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Senate Democrat permits F-16 sales to Turkey following approval of Sweden into NATO

The top Senate Democrat with oversight of foreign affairs said Friday he is greenlighting a sale of F-16s to Turkey following Ankara’s following through on Sweden’s accession to NATO.

Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement that he will permit the sale of F-16s to Turkey, but raised concerns about the Turkish government’s human rights record domestically and its ties with bad actors globally.

“My approval of Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 aircrafts has been contingent on Turkish approval of Sweden’s NATO membership. But make no mistake: this was not a decision I came to lightly,” Cardin said, raising concerns about Ankara’s human rights record, ties with Russia amid its war against Ukraine, and support of Hamas and criticism of Israel in the Middle East.

“My concerns have been strongly and consistently conveyed to the Biden administration as part of our ongoing engagement, and I am encouraged by the productive direction of their discussions with Turkish officials to address these issues.”

Turkey had held back for more than a year on permitting Sweden’s accession to NATO, eking out concessions from Stockholm on its handling of what Ankara views as Kurdish terrorist groups, its ban on arms sales to Turkey and calling for the country to help Turkey join the E.U.

In addition, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had pressed the U.S. to override a hold imposed by former Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) blocking the sale of F-16s in order to get Ankara to permit Sweden’s accession.

Menendez stepped down as committee chairman in September following a federal indictment that he accepted bribes in exchange for using his position to exercise influence with foreign governments.

Cardin took up the post shortly after but maintained the hold on the F-16 sales until Turkey followed through on Sweden’s accession.

While Erdoğan had made clear his quid pro quo for allowing Sweden’s entry into the alliance, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has also held back on ratifying Sweden joining NATO.

Cardin accused Orbán of obstruction.

“Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has once again shown himself to be the least reliable member of NATO, in addition to playing the role of spoiler in the European Union’s effort to provide much-needed economic assistance to Ukraine,” Cardin said, criticizing Budapest’s frustrating efforts for the European Union to commit more economic aid to Ukraine.

The expansion of NATO is viewed as a key bulwark against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s campaign of aggression against Ukraine and threats to Europe. Sweden joining the alliance, following Finland’s accession in June 2023, expands NATO’s northern border with Russia.

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