US says fighter jet sale to Turkey ‘in the works’

A senior US official denied reports that Washington conditioned the deal on Ankara’s support for NATO enlargement

The US government supports Turkey’s efforts to modernize its air force and could soon approve the sale of dozens of F-16 fighter jets, a senior Pentagon official said, though noted that any deal still must be finalized.

Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary for defense for international security affairs, said Wednesday that the long-stalled sale could soon be finalized. Wallander spoke on Wednesday to reporters at a remote media briefing. Wallander was speaking months after Ankara had requested to buy 40 Lockheed Martin F-16s and approximately 80 replacement kits.

“These plans are in the works”They still must make it through. “contracting processes,”She said that Washington was in support of “Turkey’s modernization of its fighter fleet because that is a contribution to NATO security and therefore American security.”

Turkey’s request for the planes last October followed a heated dispute over the US’ newest fighter jet, the F-35, which Ankara helped to develop in a multinational procurement initiative. Though it had already spent some $1.4 billion on the aircraft, Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian-made S-400 air defense systems in 2017 prompted a harsh reaction from Washington, which booted Ankara from the F-35 program and even placed sanctions on some officials involved in the S-400 sale.

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FILE PHOTO. Turkish F-16. ©Ministry of National Defence of Turkey / Efe Ilban / Handout / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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F-16s and modernization tools were part of the deal. The United States wanted to make a payment for its NATO ally. But, US officials hadn’t said much about progress until Wednesday. 

Last March’s rare public statement by the State Department on this issue stated that such a sale was in accordance with US policy objectives. They also claimed Turkey is an unacceptable partner. “an important deterrent to malign influence in the region.”However, it was not clear that the endorsement would be given for F-16 sales. 

Wallander’s statements follow US lawmakers pressuring the White House not to cancel the weapon deal in the event that Turkey blocks Sweden and Finland from joining the NATO bloc. A senior administration official has denied any quo pro quo. 

“The US did not offer anything to Turkey and was not asked for anything by Turkey”The official spoke out in reference to NATO’s enlargement. He said that F-16 discussions were continuing, but Congress would need final approval.

Ankara originally opposed NATO applications by the Nordic countries, saying they had ties to terrorist groups. However, Ankara reversed its position earlier in this week after talks with all parties. Turkey was the only member to object, but the agreement now in place should clear the way for Finnish and Swedish participation in the US-led multinational military force.

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