Erdogan Sees Senator Menendez’s Resignation as a Positive Turn for Turkey’s F-16 Acquisition Efforts

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed optimism about Turkey’s prospects for acquiring F-16 fighter jets from the United States following the resignation of Sen. Bob Menendez as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Erdogan’s remarks were published on Tuesday.

Sen. Menendez, a prominent Democratic senator from New Jersey, had been a vocal opponent of Turkey’s efforts to receive F-16 aircraft to modernize its fighter fleet. He stepped down from his influential role last week in light of federal charges related to alleged illegal dealings with the Egyptian government and New Jersey business associates.

President Erdogan acknowledged that Sen. Menendez’s departure from his role could work in Turkey’s favor but cautioned that the F-16 issue was not solely dependent on Menendez’s stance.

Turkey has been seeking to purchase 40 new F-16s, along with upgrade kits for its existing fleet. While the White House supported this request, it faced opposition in Congress, with Sen. Menendez raising concerns about Turkey’s human rights record and its strained relations with neighboring Greece.

Referring to recent talks between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, Erdogan suggested that it would be beneficial to seize this opportunity and engage with Blinken further to expedite progress on the F-16 matter. He noted that individuals with a similar mindset to Menendez have been obstructing various issues between the two nations.

Erdogan also openly connected Turkey’s F-16 bid to Sweden’s application for NATO membership, which is scheduled for debate in the Turkish parliament after the summer recess on October 1.

While Erdogan indicated that Blinken and Fidan had discussed Sweden’s NATO bid, he emphasized that he hoped both sides would honor their commitments. When asked about the potential linkage between Sweden’s NATO bid and Turkey’s F-16 acquisition, Erdogan suggested that Sweden was already being influenced by the F-16 issue, and Turkey’s parliament was closely monitoring developments in this regard.

Sweden applied for NATO membership alongside Finland following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. Only Turkey and Hungary have yet to ratify Sweden’s application. Although there has been no official acknowledgment of a link between Sweden’s NATO bid and the F-16 deal by Washington or Ankara, it is widely recognized unofficially.

Erdogan made these statements as he returned from a one-day trip to Nakhchivan, an Azerbaijani enclave separated from the rest of the country by Armenian territory. Following Azerbaijan’s recent military success in Nagorno-Karabakh, there are hopes of establishing a land bridge between Nakhchivan and the rest of Azerbaijan, known as the Zangezur Corridor.

Erdogan stated that Turkey and Azerbaijan would make efforts to open this corridor as soon as possible. If Armenia does not agree, an alternative route through Iran is being considered, an option that Erdogan said Tehran views positively.

In addition, Erdogan discussed the possibility of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting Turkey in October or November. The two leaders met for the first time in New York while attending the U.N. General Assembly, signaling a potential thaw in relations between Turkey and Israel.

Erdogan also touched on the issue of Cyprus, expressing support for a two-state solution with international recognition for the Turkish administration in the island’s north. Turkey is the only country to recognize the breakaway entity, while the international community generally supports the unification of the island under a federal system. Erdogan vowed to continue advocating for international recognition of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

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