Members of Congress from both the Republican and Democratic parties sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to oppose the sale of F-16 jets to Turkey on Thursday.
The letter, signed by representatives Chris Pappas, Gus M. Bilirakis and Carolyn B. Maloney, mentioned reports indicating the Turkish government’s intention to purchase “40 Lockheed Martin-made F-16 fighter jets and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes.”
On October 17, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters that the United States had “proposed the sale of a batch of F-16 fighter jets” to the country, but the reported sale had not been confirmed.
The State Department has not confirmed a sale, but there have been widespread reports on Turkey’s request for the F16s, the members of Congress said.
Erdoğan’s statements “provide us sufficient basis to declare our opposition to this potential sale”, they added.
In an interview earlier in the week, Turkish Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın said that Turkey was considering purchasing F-16 fighter jets from the United States, confirming previous reports.
Kalın told Milliyet newspaper that Turkey was looking to expand its current F-16 fleet while “modernising” its current inventory, noting that the matter was in a formative stage.
The full letter is as follows:
Dear Secretary Blinken:
We are writing with regards to the reported Letter of Request (LOR) to the United States by the Republic of Turkey in association with its attempt to buy 40 F-16 fighter jets and dozens of modernization kits for its existing warplanes.
As you know, in 2017 Congress adopted and the President signed into law the Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). While CAATSA was progressing, and despite the intent of Congress abundantly clear, Turkey announced that it would purchase the S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system from Russia. Despite nearly three years of attempts to find a solution that would prevent Turkey from being in violation of CAATSA, Ankara persisted with its acquisition and activation of the Russian S-400s and CAATSA sanctions were imposed on Turkey.
Earlier this month it was reported that Turkey requested to purchase “40 Lockheed Martin-made F-16 fighter jets and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes.” On October 17, Turkish President Erdogan told reporters that the United States “has proposed the sale of a batch of F-16 fighter jets” but the reported sale has yet to be confirmed.
We have noted that your Department has declined to answer questions about the LOR, citing policy of not commenting before Congress has been notified of the LOR. We believe that the widespread reporting on Turkey’s request, as well as President Erdogan’s own statements, provide us sufficient basis to declare our opposition to this potential sale.
There are many reasons for our opposition:
Less than one year since the imposition of these CAATSA sanctions, the Erdogan government has made it clear that it has no intention of coming into compliance with U.S. law or dealing with the underlying conditions that led to Turkey’s ejection from the F-35 program and Congressional holds on purchases of American weapons by Turkey. Indeed, just last month, President Erdogan declared his intention of purchasing additional S-400s.
During his confirmation hearing, President Biden’s nominee for Ambassador to Turkey, former Senator Jeff Flake, declared that Turkey should face additional CAATSA sanctions should it acquire additional Russian weapon systems and we agree. Since this appears to be the position of both the Administration and Congress, even considering Turkey’s LOR under the present circumstances sends the wrong signal to Turkey and gives them reason to doubt our resolve while continuing to develop its military relationship with Russia.
One of the reasons Congress insisted on Turkey’s ejection from the F-35 program was because of the significant risks associated with collocating S-400s and F-35s. Experts have noted that providing Turkey the Block 70 modernization kits poses similar collocation risks if Ankara continues to possess Russian S-400s. Since upgraded F-16s still play such a significant role for us and our reliable allies, that is a risk that we do not find acceptable.
Finally, given the CAATSA sanctions already imposed, we anticipate that such a sale could only be finalized via invoking technicalities – for example, by trying to sell the jets to an entity other than Turkey’s SSB, which has been sanctioned. We consider such attempts an inappropriate circumvention of the intent of Congress, and we will consider additional legislation to restrict this potential purchase if the Administration persists in ignoring Congressional intent.
We share your goal of a Turkey that is rooted to the West, but we will not achieve that goal if the Erdogan government escapes accountability for violating U.S. law and the standards of the NATO alliance.
We request a formal notification of any Turkish LOR, the specifics of such an LOR, the Administration’s position on such an LOR, and responses to our specific objections. Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter, and we look forward to your response.