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Biden Backs Turkey F-16 Purchase, Says Congress Will Agree

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(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden said he told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he supported the sale of F-16 jets to modernize Turkey’s air force, after the two leaders met following Ankara’s decision to drop its opposition to NATO expansion.

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“We should sell them the F-16 jets and modernize those jets as well,” Biden said at the conclusion of a NATO summit in Madrid on Thursday. “It’s not in our interest not to do that.”

Biden met Wednesday with Erdogan, who announced earlier this week he was no longer blocking Sweden and Finland from joining the Western military alliance. That move brought NATO one step closer to bolstering its eastern front with Russia.

Erdogan used his meeting with Biden to press the US on the sale of dozens of new F-16 warplanes, as well as additional weapons and equipment upgrades. While both Turkish and US officials said the discussion was not related to the NATO decision, the agreement paved the way for the two leaders to meet in person in Madrid.

Read More: NATO Returns to Combat Stance to Counter a New and Hostile World

Biden said his support for the F-16 sale was not a “quid pro quo” for the NATO ascension deal and that he had supported the purchases since last year. Congress must approve the sale but Biden said he believed he could secure lawmakers’ approval.

Erdogan told reporters Thursday that a large team of his officials met with Democrats and Republicans in the US last week to seek congressional support on acquiring F-16 warplanes and their equipment.

“They may hold further meetings if necessary, and if we can secure the support of the Republicans then the sincere efforts of President Biden will acquire significant support,” Erdogan said.

“There are Democrats and Republicans, there is a need to secure the support of all of them,” Erdogan added. “Mr. Biden is sure of himself and I hope he can achieve a result in line with our friendship and solidarity.”

Modernization Priority

Modernizing his nation’s air force has been a priority for Erdogan after the US ousted the country from the program to purchase and construct Lockheed Martin Corp.’s more advanced F-35 fighter in 2019 following Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system. The F-16 deal is potentially worth $6 billion.

Erdogan also said Thursday that the Turkish parliament will not ratify Sweden and Finland’s NATO applications if they do not keep their written promises on Turkey’s security concerns, which include a demand the Nordic nations do more to clamp down on Kurdish groups it views as terrorists.

Before Wednesday’s meeting was underway officially, Biden told Erdogan: “Thank you for what you did, putting together the situation with regard to Finland and Sweden and all the incredible work you’re doing trying to get the grain out of Ukraine.”

In reply, Erdogan praised Biden’s leadership on strengthening the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as helping Ankara’s efforts to broker peace between Russia and Ukraine. “Our wish is that we can achieve results by pursuing a balanced policy and solve the grain crisis by establishing a sea corridor to enable shipments for countries in need,” Erdogan told Biden.

Turkey has been trying to broker an agreement between Ukraine and Russia to unblock shipments of Ukrainian grain that have contributed to global food-supply fears. Turkey has offered military help to Ukraine to clear mines off the coast of Odesa and escort grain ships but Kyiv has yet to endorse the plan, worried that removing defenses could leave ports prone to Russian attack.

The Turkish government has sought a middle ground on the war in Ukraine, reluctant to damage ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin -- in part fearing a rupture would put Turkish forces deployed in Syria at risk of attack by Russian-backed Syrian government troops.

(Updates with expansion bids, remarks by Erdogan, Biden from first paragraph)

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