Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 fighter jets from the United States represents a chance to improve soured relations between the two countries, said Alper Coşkun, a former Turkish diplomat and a senior fellow within the Europe Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“The F-16 deal has become a litmus test for the future of the relationship,” Coşkun wrote for Carnegie last week.
The standing of the United States in Turkey can be expected to worsen further should Washington refuse Ankara’s request, Coşkun said.
“The Biden administration has a tough decision ahead,” he said.
Turkey’s purchase of a first batch of Russian S-400 missiles in 2019 prompted the Pentagon to suspend it from a programme to develop and purchase F-35 stealth fighter jets. The expulsion was finalised on Sept. 23. Biden faces stiff opposition from lawmakers in Congress to NATO member Turkey’s acquisition of weaponry.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has accused the United States of not being honest or fair with Ankara for removing it from the F-35 programme. Earlier this month, he said that Washington had proposed selling Turkey F-16s to offset its $1.4 billion investment in the F-35s. In response, the United States said that it did not make an offer to Ankara for financing the purchase of F-16 fighter jets.
“The prospect of reviving long-term defence industry cooperation with Turkey, combined with lucrative U.S. business interests, could well change the tide in favour of the F-16 deal going through,” Coşkun said.
By agreeing to Turkey’s request for buying F-16s, the Biden administration could tick multiple boxes, according to Coşkun.
“It could continue to deprive Turkey of F-35s as punishment for its S-400 acquisition, it could showcase this strict policy enforcement to Congress, it could use this exacting policy as a warning for other countries toying with the idea of buying Russian systems, concurrently advance the U.S. defence industry’s financial interests through an F-16 sale reportedly valued at around $6 billion, and utilise this sale as a basis to rekindle bilateral defence industry cooperation with Turkey,” he said.
The United States and Turkey have entered dispute resolution talks following Turkey’s expulsion from the F-35 programme. Senior defence officials met in Ankara last week for a first round of negotiations.
By fulfilling Turkey’s request for the F-16s, Washington could also disincentivise it from pursuing alternate paths, such as deeper defence industry cooperation with Russia, Coşkun said.