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ANKARA: US President Joe Biden’s administration has asked Congress to “give the green light” to a plan to sell missiles and equipment upgrades to Turkey, The Wall Street Journal reported this week.

The deal, worth around $300 million, is expected to further deepen defense ties between NATO allies.

However, the proposed deal is not part of a $6 billion deal that Turkey has been seeking since last year to buy 40 Lockheed Martin F-16 jets and 80 kits to upgrade its existing fleet.

The US administration’s informal notification process allows members of Congress to review the transaction and provide feedback before the deal is finalized.

Turkey’s purchase and deployment of Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems in 2017 led to the country’s withdrawal from the US F-35 fighter jet program in 2019 over fears that the Russian radar system could not spy the plane.

The move has prompted some US lawmakers to push against an arms sale and equipment upgrade to Turkey. On Friday, seven advocacy groups focused on US interests in the Caucasus, Mediterranean and Middle East also urged Congress to “apply the strictest scrutiny to any potential sale” to Turkey.

However, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine upsetting regional balances, NATO solidarity and the consolidation of defense capabilities have become priorities.

Turkey’s support for Ukraine through exports of Bayraktar TB2 drones and its role as a facilitator of peace talks between the two sides have helped Ankara improve its frayed image on Capitol Hill.

“Turkey is proving to be a key, useful, and strategic ally of the United States,” Karen Donfried, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing Thursday.

Similarly, Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the Ankara office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, described Turkey as a key NATO ally and said that the United States had a direct interest in the maintenance and modernization of their existing F-16 fleet.

“It would be a confidence-building measure that could lead to new (acquired) F-16 fighters by Turkey and possibly the resolution of the S-400 crisis through a mutually acceptable model,” he told AFP. Arab News.

“It should not be forgotten that the Turkish air force is part of the NATO deterrent on its southern flank, which has become very important in light of the geopolitical risks caused by Russian expansionism,” said Unluhisarcikli.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also raised the issue of the sale of the F-16 with his American counterpart during a phone call in March.

Senior officials in Ankara have confirmed that the talks on the F-16s and modernization kits are progressing positively.

The new US ambassador to Turkey, former US senator Jeff Flake, is also known for his favorable stance on the sale.

Last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested that foreign military sales to key US partners, such as Turkey, be expedited by removing bureaucratic barriers.

Additionally, a March 17 letter from the State Department to Congressman Frank Pallone and more than 50 lawmakers who opposed Ankara’s purchase of F-16s also argued that “there are vested interests long-term implications for the unity and capabilities of the NATO alliance, as well as US national interests. security, economic, and commercial interests, which are supported by appropriate defense commercial ties between the United States and Turkey.”

The letter highlighted Turkey’s contributions to NATO and its support for “Ukraine’s territorial integrity and cooperative defense relations”, described as “an important deterrent against harmful influence in the region”.

Sinan Ulgen, director of Turkish think tank EDAM, said the U.S.-Turkey agreement in principle on the arms deal signals an improvement in bilateral relations, particularly in the areas of industry. of the defense.

“If this package is adopted, it will create positive momentum and will be seen as a strong signal that there is now a will to improve the relationship. This environment will be shaped by the Ukrainian war and the role Turkey has played in it. he told Arab News.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish research program at the Washington Institute, described the proposed deal as a positive step because Turkey’s relationship with the United States is primarily defense-oriented, but added that ” it is necessary to build other bridges to link the two countries”. whole.”

“It seems most members of Congress are agnostic about the sale. The gradual change in Congress can be linked to the war in Ukraine as there is a growing sense of realism against Russia. Until the war in Ukraine, Turkey was not considered a good ally. Turkey’s full military alignment with NATO in this war, albeit indirectly, has helped eliminate some of these perceptions,” he said.

But a development on Friday could yield unexpected results, with Erdogan saying Turkey does not support Sweden and Finland joining NATO.

The Turkish leader argued that the two Scandinavian countries are home to “many terrorist organizations”.

According to Ulgen, Turkey has legitimate concerns about the two countries, particularly Sweden’s reluctance to address grievances over fundraising by the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

“But Erdogan’s declaration to threaten a veto on this membership will be viewed negatively in the United States where there is a political opportunity to strengthen NATO and support the enlargement of the alliance. This unexpected veto could potentially pose challenges for US Congressional approval,” he said.

Cagaptay agrees: “Objections to these countries joining NATO can bring us back to the drawing board because whatever positive momentum has been built around Turkey in Washington will quickly be consumed. by the perception that Turkey is pro-Russian. This move therefore risks making Turkey look like ‘Hungary inside the EU’ in terms of NATO membership,” he said.

Turkey’s position on Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO membership is also under discussion in Washington. Donfried issued a statement to the press on Friday, saying the United States was working to “clarify” Turkey’s position and adding that it would be discussed at the NATO meeting in Berlin on Sunday.

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