US Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has said he is against the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey unless the country ends its blockade of Sweden’s NATO accession, Punchbowl News, an online political news daily in Washington, D.C., reported.
In an interview ahead of next week’s NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, McConnell backed Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez’s hold on the proposed sale of F-16s to Turkey.
“I’m one of those who are not in favor of the F-16 sale to Turkey until the admission of Sweden gets behind us,” McConnell said in an interview Wednesday. “We had anticipated that would happen in Vilnius.”
Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been a vocal critic of the sale, stating that he strongly opposes the Biden administration’s proposed sale of new F-16 aircraft to Turkey.
Turkey requested in October 2021 to buy 40 Lockheed Martin Corp. F-16 fighters and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes. Technical talks between the two sides have been concluded.
The Biden administration has said it supports the sale and has been in touch for months with Congress on an informal basis to win its approval. However, it has yet to secure a green light.
NATO allies have been pressuring Ankara for months to give way and let the Scandinavian nation in by the time of the two-day summit starting Tuesday in Vilnius.
Turkey and Sweden inked a deal aimed at clearing the path to accession at a NATO summit over a year ago.
Ankara demanded a Swedish crackdown on Kurdish movements, such as the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it says is a terrorist group, and some political dissidents regarded as “terrorists” by Ankara.
Sweden says it has made good on the deal.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday after hosting senior Turkish and Swedish leaders in Brussels in an attempt to unblock Turkey’s objections to the entry of Sweden to NATO, that leaders of Turkey and Sweden will meet on Monday on the eve of the NATO summit.
“It is absolutely possible to have a positive decision at the summit next week,” Stoltenberg said after talks with Sweden and Turkey’s foreign ministers at NATO’s Brussels headquarters.
US President Joe Biden, who has also been calling on Turkey to approve Sweden’s NATO membership, said following a meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson at the White House, “I want to reiterate the United States fully, fully, fully supports Sweden’s membership in NATO. The bottom line is simple. Sweden is going to make our alliance stronger.”
Sweden and Finland ended decades of neutrality and applied to join NATO in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but Turkey objected and accused the countries of harboring “terrorists” and demanded steps be taken. Finland joined NATO in April.