Senator Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been a vocal critic of the proposed sale, stating that he strongly opposes the Biden administration’s proposed sale of new F-16 aircraft to Turkey.
In a statement released by Senator Menendez, he cited Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's disregard for human rights and democratic norms as well as his “alarming and destabilizing behavior in Turkey and against neighboring NATO allies” as reasons for his opposition to the sale.
He also expressed his concerns that Erdogan's actions were not that of a trusted ally and therefore, he would not approve the sale.
The State Department sent the informal notice to Congress on Thursday, informing committees overseeing arms sales in the Senate and House of Representatives of its intention to proceed with the proposed deal.
NATO member 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 recently 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.
Menendez’s opposition to the sale is not the only hurdle the administration faces, as Congress is also unlikely to approve the sale as long as Turkey refuses to proceed with the ratification of Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership.
The two countries ended decades of neutrality last May and applied to join NATO in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but Turkey objected and accused the countries of harboring militants, including from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and demanded steps be taken.
In addition, Turkey’s 2019 acquisition of Russian air defense systems resulted in Ankara being removed from the next-generation F-35 program and antagonized the US Congress. Disagreements with Washington over Syria policy and Turkey’s record on human rights and freedom of expression also weigh on congressional sentiment.
Following the informal review, during which committee leaders can ask questions or raise concerns about the sale, the administration can technically go ahead with a formal notification. However, a senior US official said he was “doubtful” the administration would be in a position to proceed unless Menendez drops his objection.
The news of the sale comes as Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu prepares to visit Washington on Wednesday for talks as the two NATO allies struggle with a host of disagreements including over Syria and weapons purchases.
Under US law, Congress can block a sale by passing a resolution of disapproval after a formal notification of a sale, but it is unlikely to do so if President Joe Biden decides to go ahead despite lawmakers’ objections.
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