Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan immediately began reaping the benefits of lifting the blockade to allow Sweden and Finland to join NATO when the Biden administration said it supported the potential sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.
Celeste Wallander, deputy secretary of defense for international security at the Pentagon, told reporters on Wednesday to reporters that strong Turkish defense capabilities would strengthen NATO’s defense.
Biden met with Erdoğan at the NATO summit in Madrid the day after a last-minute agreement between Turkey, Finland and Sweden was sealed, in which the two Nordic countries promise to take measures to control support for Kurdish terrorism in their countries.
Erdoğan had threatened to block Sweden and Finland from joining NATO indefinitely, in a move aimed at asserting Turkey’s centrality in NATO, and pressuring the rest of the alliance to take the threat of Kurdish terrorism at its southern borders more seriously.
Biden rewarded Erdoğan’s lifting of the veto by arranging the meeting in Madrid and authorized his officials to say they were willing to help with the modernization of the Turkish air force. The President of the United States also thanked Erdoğan for his role in trying to mediate a UN-approved agreement where stocks of Ukrainian grain could leave the ports of the Black Sea. Russia informed the UN that it was willing to agree to the plans monitored by Turkey, where 25 million tonnes of grain would be transported out of the Ukrainian-held and heavily mined port of Odesa in safe convoys.
Discussing the modernization of the Turkish Air Force, Wallander said: “The United States supports Turkey’s modernization of its navy because it is a contribution to NATO security and therefore American security … These plans are underway. And they must be worked through our contract processes.”
Turkey made a request to the United States in October to buy 40 Lockheed Martin-manufactured F-16 fighter jets and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing fighter jets.
Washington had not previously openly expressed an opinion on the sale other than to say that all arms sales would have to go through the necessary legal processes. US officials rejected all proposals that Washington support the request for fighter jets to remove Turkey’s objections to Sweden and Finland’s entry into NATO.
Washington said Congress would have one last word on the deal. The sale of the fighter jets is disputed because Turkey bought a Russian air defense system that many US senators say is incompatible with NATO membership.
Turkey also tried to use the agreement to demand the immediate extradition from Sweden of a named group of Kurds and followers of the priest Fethullah Gülen.
In the agreement signed with Turkey in Madrid on Tuesday, Finnish and Swedish leaders promised not to support the Kurdish PKK or the Syrian YPG groups, or any supporters of Gülen, whom Turkey accuses of a failed 2016 coup attempt.
Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ said on Wednesday that he was awaiting the extradition of 33 terror suspects from Sweden and Finland, adding that Ankara would remind the Nordic countries of the extradition following the signing of a memorandum.
Minna Ålander, from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, questioned the practical effect and novelty of the commitments made by Sweden and Norway. She said: “It has been formulated very carefully by diplomats so that both sides can read what they want.”
She said that from a Swedish perspective, nothing significant had been admitted even though the wording was designed to allow Turkey to say otherwise. “That’s the beauty of the deal,” she said.
Ålander said that the deal, for example, does not require Sweden to change its domestic law on extradition or its attitude to specific extradition requests that are handled by an independent judiciary.
Ann Linde, Sweden’s Foreign Minister, said: “We will not agree to any extraditions unless there is evidence of terrorist activity. There is no reason for Kurds to believe that their human rights or democratic rights are in danger.”
The agreement provides for a joint implementation committee to oversee the affair, but the memorandum remains a political agreement and not a legally binding international treaty.
Erdoğan has been given a special session at the summit dedicated to NATO’s southern flank as a way of addressing the Kurdish issue, but this meeting is something the Spanish hosts wanted anyway.