Ankara insists on separation between F16 sales, NATO enlargement

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Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Wednesday that Ankara dropping its objections to the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO should not be a precondition for the US sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.

“The two issues are separate and are running their own course,” Cavusoglu told Turkish journalists after meeting with his US counterpart Anthony Blinken in Washington Wednesday.

Cavusoglu said that Turkey’s swift ratification of NATO’s Nordic accession has never been “officially presented” as a precondition for the sale, though “many” on the American side had told Ankara that speeding up the accession process would have “a positive effect” on Congress.

Ankara made a request to Washington for 40 F-16 jets and modernization kits, and last week the State Department informally notified Congress of the potential sale.

“The administration should take a strong stance on the deal,” said Cavusoglu, noting it was up to the US administration to find a way to persuade Congress on the sale of 40 new F-16s and 79 upgrade kits for Turkey’s existing fleet of the Lockheed Martin-made jets. “But we cannot get anywhere by thinking that you can put conditions or preconditions on Turkey for the F-16s,” he told Turkish journalists. “I think everybody understands that.”

Cavusoglu’s two-day visit is a rare one to Washington by a top Turkish official as President Joe Biden’s administration has kept its relationship with Turkey to a bare minimum. The meeting between Blinken and Cavusoglu dovetails a day of senior diplomat talks, chaired by Turkish Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sedat Onal and US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, within the framework of the new US-Turkey strategic mechanism. Launched last April, this new channel in the frayed ties aims to forge cooperation where possible, fix what is fixable and manage differences before they blow up into crises. It has already led to a ministerial meeting last May in New York.

This week’s agenda included the war in Ukraine, Syria, the South Caucasus and the East Mediterranean, according to a joint statement at the end of the talks. It also read that Cavusoglu and Blinken discussed ways to “bolster NATO coordination and solidarity” and reaffirmed their longstanding commitment to NATO’s open door policy. “They discussed the implementation of the trilateral memorandum signed by Finland, Sweden, and Turkey to advance Finland and Sweden’s application to join the NATO Alliance,” the statement read.

Cavusoglu said that Turkey would not object to the accession of the two Nordic countries provided they fulfilled the conditions of the trilateral memorandum, such as tightening their leash on anti-Turkish militant groups, extraditing dozens of people over their ties to groups that Ankara considers terrorist organizations and lifting all bans on arms sales to Turkey.

“But particularly Sweden is only at the beginning of the road,” Cavusoglu said.

Ankara has no major objection to Finland’s accession, acknowledged Finnish Prime Minister Senna Marin in Davos earlier this week.

However, tensions between Ankara and Stockholm flared again last week after a small group of activists performed a mock execution with a life-size dummy of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan outside the Swedish capital’s city hall. The demonstration and a social media post by the Kurdish Rojava Committee of Sweden comparing Erdogan to Italy’s late dictator Benito Mussolini lead Turkey’s parliament speaker Mustafa Sentop to “disinvite” his Swedish counterpart Andreas Norlen from a joint visit of Finnish and Swedish parliament speakers this month. In solidarity with Sweden, Finland’s Matti Vanhanne also canceled the visit.

The mock execution was condemned by Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom. Both said it was an attempt to “sabotage” Sweden’s NATO membership bid. But a ruling by Swedish prosecutors earlier this week that hanging an effigy of Erdogan does not warrant a criminal investigation angered Ankara further.

Cavusoglu said earlier this week that although Sweden had approved a constitutional amendment that will make it possible to pass tougher anti-terror laws, the situation on the ground had not changed. On Saturday, Erdogan’s foreign policy adviser Ibrahim Kalin told reporters that the country was “not in a position” to ratify Sweden’s NATO membership.

Erdogan also upped the ante by saying that Turkey was now expecting 130 extraditions from Sweden — about four times the demand made in June.

The next step in the volatile Ankara-Stockholm ties will be the visit of Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson to Ankara at the invitation of his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar next week. “We support the open door policy of NATO and have nothing against the accession of Sweden and Finland,” Akar told journalists Thursday before he headed for Germany for a special NATO meeting on Ukraine. “We are just waiting for them to fulfill their commitments as foreseen in the trilateral memorandum.”

By: Nazlan Ertan


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