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Turkey may hold out for military equipment concessions from NATO in exchange for its vote to support Finland and Sweden’s ascension to the alliance, according to experts.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spoken over the past week of his country’s concerns regarding a “terrorist” Kurdish presence in the two applicant nations.
Applicants to NATO require all 30 native members to support their bid, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu signaled that Turkey’s “security concerns should also be met.”
But former head of NATO Jaap de Hoop Scheffer believes Turkey is after far more in exchange for its vote.
“The price is unknown at the moment, but that there will be a price is clear,” Scheffer told Politico. “That price might well be that the Americans lift their block on F-16s.”
Turkey had for years reliably purchased F-16s and their successor F-35s from the U.S., but the U.S. cut Ankara off for buying Russian S-400 missile systems in 2019. The Trump administration also slapped a number of sanctions on Turkey for its purchase.
Erdogan submitted a request for new F-16 planes with the Biden administration in October 2021, but that request has remained pending. A State Department letter on the matter from March 2022 indicated that the sale of F-16s would potentially fall in-line with U.S. national security interests, according to Reuters.
“The Administration believes that there are nonetheless compelling long-term NATO alliance unity and capability interests, as well as U.S. national security, economic and commercial interests that are supported by appropriate U.S. defense trade ties with Turkey,” the letter said.
“The proposed sale will require a Congressional notification if the Department of State were to approve it,” it added.
Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute, told The New York Times that Erdogan would likely try to obtain promises for F-16s at the NATO summit in June.
Turkey frequently uses military contracts to help build political ties: In addition to the Russian S-400 purchase in 2019, which created stronger ties with Russia, Turkey recently announced the launch of a Turkish-built corvette for the Pakistan Navy.
Erdogan said that the ship represented Turkey’s commitment to support and strengthen Pakistan’s military infrastructure, the Daily Sabah reported. Turkey and Pakistan signed a deal in 2018 to deliver four Ada class ships from Turkish state-owned defense firm ASFAT.