NATO, Ukraine, Congress: Complex points roil U.S.-Turkey relations

America is locked in a fragile dance with Turkey, considered one of its most problematic allies, that entails fighter jets, the North Atlantic Treaty Group, Congress and, in the end, the conflict in Ukraine.

Turkish Overseas Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, in Washington this week to fulfill with U.S. officers, wasted no time in placing entrance and heart his nation’s demand for U.S.-made F-16 warplanes.

“We will address significant topics about bilateral defense cooperation, particularly our F-16 request,” Cavusoglu mentioned forward of the conferences, as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken seemed on, stone-faced. “This is not only for [Turkey] but also important for NATO and for United States as well, so we expect the approval in the line with our joint strategic interest.”

Administration officers final week issued an “informal notification” to Congress {that a} $20-billion sale of F-16s to Turkey was within the works. However the concept approval for such a sale is likely to be forthcoming shouldn’t be broadly shared on the State Division and the White Home.

Highly effective U.S. lawmakers are blocking new arms gross sales to Turkey, citing the federal government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and its more and more authoritarian flip away from democracy, its repression of dissidents and minorities, and its menacing of neighbors.

However Turkey can block one thing that the U.S. and a lot of the West dearly need: the growth of NATO to incorporate Sweden and Finland.

As a member of NATO, Turkey has veto energy over permitting new international locations to affix. The 30-nation alliance has to approve any such growth unanimously.

Lengthy impartial, Sweden and Finland started to see NATO safety as pressing following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine almost a yr in the past. The 2 international locations are inside a missile strike of the Kremlin, ought to President Vladimir Putin make good on his threats to retaliate in opposition to pro-NATO sentiment in his perceived yard.

Turkey’s NATO allies are in a troublesome place: The federal government in Ankara has insisted that the 2 Nordic nations cease providing refuge to Kurdish rebels against the Erdogan authorities. And Erdogan has branded the opponents as terrorists who should be arrested and punished.

The Biden administration stays “deeply concerned” over the abuse of free expression and different human rights in Turkey, officers say, however is inclined to ultimately go forward with the sale.

“When it comes to the F-16s, President Biden said that as a general matter, he believes that we should sell Turkey the F-16 jets and modernize their existing fleet as well,” State Division spokesman Ned Worth mentioned.

However, he added, “this is a process that involves Congress, of course, and … I don’t think I’m betraying any secrets, because our partners on the Hill have been quite vocal about this as well … there are strong opinions on the Hill.”

These voices are led by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who chairs the Senate Overseas Relations Committee and in concept has the facility to cease arms offers with international nations.

“President Erdogan continues to undermine international law, disregard human rights and democratic norms, and engage in alarming and destabilizing behavior in Turkey and against neighboring NATO allies,’’ Menendez said in a statement late last week, after news of the informal notification of the sale to Turkey circulated.

“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,” Menendez added.

There are methods Biden can get round a congressional block on weapons transfers, by government motion or different steps, however State Division officers seem reluctant to pursue that course.

After his conferences in Washington, Cavusoglu spoke to Turkish reporters and acknowledged that the Sweden-Finland NATO query was looming over the talks however mentioned it shouldn’t be a situation of the F-16 sale.

“What is important here is whether the administration will be decisive or not,” Cavusoglu informed Turkish state TV broadcaster TRT.

“The administration should not waste such an important deal between two allies just because one person or a few people are blocking it,” he added. “It should not bow down.”

Turkey can also be a difficult ally for the U.S. due to its friendliness to Russia, together with expansive commerce, the pursuit of arms offers with Moscow and an alliance with Russian forces in Syria. Turkey’s acquisition of an air protection system from Russia six years in the past led to Western sanctions amid fears Moscow may use the entry to spy on NATO property.

However Turkey’s relationship with Russia additionally offers it a job in potential diplomacy to finish Putin’s conflict in Ukraine. Washington credit Ankara with opening up a hall by the Black Sea to permit Ukraine to export tens of millions of tons of grain to world markets regardless of a Russian blockade. On the similar time, Erdogan has refused to affix the West’s imposition of robust sanctions on Moscow for its assaults on Ukraine.