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US approves F-16 fighter jet sale to Turkey

US approves F-16 fighter jet sale to Turkey

The Biden administration has approved the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey following the Turkish government’s ratification this week of Sweden’s membership in NATO. The move is a significant development in the expansion of the alliance, which has taken on additional importance since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The State Department notified Congress of its approval of the $23 billion (€21bn) F-16 sale to Turkey, along with a companion $8.6 billion (€7.9bn) sale of advanced F-35 fighter jets to Greece, late on Friday.

The move came just hours after Turkey deposited its “instrument of ratification” for Sweden’s accession to NATO with Washington, which is the repository for alliance documents and after several key members of Congress lifted their objections.

The sale to Turkey includes 40 new F-16s and equipment to modernise 79 of its existing F-16 fleet. The sale to Greece includes 40 F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters and related equipment.

NATO ally Turkey has long sought to upgrade its F-16 fleet and had made its ratification of Sweden’s membership contingent on the approval of the sale of the new planes.

The Biden administration had supported the sale, but several lawmakers had expressed objections due to human rights concerns. The US government says those objections from various senators have now been overcome.

President Joe Biden, right, meets with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, during the NATO summit in Madrid in 2022
President Joe Biden, right, meets with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, during the NATO summit in Madrid in 2022 - Susan Walsh/The AP/File

Turkey had delayed its approval of Sweden's NATO membership for more than a year, ostensibly because it believed Sweden did not take Turkey’s national security concerns seriously enough, including its fight against Kurdish militants and other groups that Ankara considers to be security threats.

The delays had frustrated the US and other NATO allies, almost all of whom had been swift to accept both Sweden and Finland into the alliance after the Nordic states dropped their longstanding military neutrality following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Sweden's formal accession to NATO now depends on Hungary, which is the last remaining NATO ally not to have approved its membership. US and NATO officials have said they expect Hungary to act quickly, especially after Turkey's decision.