U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez strongly opposes the sale of F-16 fighter jets and modernisation kits to Turkey, insisting human rights conditions in the NATO member state needed to be improved first.
“I personally am not supportive of giving them F-16s,” Menendez told Air Force Magazine on Wednesday.
“I just really have a problem,” Menendez said. “This is not the Turkey that we aspire for, is not the type of NATO ally that is behaving in a way in a way that we should be able to go ahead and give it some of the most sophisticated fighting equipment.”
Turkey has imprisoned more journalists and lawyers “than almost any place in the world”, he added.
Ankara is seeking to expand and modernise its fleet of F-16 fighter jets after being removed from the U.S.-led programme to develop next generation F-35 aircraft for purchasing the Russian-made S-400 missile system.
Menendez said Turkey had also taken positions counter to U.S. interests in the region, including Libya, where Ankara has violated an arms embargo on the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord. The NATO allies are similarly at odds over Syria, where Turkey has targeted U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters.
“It’s not Turkey, it’s (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan,” the U.S. senator said. “At the end of the day, he needs to change course.”
Any future sale of F-16s to Turkey is expected to require U.S. Congress approval, giving Menendez the power to stymie the deal in his role as committee chair.
Ankara has threatened to turn to Moscow for aircraft if it fails to secure F-16s. But the U.S. senator said he was unconcerned by the prospect.
“I am not deterred that (Turkey) may go somewhere else,” he said.
“If they do so, then, you know, the interoperability gets diminished dramatically at NATO, and they further erode their position.”