Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told US President Joe Biden in a phone call on Thursday that it was past time to lift all “unjust” sanctions on Turkey’s defense industry.
According to a statement from Erdogan’s office, he also told Biden that Turkey expected its request to purchase 40 new F-16 fighter jets and modernize its existing fleet to be finalised as soon as possible.
Ankara had initially ordered more than 100 F-35 jets, made by Lockheed Martin Corp, but the United States removed Turkey from the program in 2019 after it acquired Russian S-400 missile defense systems.
Turkey has called the move unjust and demanded reimbursement for its $1.4 billion payment.
Reuters reported last year that Ankara had made a request to Washington to buy 40 Lockheed Martin-made F-16s and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes.
Turkey’s purchase of the S-400s has also triggered US sanctions. In December 2020, Washington blacklisted Turkey’s Defense Industry Directorate, its chief, Ismail Demir, and three other employees.
A readout of Thursday’s call from the White House did not mention a discussion about sanctions or Turkey’s request regarding the F-16s.
But it said Erdogan and Biden had talked about opportunities to strengthen ties, in addition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The decades-old partnership between the NATO allies has gone through unprecedented tumult in recent years over disagreements on Syria policy, Ankara’s closer ties with Moscow, US charges against a state-owned Turkish bank and erosion of rights and freedoms in Turkey.
Washington has repeatedly warned Turkey against buying further Russian weaponry. Ankara has said it intends to go through with the purchase of a second batch of S-400s from Russia, a move that could worsen the diplomatic rift with the United States.
The request for the jets will likely have a difficult time getting approval from the US Congress, where sentiment towards Turkey has soured deeply over recent years.
Democratic and Republican US lawmakers urged the Biden administration in October not to sell F-16 fighter jets to Turkey and said they were confident Congress would block any such exports. [AP]