Austin and his Turkish counterpart Yasar Guler conferred on Washington’s support for modernizing Turkey’s military in a telephone conversation on Monday after Ankara finally endorsed Sweden’s NATO membership after holding out against the bid for over a year, according to Pentagon’s readout of the discussions released later in the day.
“They … discussed the positive talks between Turkey, Sweden, and NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, as well as the Department of Defense’s support for Turkey’s military modernization,” the Pentagon said of the phone call between Austin and Guler.
Turkey requested in October 2021 to buy $20 billion of Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) F-16 fighters and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes.
The phone call came just hours after NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg declared that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to approve Sweden’s bid to join the alliance in a press briefing earlier in the day, just ahead of the NATO summit in the Lithuanian capital city of Vilnius, which commences on Tuesday.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Tuesday ahead of the alliance’s summit in Lithuania that US President Joe Biden supports the sale of US-made F-16 fighter jets to NATO ally Turkey without “caveats or conditions”.
Biden has been “clear and unequivocal” in his support for the move “and he intends to move forward with that transfer in consultation with Congress,” Sullivan stated.
In an interview with CNN leading up to the NATO summit, Biden reiterated his support for the sale of F-16s to Ankara, but hinted it was part of a larger objective to strengthen NATO’s military capacity.
Sullivan added that the administration has been in touch with Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has called for a block on F-16 sales to Turkey over concerns Ankara could use the planes to intimidate fellow NATO member Greece.