Erdogan Says Menendez Resignation From Senate Committee Boosts Turkey’s Bid To Obtain F-16s

The Turkish president also openly linked Turkey’s F-16 bid to Sweden’s application for NATO membership.

AP/Ali Unal
President Erdogan during a speech at the presidential palace at Ankara, May 28, 2023. AP/Ali Unal

Turkey’s chances of acquiring F-16 fighter jets from Washington have been boosted by Senator Menendez stepping down as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, President Erdogan of Turkey said in remarks published Tuesday.

The senior Democratic senator for New Jersey, Mr. Menendez, has been a vocal opponent of Turkey receiving aircraft to update its fighter fleet. He stood down from the influential role last week following federal charges that he took cash and gold in illegal exchange for helping the Egyptian government and New Jersey business associates. Calls have grown for his resignation from the Senate altogether.

“One of our most important problems regarding the F-16s were the activities of US Senator Bob Menendez against our country,” Mr. Erdogan told journalists on a flight back from Azerbaijan on Monday. His comments were widely reported across Turkish as well as Greek media.

They followed a cryptic remark  made by Mr. Erdogan last week at New York. During  an interview with PBS ahead of his speech at the UN General Assembly, the Turkish president said, “Bob Menendez is not very familiar with Turkey. And Menendez doesn’t seem to be familiar with Tayyip Erdogan either.”

No doubt the senator is well acquainted with the vagaries of Turkish politics, but Mr. Erdogan left little room for ambiguity about his satisfaction with Mr. Menendez’s ongoing political troubles.

“Menendez’s exit gives us an advantage but the F-16 issue is not an issue that depends only on Menendez,” Mr. Erdogan added.

Ankara has been seeking to buy 40 new F-16s, as well as kits to upgrade its existing fleet. The request was backed by the White House but ran into opposition in Congress, where Mr. Menendez raised concerns about Turkey’s human rights records as well as blaming Ankara for fractious relations with neighboring Greece.

Referring to talks between Secretary Blinken and the Turkish foreign minister, Hakan Fidan, in recent days, Mr. Erdogan said: “It would be beneficial to turn this situation into an opportunity and meet with [Blinken] again.

“In this way, we may have the opportunity to accelerate the process regarding the F-16s. Not only on the F-16s, but on all other issues, Mr. Menendez and those with his mindset are carrying out obstructive activities against us.”

Mr. Erdogan also openly linked Turkey’s F-16 bid to Sweden’s application for NATO membership, which is expected to be debated by the Turkish parliament after it returns from summer recess on October 1.

He said Messrs Blinken and Fidan had discussed Sweden’s NATO bid, adding: “I hope that if they stay true to their promise, our parliament will also stay true to its promise.”

Questioned on whether the bid was tied to Turkey receiving the F-16s, Mr. Erdogan said: “They are already making Sweden dependent on the F-16 … Our parliament follows every development regarding this issue in minute detail.” 

Stockholm applied for NATO membership alongside Finland following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. Only Turkey and Hungary are yet to ratify its application. Neither Washington nor Ankara have openly admitted a link between Sweden’s bid to the F-16 deal, but it is widely acknowledged unofficially.

Mr. Erdogan was returning from a one-day trip to Nakhchivan, an Azerbaijani enclave separated from the rest of the country by a 21-mile stretch of Armenian territory.

Following Azerbaijan’s rout of Armenian forces in a 24-hour blitz at Nagorno-Karabakh last week, Baku has raised hopes of opening a land bridge between Nakhchivan and the rest of Azerbaijan, known as the Zangezur Corridor.

Mr. Erdogan said Turkey and Azerbaijan would “do our best to open this corridor as soon as possible.” He added that if Armenia would not agree, an alternative route could go through Iran, a move that Mr. Erdogan said Tehran regards “positively.”

In a wide-ranging briefing, Mr. Erdogan also raised the prospect of a visit to Turkey by Prime Minister Netanyahu in October or November.

The two leaders met for the first time at New York last week while attending the UN General Assembly. Israel is one of a number of regional powers that Ankara has been patching up relations with in recent years following more than a decade of hostility.

The Turkish president also addressed the issue of Cyprus, divided between ethnic Turkish and Greek communities for 49 years.

He reiterated his support for a two-state solution, with international recognition for the Turkish administration in the island’s occupied north. Turkey is the only country to recognize the entity. The international community broadly supports the unification of the island under a federal system.

The New York Sun

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