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, following the vote a day earlier by the House Turkish government to allow Sweden to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. , according to three American officials.
The White House sent the letter to top Democratic and Republican lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which oversee arms transfers from the State Department to others country. As of Wednesday evening, the four top lawmakers had not given their approval, and one or more of them may ask the Biden administration to provide assurances on Turkey’s actions on certain foreign policy issues before agreeing the transfer, a congressional official said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a NATO member, linked his country’s approval of Sweden’s membership in the security organization to F-16 sales, which had been on hold. Sweden and Finland had applied to join NATO after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and the vast majority of alliance members quickly agreed. Turkey approved Finland’s candidacy but, like Hungary, withheld approval for Sweden.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with Mr. Erdogan in Istanbul this month and pressed him for Turkey to approve Sweden’s membership. Mr. Blinken tried to assure him that the F-16 sale would go ahead, U.S. officials said.
The State Department informally notified the two congressional committees of the sale more than a year ago, beginning the process of review by lawmakers. However, congressional officials have returned to the department multiple times to ask questions about how Turkey might use the jets, as well as some of Turkey’s foreign policy moves that appear to run counter to Turkey’s interests. Americans.
One problem is that the Turkish military has carried out an increasing number of airstrikes against Kurdish militias in northeastern Syria, who have worked with the U.S. military to fight the Islamic State. Turkish leaders considered the Kurdish fighters to be members of a terrorist group. Members of Congress and their staff remain concerned about Turkey’s aggression, an official said.
Congress officials also want Turkey to guarantee when the formal ratification of Sweden’s membership will take place 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 that the Turkish military intends to defuse any tension with the Greek military in the Aegean Sea, the official said.
All of this 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, which was reported earlier by Reuters.
Congressional officials expect that once these lawmakers give their consent, the State Department will move quickly to formally notify Congress of the sale, meaning the arms transfer would go through.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban promised Wednesday to get his parliament to approve Sweden’s membership, but gave no time frame for when the vote would take place.
Katie Rogers And Catie Edmondson reports contributed.