Turkey’s foreign minister to discuss F-16s and NATO during U.S. visit

WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will host Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Washington on Wednesday, a delayed official visit by Turkey’s top diplomat that will focus on the potential sale of F-16 fighter jets and Ankara’s rejection of green light NATO membership. Sweden and Finland.

The two foreign ministers have met before during NATO summits and United Nations meetings, but it took nearly two years for the Biden administration to extend a formal invitation to Cavusoglu, which many analysts say reflects the relationship’s delay.

US and Turkish officials said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Syria policy, energy cooperation and regional security will also be on the agenda.

The United States has praised some of the steps Turkey has taken, including mediating the Grain Corridor talks during the Ukraine war, but has also expressed concern about Ankara’s deepening ties with Moscow.

The countries also differ over Turkey’s desire to take military action in Syria and its intention to normalize relations with Damascus. For its part, Turkey demands that Washington not support Syrian Kurdish militias it views as terrorists.

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Relations between the NATO allies have soured since Turkey purchased Russian missile defense systems in 2019, leading to Ankara’s withdrawal from the next-generation F-35 fighter jet program.

Turkey is now considering buying F-16 jets from the United States, which some top members of Congress oppose despite support from the Biden administration.

US lawmakers have objected to the sale, citing Turkey’s deteriorating human rights track record and policy in Syria. But more recently, Ankara’s refusal to accept Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership has become a more central reason for their opposition.

“(Turkish President Tayyip) Erdogan’s … repeated attacks on our Syrian Kurdish allies and continued co-operation with Russia — including delaying Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership — are serious causes for concern,” Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen said in a statement.

“As I said before, for Turkey to receive F-16s, we need assurances that these concerns will be addressed,” he said.

The two Nordic states applied for NATO membership last year after Russia invaded Ukraine, but their bids require approval from all 30 NATO member states. Turkey and Hungary have yet to approve applications.

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Turkey has raised objections, accusing those countries of harboring groups it considers to be extremists. It said Sweden should first take a clear stance against Kurdish militants in particular and these groups responsible for the 2016 coup attempt.

Erdogan said on Monday that the two countries must deport or hand over 130 “terrorists” to Turkey before parliament approves their requests to join NATO.

On Tuesday, Finland said it hoped the Turkish foreign minister’s visit to the United States this week would pave the way for it and Sweden to join the bloc.

End of the street?

Last week, the US State Department informally notified the committees overseeing arms sales in the US Senate and House of Representatives of its intention to proceed with the $20 billion sale of F-16s to Turkey.

The move prompted several statements from members of Congress opposing the deal, the most prominent coming from Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, whose leaders review major foreign military sales.

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At a press conference on Saturday, Erdogan’s chief foreign policy adviser, Ibrahim Kalin, said Washington’s demands for the supply of fighter jets were endless.

He added that he hoped the F-16 deal would not become “hostile” to Sweden and Finland’s NATO memberships.

Although Congress can block foreign arms sales, it has not previously mustered the two-thirds majority in both chambers needed to override a presidential veto.

However, a senior administration official said the Biden administration is unlikely to pursue the sale unless Menendez reverses his opposition.

“If the US is telling us that you have to approve Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession to get F-16 jets from the US, this will lead us to a dead end,” Berat Kanker, deputy head of the Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee and a member of the ruling AK Party, told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Huseyn Hayatsaver in Ankara, Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Dan Durfee and Chris Reese)

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