The chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is vowing to continue blocking the transfer of warplanes to Turkey unless Ankara improves its human rights record and ceases threatening U.S. regional allies, POLITICO reports.
The Biden administration is considering a $20 billion transfer of 40 U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets to Turkey and, separately, F-35 fighter jets for Greece, a development first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Friday.
Such a deal would require congressional approval and for Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to end his longstanding opposition to sending fighter jets to Ankara.
But in a statement Menendez’s office drafted for the media and obtained ahead of time by POLITICO, the senator said he hasn’t changed his mind.
“I strongly oppose the Biden administration’s proposed sale of new F-16 aircraft to Turkey,” Menendez says, blasting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for continuing to “undermine international law, disregard human rights and democratic norms, and engage in alarming and destabilizing behavior in Turkey and against neighboring NATO allies.”
“Until Erdogan ceases his threats, improves his human rights record at home — including by releasing journalists and political opposition — and begins to act like a trusted ally should, I will not approve this sale,” the chair continued, noting he supports the F-35 sale to Greece.
A person familiar with the situation told POLITICO Menendez as recently as December told the White House he was not going to support the massive transfer.
The Wall Street Journal also reported that the deal to sell fighter planes would be contingent on Turkey allowing Sweden and Finland to join NATO, a move Ankara has opposed since the two countries applied for membership last year. It’s unclear if Turkey paving the way for their accession would lead Menendez to drop his opposition to the agreement.