Rivals Turkey and Greece duel over stalled U.S. fighter jet deals

Rivals Turkey and Greece duel over stalled U.S. fighter jet deals
Rivals Turkey and Greece duel over stalled U.S. fighter jet deals

Turkey’s settlement this week to permit Sweden to grow to be a NATO member, in obvious trade for President Biden’s willingness to push ahead Ankara’s long-stalled buy of U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets, is probably not the top of the difficulty.

There’s one other NATO member within the japanese Mediterranean that additionally desires to purchase sopisticated American plane, and U.S. lawmakers from each events say that one deal mustn’t go ahead with out the opposite.

Greece — Turkey’s longtime regional rival — desires F-35s, essentially the most superior U.S. fighter jets, a pending buy that has been in limbo. And although senior members of Congress seem to have softened their opposition to Turkey’s F-16 request following Ankara’s agreement to drop its objections to Sweden’s NATO accession, they’ve linked the 2 offers.

“I’m persevering with to have my reservations on the F-16,” Senate Overseas Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) informed The Washington Submit this week after the Sweden announcement at NATO’s summit in Vilnius, Latvia.

“However I’ve mentioned to the administration, if they will present me … there was a lull in [Turkey’s] belligerence towards [Greece], if they will present me the pathway the place Greece has a qualitative army edge,” he mentioned, “then there could also be a path ahead.”

Home Overseas Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) agreed, as did the rating Democratic members on each committees. “Chairman McCaul has mentioned he could possibly be in favor of upgrades for Turkey’s present F-16s if Greece receives the F-35 and that Washington first has to make sure Greece has a army benefit over Turkey,” mentioned McLaurine Pinover, a spokesperson for the committee majority.

President Biden related the 2 gross sales in a pre-summit interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria aired Sunday. “Turkey is in search of modernization of F-16 plane. And [Prime Minister Kyriakos] Mitsotakis in Greece can be in search of some assist,” Biden mentioned. “And so what I’m making an attempt to fairly frankly put collectively is slightly little bit of a consortium right here the place we’re strengthening NATO by way of the army capability of each Greece in addition to Turkey, and permit Sweden to come back in. However it’s … in play. It’s not carried out.”

The administration has mentioned it helps each the F-16 and F-35 offers and despatched them to Congress months in the past for casual dialogue upfront of submitting them for formal approval by lawmakers. However as each have taken on further political and overseas coverage leverage, that official submission has by no means come.

Requested about when both or each can be formally submitted — triggering a 15-day interval throughout which Congress can object — the White Home declined to broaden on Biden’s remarks. The Pentagon referred inquiries to the State Division, which is formally in control of dealing with overseas army gross sales. State Division spokesperson Matthew Miller mentioned solely that “it’s in course of.”

Greek-Turkish feuds — stretching again to Greece’s independence from the Ottoman Empire within the nineteenth century, earlier than the formation of recent Turkey — have been the stuff of legend in additional trendy instances at NATO. Most disputes have revolved round air, sea and land management of the japanese Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea, focusing in recent times over vitality fields and pipelines, occupation of Aegean islands and duty for migrants coming by sea from Africa and the Center East.

Lower than a yr in the past, tensions between Athens and Ankara soared so excessive that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to threaten an armed response to what he mentioned was Greek occupation of islands which can be presupposed to be demilitarized. Mitsotakis mentioned Turkey’s questioning of Greek sovereignty was “absurd.”

The uproar triggered the cancellation of a scheduled assembly between the 2 leaders, who had prevented one another till they lastly sat down collectively Wednesday in Vilnius. There, Erdogan later informed reporters in a tone far completely different than his feedback about Athens final yr, they spoke about find out how to “improve their friendship.”

Erdogan mentioned he was “hopeful” that the US would supply F-16s to Turkey and added that their supply posed no menace to Greece.

The assembly capped a gradual strategy of normalization of relations that has been underway within the final a number of months, starting with Greece’s public sympathy and humanitarian outreach following February’s devastating earthquake in southern Turkey.

The normalization course of “was very a lot seen as a think about Turkey’s broader effort to enhance ties with the West,” mentioned Berkay Mandiraci, a senior analyst with the Worldwide Disaster Group.

Mitsotakis, who was reelected final month, mentioned that he and Erdogan had “confirmed our joint will for a brand new restart of our bilateral relations, for a cautious new starting,” and that they’d meet once more within the fall.

“All standing points haven’t been resolved, clearly,” he mentioned, “however there’s an intention for revisiting the framework of our relationships from a optimistic angle.”

As a part of an general protection modernization, Greece has bought 24 Rafale fighter jets and upgrades to its present F-16 fleet. It additionally desires to purchase 20 F-35s, with an choice to buy as many as 28 extra.

For Turkey, enhancing relations with Greece is seen as fascinating, not simply to lure Western traders at a time when its financial system is struggling, but in addition to sign to the “political elite in Europe that it is a completely different period — a shift away from what they perceived as escalatory rhetoric and motion,” outlined by Erdogan’s caustic nationalism within the interval earlier than elections in Might received him one other 5 years in workplace, Mandiraci mentioned.

A small however energetic Greek American presence in Congress, together with Erdogan’s crackdowns on political opposition, dissent and the media, have exacerbated the disdain wherein many lawmakers maintain him. It has grown since Turkey, in 2017, signed a $2.5 billion settlement for the acquisition of Russia’s S-400 air protection system.

That deal led to harsh criticism from NATO and Washington’s suspension of Turkey’s participation within the F-35 manufacturing and buy program together with different protection contracts. These sanctions nonetheless exist.

The supply of U.S. fighter jets to each nations wouldn’t essentially derail the present ambiance of normalization between them. However Greece’s possession of America’s most subtle plane, if it stays denied to Turkey, could possibly be worrying for Ankara “not now, however in 10 to fifteen years,” in keeping with some protection analysts, Mandiraci mentioned.

It’s not possible to foretell whether or not Turkey, by then, can have resolved its variations with the US over the acquisition of Russian air protection programs or if there’s a path to reenter the F-35 program. For the second, within the wake of reelection, Erdogan seems to have concluded that he has little to achieve by persevering with the feud with both Washington or Athens.

Though each Turkey and Greece are properly conscious of the “price of significant escalation,” Mandiraci mentioned, their present rapprochement, equivalent to it’s, won’t essentially extra ahead shortly, given strain Erdogan faces from nationalist companions in his ruling coalition.

“The wiggle room he has in making substantial concessions is comparatively slender,” he mentioned.

Fahim reported from Istanbul. Emily Rauhala and Michael Birnbaum in Vilnius and Leigh Ann Caldwell in Washington contributed to this report.

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