US senators issue NATO ultimatum to Türkiye

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu accused US ambassador Jeffry Flake of trying to “confuse” people in the host nation and told him to get his “filthy hands” off of it. He has previously claimed that Western nations were waging “psychological warfare” to undermine tourism in Türkiye.

“I’m telling you very clearly, get your filthy hands off Türkiye. I know clearly what you have done, what steps you have taken, and how you want to confuse Türkiye,” the minister said in a speech on Friday.

A group of 25 US senators from the two main parties has informed President Joe Biden that Congress will not approve the sale of F-16 fighters to Türkiye unless Ankara approves Sweden and Finland’s applications for NATO membership.

The US previously kicked Türkiye out of a program to buy F-35 fighter jets over Ankara’s purchase of Russian-made S-400 air defense systems. The two NATO members later negotiated a deal for 40 new F-16 jets and 79 modernization kits, which must be approved by the US Congress. The Senate NATO Observer Group on Thursday let Biden know that it will require a quid pro quo to allow the deal go through.

“Congress cannot consider future support for Türkiye, including the sale of F-16 fighter jets, until Türkiye completes ratification of the accession protocols,” says the letter, signed by Democrats and Republicans alike and made public by Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.

Ankara is holding up the applications by Stockholm and Helsinki “at a key moment in history,” namely the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the senators noted.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, has already voiced his opposition to F-16 sales to Türkiye. He did not sign the letter. In last week’s hearing before the committee, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland said the State Department had made it clear to Türkiye that “Congress is likely to look far more favorably on that after ratification,” referring to the F-16s.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told parliament in Ankara on Wednesday that “there would be a price” to pay if the US reneges on the F-16 deal. Asked to clarify the remarks on Thursday, his spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told CNN International that it was referring to the US military industry.

“We have been developing our own national capabilities,” Kalin said. “Our drones have really shown to the world how capable they are in [the] worst moments, in our defense. So we will simply develop our own national capabilities and the US defense companies will be on the losing end in all of this.”

“If the American Congress makes NATO accession process a precondition for the F-16 program, they can wait for a long time, we are not tying the two together,” he added.

Sweden and Finland announced they would end their historic neutrality and apply to the US-led military bloc last year, citing the events in Ukraine. All NATO members have ratified their admission, save for Hungary and Türkiye. While Budapest is scheduled to vote next month, Ankara said it would only back Helsinki and not Stockholm.

Kalin said that Ankara had no problems with Finland, but that Sweden has failed to live up to the deal struck last summer concerning the Kurdish activists Türkiye has labeled as terrorists. He also pointed to the recent incident involving the burning of the Koran outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm, calling it “completely unacceptable.”

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