Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told journalists on his return home from the G20 summit in Rome on Oct. 31 that President Joe Biden had told Erdogan that Biden would do “his best” to help usher through a $6 billion sale of F-16 fighters and modernization kits, according to reports.
A much-anticipated meeting between Biden and Erdogan comes after months of tension regarding Turkey’s possession and use of the Russian S-400 missile defense system. Speculation remains that Turkey will turn to further Russian military sales, to include fighter planes, after the NATO ally was officially kicked out of the F-35 program in September over concerns the S-400 would be used to study vulnerabilities in the fifth-generation fighter.
A State Department spokesperson declined to comment further Nov. 2, referring questions to the White House. The White House did not immediately respond to an inquiry.
The biggest variable in the F-16 acquisition, Erdogan reportedly indicated, is the U.S. Congress. He said Biden estimated only a “50-50” chance the military sale would be approved by lawmakers, who are still irked by the S-400 purchase as well as alleged human rights violations and democratic shortcomings. Reports said the Turkish president wants a credit of $1.4 billion from the canceled purchase of six F-35s, but the State Department says the DOD removal and State Department sale are separate processes.
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said Nov. 1 that the Defense Department remains in contact with its Turkish counterparts about the F-35 program removal and that the officials held a joint meeting in Ankara on Oct. 27.
“Turkey was removed from the F-35 program back in July of 2019, following their acceptance of the S-400 air and missile defense system,” Kirby said. “The Department of Defense remains in consultation with Turkey to address remaining issues resulting from their removal from the program.”
Kirby declined to speculate on the potential military sale. A follow-up meeting with DOD and Turkish defense officials is expected in Washington, D.C.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III also spoke by phone with Turkish Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar on Oct. 27, according to a Pentagon statement.
“The Secretary reaffirmed the United States’ recognition of Turkey’s military modernization needs,” Kirby said in the statement. “He also thanked Turkey for hosting a DoD team in Ankara this week to begin dispute resolution discussions to address outstanding issues resulting from Turkey’s removal from the F-35 program.”
Despite recent months of rhetoric and posturing from Turkish officials and Erdogan himself, the Turkish president indicated the meeting with Biden was held “in a very positive atmosphere.”