F-16, F-35 bidding starts amid election period

The United States is striving to strike a delicate balance vis-a-vis Greece and Turkey

F-16, F-35 bidding starts amid election period

Washington has been engaged in a difficult balancing act in recent weeks on multiple levels with regard to Greece and Turkey. The election periods in both countries, Ankara’s behavior and the requests for F-16 and F-35 fighter jets that are running almost in parallel, have brought the American diplomacy, which is trying not to displease anyone, to its limits.

The US visit by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and the White House’s leak of the imminent congressional notification regarding Turkey’s request for F-16s is part of an effort to appease Ankara. This approach in Washington is permeated by the bid “to avoid more grumbling but also to avoid the worst” as everyone knew that after the holidays there would be a congressional notification of the Greek F-35s, so that Athens would not miss the deadline for receiving the first fighters with the 2028 batch.

There were indeed second thoughts about the timing regarding the activation of the process for the Turkish F-16s. This was not because Ankara has stubbornly kept all topics of US interest open, but also because of public pronouncements by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, who formally informed the White House of his intention in December.

Against this backdrop, the Americans decided Ankara should not be made to feel it was being shunned and this explains the leak about the F-16s. But the problem is that this leak is accompanied by carefully worded American admonitions, behind closed doors, to the Greeks to stop raising obstacles in the way of the issue. While this plea upgrades the gravity of the Greek reaction, it misses the point, as the termination of the Turkish overflights in the Aegean is only one of the many demands of the bloc that opposes the sale.

The fundamental question that now arises is “What does the US government really want to do with the aircraft?” Nobody knows how far it is willing to go in its confrontation with Congress, presuming it is a genuine standoff rather than a well-managed “good cop, bad cop” scenario.

Obviously there are powerful players in the administration and the Republican Party who would like to see the sale go ahead for purely transactional reasons and are seeking way to circumvent the CAATSA sanctions. The question is whether President Biden can force Congress into bringing the sales contract. If that happens, it would be a major escalation for the benefit of Turkey which could potentially draw retaliatory action from Menendez on other but equally important issues.

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