ISTANBUL — Turkey’s chances of acquiring F-16 fighter jets from the United States have been boosted by the resignation of Senator Bob Menendez as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Turkish president said Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a speech published on Tuesday.
Menendez, the Democratic senator from New Jersey, has been a vocal opponent of the idea of Turkey receiving planes to modernize its fighter fleet. He resigned from his influential role last week following federal charges that he accepted cash and gold in illegal exchange to help the Egyptian government and its New Jersey business associates.
“One of our most important problems regarding the F-16 was the activities of US Senator Bob Menendez against our country,” Erdogan told reporters on a flight back from Azerbaijan on Monday. His comments were widely reported in Turkish media.
“Menendez’s departure gives us an advantage but the F-16 issue is not an issue that depends only on Menendez,” Erdogan added.
Ankara is seeking to purchase 40 new F-16s, as well as kits to modernize its existing fleet. The request was supported by the White House but faced opposition in Congress, where Menendez raised concerns about Turkey’s human rights record and blamed Ankara for its relations tense with neighboring Greece.
Referring to discussions between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan in recent days, Erdogan said: “It would be beneficial to turn this situation into an opportunity and meet (Blinken) again.”
“In this way, we could have the opportunity to accelerate the process regarding the F-16s. Not only on the F-16, but on every other issue, Menendez and those of his mentality are obstructing us.”
Erdogan has also openly linked Turkey’s F-16 bid to Sweden’s application for NATO membership, which is expected to be debated by the Turkish parliament after returning from summer recess on October 1.
He said Blinken and Fidan discussed Sweden’s NATO candidacy, adding: “I hope that if they stay true to their promise, our parliament will also stay true to its promise.” »
Asked whether the offer was linked to Turkey obtaining the F-16s, Erdogan said: “They are already making Sweden dependent on the F-16s… Our parliament is carefully following every development regarding this issue.” »
Stockholm applied to become a NATO member alongside Finland after Russia invaded Ukraine last year. Only Turkey and Hungary have yet to ratify its application. Neither Washington nor Ankara has openly admitted the existence of a link between the Swedish bid and the F-16 deal, but the link is widely acknowledged unofficially.
Erdogan was returning from a day trip to Nakhchivan, an Azerbaijani enclave separated from the rest of the country by a 33-kilometer strip of Armenian territory.
Following Azerbaijan’s rout of Armenian forces in a 24-hour blitz in Nagorno-Karabakh last week, Baku has raised hopes of opening a land bridge between Nakhchivan and the rest of Azerbaijan , known as the Zangezur corridor.
Erdogan said Turkey and Azerbaijan would “do their best to open this corridor as soon as possible.” He added that if Armenia did not agree, an alternative route could go through Iran, a move that Tehran, according to Erdogan, views “positively.”
In a wide-ranging briefing, Erdogan also raised the prospect of a visit to Turkey by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in October or November.
The two leaders met for the first time in New York last week while attending the United Nations General Assembly. Israel is one of several regional powers with which Ankara has strengthened relations in recent years, after more than a decade of hostility.
The Turkish president also addressed the issue of Cyprus, divided for 49 years between the Turkish and Greek ethnic communities.
He reiterated his support for a two-state solution, with international recognition of the Turkish administration in the north of the island. Turkey is the only country to recognize the separatist entity. The international community widely supports the unification of the island under a federal system.
“We will raise our voice even more so that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognized by other countries,” Erdogan said.
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