Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan immediately began reaping the rewards of lifting the freeze on Sweden and Finland joining NATO when the Biden administration said it backed the potential sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.
Speaking on a conference call on Wednesday, Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs at the Pentagon, told reporters that strong Turkish defense capabilities would bolster NATO defenses.
Biden met Erdoğan at the NATO summit in Madrid the day after Turkey, Finland and Sweden signed a last-minute deal in which the two Nordic countries pledged to take steps to control the support for Kurdish terrorism in their country.
Erdoğan had threatened to bar Sweden and Finland from joining NATO indefinitely in a bid to assert Turkey’s centrality in NATO and pressure the rest of the alliance to take the threat of terrorism more seriously Kurdish at its southern borders.
Biden rewarded Erdoğan’s lifting of the veto by hosting the Madrid meeting and allowing his officials to say they were ready to help modernize the Turkish air force. The US president also thanked Erdoğan for his role in brokering a UN-approved deal in which Ukrainian grain stocks could leave Black Sea ports. Russia has notified the UN that it is willing to accept Turkish-supervised plans in which 25 million tonnes of grain will be shipped from the heavily mined Ukrainian-held port of Odessa in safe convoys .
Discussing the modernization of the Turkish Air Force, Wallander said: “The United States supports the modernization of Turkey’s fighter fleet because it is a contribution to NATO security and therefore to American security… These plans are underway. And they need to be worked through our procurement processes.
Turkey asked the United States in October to buy 40 F-16 fighters made by Lockheed Martin and nearly 80 retrofit kits for its existing fighter jets.
Washington had not previously openly expressed an opinion on the sale, other than that all arms sales would have to go through the necessary legal procedures. US officials have dismissed any suggestion that Washington backed the warplane request in order to overcome Turkey’s objections to Sweden and Finland joining NATO.
Washington said Congress would have the final say on the deal. The sale of the fighter jets is controversial because Turkey bought a Russian air defense system that many US senators say is incompatible with NATO membership.
Turkey has also moved to exploit the deal to demand the immediate extradition from Sweden of a named group of Kurds and supporters of the cleric Fethullah Gülen.
In the agreement signed with Turkey in Madrid on Tuesday, Finnish and Swedish leaders promised not to support the Kurdish PKK or Syrian YPG groups, or any supporters of Gülen, whom Turkey accuses of trying to make a coup of state in 2016.
Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ said on Wednesday he was awaiting the extradition of 33 terror suspects from Sweden and Finland, adding that Ankara will remind the Nordic countries of the extradition after signing a memorandum.
Minna Ålander, from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, questioned the practical impact and novelty of the commitments made by Sweden and Norway. She said: ‘It was very carefully written by diplomats so that both sides can read what they want into it.
She said that from a Swedish perspective, nothing of substance was conceded even though the wording was designed to allow Turkey to say otherwise. “That’s the beauty of the deal,” she said.
Ålander said the agreement does not, for example, oblige Sweden to change its national extradition law or its approach to specific extradition requests that are handled by an independent judiciary.
Ann Linde, Sweden’s foreign minister, said: ‘We will not accept any extraditions unless there is proof of terrorist activity. There is no reason for the Kurds to think that their human rights or their democratic rights are in danger.
The agreement includes provisions for a joint implementation committee to oversee the agreement, but the memorandum remains a political agreement and not a legally binding international treaty.
Erdoğan was granted a special summit session devoted to NATO’s southern flank to raise the Kurdish issue, but this meeting is what the Spanish hosts wanted anyway.