Turkish President and leader of the Justice and Development (AK) Party, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, addresses his party’s group meeting at the Turkish Grand National Assembly in Ankara on November 23, 2022. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday criticized the United States for “equipping Greek islands with weapons and aircraft” and not green-lighting the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
“We have not and will not tolerate those who recklessly support Greece in the Aegean and the Mediterranean and promote its aggressive and provocative actions,” Erdoğan was quoted by Anadolu as saying.
The two nations are bitter rivals involved in contentious geographic disputes, including over exploration for natural gas off the divided island of Cyprus and the Dodecanese — a group of islands off the Turkish coast that were ceded to Greece by Italy following World War II. They mobilized their navies and warplanes in opposition to one another in the Mediterranean in 2020.
“We are together in NATO, but you are equipping Greece’s islands with weapons and aircraft. We still have not settled the issue of F-16s with you, even though we paid for them,” Erdoğan said.
Erdoğan in May accused Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of mounting a lobbying effort against Turkey in the US Congress to block the sale of the F-16s.
The US House of Representatives in July proposed allowing President Joe Biden to sell Turkey upgraded F-16s on condition that Ankara won’t deploy them for unauthorized territorial overflights of Greece.
However, amendments introduced in the US House of Representatives making the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey contingent on a series of conditions were removed in the final defense spending bill, Anadolu reported earlier Wednesday, citing a draft text they obtained.
A conference committee made up of House and Senate members finalized the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) bill, which includes the 2023 defense budget, Anadolu said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu welcomed the development and said completion of the deal would be “in everyone’s interest,” adding that the process must be finalized “as soon as possible.”
Turkey turned its focus to buying F-16s to upgrade its aging fleet of American warplanes after it was removed from the program to help manufacture and buy the next-generation F-35 fighter jet. That move was made in response to Turkey’s purchase of a Russian S-400 missile-defense system, which Erdoğan said was urgently needed for the country’s defense.
Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian grip on power and eroding freedoms for journalists and rights defenders have also prompted many in Washington to argue against a weapons sale to Turkey.