President Biden sent a letter to four senior members of Congress on Wednesday urging them to quickly approve a $20 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, following the vote one day earlier by Turkey’s Parliament to allow Sweden to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, according to three U.S. officials.
The White House sent the letter to the top Democratic and Republican lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which have oversight of arms transfers by the State Department to other nations. As of Wednesday night, the four senior lawmakers had not given their approval, and one or more of them might ask the Biden administration to give assurances about Turkey’s actions on some foreign policy issues before agreeing to the transfer, a congressional official said.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, a member of NATO, has linked his country’s approval of Sweden’s accession to the security organization to the F-16 sales, which had been pending. Both Sweden and Finland had asked to join NATO after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and the vast majority of the alliance’s members soon agreed. Turkey approved Finland’s bid but, along with Hungary, has withheld approval for Sweden.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with Mr. Erdogan in Istanbul this month and pushed him to have Turkey approve Sweden’s accession. Mr. Blinken tried to assure him that the F-16 sale would happen, U.S. officials said.
The State Department gave the two congressional committees informal notification of the sale more than one year ago, starting the review process by lawmakers. However, congressional officials have gone back to the department repeatedly with questions about how Turkey might use the jets, as well as some of Turkey’s foreign policy moves that seem to run counter to U.S. interests.
One issue is the fact that the Turkish military has carried out a growing number of airstrikes on Kurdish militias in northeast Syria who have worked with the U.S. military to fight the Islamic State. Turkish leaders consider the Kurdish fighters to be members of a terrorist group. Members of Congress and aides remain concerned about Turkey’s aggression, one official said.
The congressional officials also want to see assurances by Turkey of when the formal ratification of Sweden’s accession will move onward from Mr. Erdogan’s office. And they are asking the State Department to provide them with a document that Turkey has supposedly sent the department saying that the Turkish military intends to de-escalate any tensions with the Greek military in the Aegean Sea, the official said.
All that means Mr. Biden might not get approval from all four lawmakers as quickly as he would like, despite the letter he sent on Wednesday, which was reported earlier by Reuters.
Congressional officials expect that once those lawmakers give their consent, the State Department will move quickly to formally notify Congress of the sale, which means the arms transfer would go through.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary promised on Wednesday to get his Legislature to approve Sweden’s accession, but gave no timeline for when a vote might happen.
Katie Rogers and Catie Edmondson contributed reporting.