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Blinken says arms sales to Turkey should be speeded up – Ahval News

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« U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said arm sales to Turkey should be speeded up, state-run Anadolu news agency reported » says Ahval News. 

« I think that we can and should do better in sales, particularly in the rapidity with which we’re able to do things, review things. I think that’s on us in the executive branch. It’s also on Congress, » Blinken said during a testimony in a congressional hearing on the State Department’s budget on Thursday, Anadolu said. 

Turkey’s acquisition of S-400 air defence missiles from Russia in 2019 has resulted in U.S. sanctions on its defence procurement agency and Ankara’s exclusion from a programme to develop and buy F-35 stealth fighter jets.

Turkey has called repeatedly on the United States to end the sanctions and in October it applied to purchase 40 F-16 fighter jets and around 80 modernisation kits for its existing F-16s from Lockheed Martin. On March 17, the U.S. government sent a letter to Congress stating that the purchase would be in line with the national interests of the United States and serve NATO’s long-term unity. 

Blinken made the comments in response to a question on what the Biden administration could do « to cut through the red tape to help our work with allies such as Turkey and India,” Anadolu said. 

« A number of countries, as I said earlier, are rethinking their relationships, including with Russia, including countries that have had long-standing defence relationships with Russia. If we’re in a position to be a partner to them in ways that maybe we couldn’t be some decades ago, I think that’s something we need to be able to act on, » Blinken said. 

« Of course, if we don’t, we know who’s likely to do it in our place. »

Washington is facing stiff opposition from lawmakers in Congress to NATO member Turkey’s acquisition of weaponry. Members of Congress cite Turkey’s perceived aggression towards neighbour Greece, attacks on Kurdish militants allied with the United States in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS), and its path towards authoritarianism under Erdoğan as reasons to withhold military support.

A February letter signed by Democratic congressman Frank Pallone and supported by more than 50 legislators from both sides of the aisle urged the White House to reject Ankara’s request to buy the F-16s, citing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s lack of commitment to NATO and his « vast human rights abuses ».

The March letter sent by the State Department acknowledged the strained relations with Turkey, but said Ankara’s support for Ukraine and its defence ties with the country had provided “an important deterrent to malign influence in the region”. 

Turkey’s exclusion from the F-35 programme and sanctions against its defence procurement agency were a “significant price paid”, the letter signed by Naz Durakoglu, acting assistant secretary of state, said, according to Reuters.

« The administration believes that there are nonetheless compelling long-term NATO alliance unity and capability interests, as well as U.S. national security, economic and commercial interests that are supported by appropriate U.S. defence trade ties with Turkey, » the letter said.

Turkey will submit a more detailed request to the United States following talks on the planned purchase of the F-16s last month, Ömer Çelik, spokesman for governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), told reporters on April 18, according to local media.

Ahval News, April 29, 2022

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