on Wednesday urging them to quickly approve a $20 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, after the Turkish parliament voted a day earlier to allow Sweden to join NATO, according to three U.S. officials. .
The White House sent a letter to the top Democratic and Republican lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which oversee the State Department’s arms transfers to other countries. As of Wednesday night, four top lawmakers had not given their approval, and one or more of them may ask the Biden administration to provide assurances about Turkey’s activities on some foreign policy issues before agreeing to the transfer, a congressional official said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a NATO member, has linked his country’s approval of Sweden’s accession to the security organization to the pending F-16 sale. Both Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and the vast majority of Alliance members soon agreed. Turkey approved Finland’s offer, but, together with Hungary, denied approval to Sweden.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with Mr. Erdogan in Istanbul this month and urged him for Turkey to approve Sweden’s accession. Mr. Blinken tried to convince him that the F-16 sale would happen, US officials said.
The State Department gave two congressional committees informal notice of the sale more than a year ago, starting the process of a review by lawmakers. But congressional officials have repeatedly returned to the department with questions about how Turkey might use the planes, as well as some of Turkey’s foreign policy moves that run counter to U.S. interests.
One issue is the fact that the Turkish military has carried out an increasing number of airstrikes against Kurdish militias in northeastern Syria that have been cooperating with the US military in the fight against the Islamic State. Turkish leaders consider Kurdish fighters members of a terrorist group. Members of Congress and aides remain concerned about Turkish aggression, one official said.
Congressional officials also want to see assurances from Turkey about when formal ratification of Sweden’s accession will move forward from Mr. Erdogan’s office. And they are asking the State Department to provide them with a document that Turkey allegedly sent to the department saying the Turkish military intends to de-escalate any tensions with the Greek military in the Aegean, the official said.
All of which means that Mr. Biden may not get approval from all four lawmakers as quickly as he would like, despite the letter he sent on Wednesday, and Reuters reported earlier.
Congressional officials expect that once those lawmakers give their approval, the State Department will move quickly to formally notify Congress of the sale, meaning the arms transfer will go through.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban vowed on Wednesday to get his legislature to approve Sweden’s accession, but gave no time frame for when a vote might take place.
Katie Rogers and Catie Edmondson contributed to the reporting.