Forget F-35s, US Says No F-16 Fighters For Turkey Unless Ankara Cuts Ties With Russia, Abandons S-400 Systems

The chairman of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Robert Menendez, listed conditions under which he could remove his objections to the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, which include the abandonment by Ankara of Russia’s S-400 air defense systems, and cutting off its close relations with Moscow, the AMNA news agency reported on Thursday.

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The senator told the Greek news agency that the United States would sell military equipment to those who share its values, “not just for financial gain,” and listed a number of problems on which Ankara should change its behavior and attitude. Among them are the issue of acquiring Russia’s S-400 system, flights over the Greek islands, Turkey’s close relations with Russia, and human rights violations, including the imprisonment of journalists and lawyers.

Menendez added that the list of outstanding issues is long, and they must be resolved in order to achieve the sale and modernization of the F-16 jets, but he had not yet seen the readiness of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to take any of these steps, the news agency reported.

Menendez is considered a person who “holds the keys to the F-16,” since he has the power to veto the sale of the US weapons systems as the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, the agency said.

Turkey plans to purchase 40 F-16 fighter jets from the US and modernize another 80 which it already has in service. US President Joe Biden said that he expects to obtain congressional approval for the sale of the jets to Turkey, but a group of US congressmen signed a statement objecting to the sale.

Turkey F-16
An F-16 Fighting Falcon of the Turkish Air Force. (Wikimedia Commons)

US Opposes Turkish Military Ops

The United States is opposed to a possible military operation by Turkey in northern Syria, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Dana Stroul said.

“We strongly oppose any Turkish operation into northern Syria and have made clear our objections to Turkey specifically because ISIS [Islamic State terror group, banned in Russia] is going to take advantage of that campaign and not to mention the humanitarian impact,” Stroul said on Wednesday.

Stroul noted that the issue concerns not only some 10,000 fighters of the Islamic State terror group, who are under Syrian Democratic Forces’ custody but also some 60,000 displaced persons in the Al Hol and Al Roj camps in northern Syria who are vulnerable to radicalization and exploitation.

Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said earlier that Ankara was ready to launch a new military operation in northern Syria that could begin at any moment. Damascus has repeatedly called the presence of Turkish forces in the border area of Syria, which carry out operations there against Kurdish formations, illegal and urged Ankara to withdraw its troops.

Syrian Democratic Council Representative in the United States, Bassam Saker, told Sputnik last week that the Syrian Kurds are warning Turkey’s potential military operation in northern Syria will make it impossible to safeguard prisons there and thousands of Islamic State fighters may break free.

The armed conflict in Syria has been going on since 2011, with different insurgent groups, including terrorist organizations, fighting the Syrian Army in order to topple the government of President Bashar Assad. In late 2017, the Islamic State was declared defeated in Syria and Iraq, but counterterrorism mop-up operations are still underway.

Washington backs the Kurdish armed groups in Syria despite protests by the Syrian government.

Damascus does not recognize the so-called autonomous administration of northern and eastern Syria and calls the presence of the US military on its territory an occupation while the theft of Syria’s oil is state-sponsored piracy.