Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has emphasized that Ankara’s approval of Sweden’s bid to join NATO hinges on whether the Biden administration follows through on its commitment to authorize the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. Speaking to journalists during a flight from Azerbaijan on Monday, Erdogan stated that the Turkish parliament would ultimately decide on Sweden’s NATO membership and that it would honor its promise if the US keeps its own promises.
In 2019, Washington removed Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program due to its purchase of Russian-made S-400 air defense systems. Instead, Turkey requested a $20 billion purchase that included new F-16 fighters from Lockheed Martin and approximately 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes.
In July, the Biden administration pledged to proceed with the sale of F-16s after Ankara agreed to stop obstructing Sweden’s accession to NATO. However, a group of US lawmakers, including former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez, who is embroiled in a corruption scandal, threatened to block the aircraft deal.
Erdogan highlighted the significance of Menendez’s activities in obstructing the F-16 deal, stating that his departure provided an advantage but acknowledging that the F-16 issue extended beyond Menendez alone. Menendez was recently charged in a federal case for allegedly engaging in corrupt practices and receiving bribes to benefit a foreign country. Despite being forced to resign from his committee position, Menendez maintains his innocence and has refused to quit the US Congress.
Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO in May 2022 amid the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. While Finland became a member of the US-led military alliance in April, Sweden’s bid has remained in limbo due to the reluctance of Hungary and Turkey.
Erdogan had exercised his veto power for several months, citing Sweden’s inadequate efforts to extradite individuals associated with Kurdish groups that Ankara considers terrorist organizations. In response, some US senators have threatened to block the F-16 deal unless Turkey approves Sweden’s NATO bid.
The decision regarding Sweden’s NATO membership ultimately rests with the Turkish parliament, which will weigh various factors, including the fulfillment of the Biden administration’s promises and the resolution of concerns related to Kurdish groups. The outcome of this decision will have significant implications for Turkey’s relations with the US and its stance within the NATO alliance.