Sweden’s NATO accession and Turkey’s bid to buy F-16 jets should be kept separate, Erdogan says

ANKARA (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is linking F-16 fighter jet sales to Turkey with Turkish ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership bid, and this “seriously upsets” Ankara, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday.

Addressing a press conference after a G20 summit in the Indian capital New Delhi, Erdogan said he had a “pull-aside” meeting with Biden on the sidelines of the gathering and they discussed the transfer of F-16s to Turkey.

Biden made a connection between the supply of F-16s and Turkish action in ratifying Sweden’s application to join NATO, Erdogan said. “This approach seriously upsets us,” he said.

Turkey, which had been the main stumbling block in Sweden’s path towards NATO, asked in October 2021 to buy $20 billion worth of Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-16s and nearly 80 modernisation kits for its existing warplanes.

After months of objections, Erdogan agreed at a NATO summit in July to forward Sweden’s NATO bid to the Turkish parliament for ratification.

A day later, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington would proceed with the transfer of F-16s to Turkey in consultation with Congress.

However, the timing of both the F-16 transaction and the Turkish parliament’s green light for Sweden remains unclear.

“If you say that Congress will decide (on sales of F-16s to Turkey), then we have a Congress in Turkey as well – it is the Turkish parliament,” Erdogan told reporters. “It is not possible for me to say ‘yes’ (to Sweden’s NATO membership bid) alone unless such a decision is approved by (our) parliament.”

Ankara has accused Sweden of harbouring militants hostile to the Turkish state, mainly members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), deemed a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the European Union and United States.

Erdogan also said Sweden should “keep its promises” and take more steps – which would include extraditing alleged PKK militants and preventing pro-PKK rallies in Sweden – before Turkey clears its NATO bid.

To address Turkish concerns, Stockholm passed legislation in June outlawing being a member of a terrorist group or providing logistical and financial help to proscribed groups.

Stockholm recently voiced hope that Turkish lawmakers would ratify its NATO bid when they reconvene in October, as agreed at the NATO summit in July.

Sweden and Finland applied last year to enter NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine. While Finnish membership was sealed in April, Sweden’s bid remains held up by Turkey and Hungary.

Turkish Foreign Minister has said Ankara and Budapest are working in close coordination on the issue.

(Reporting by Krishn Kaushik and Aftab Ahmed in New Delhi; writing by Huseyin Hayatsever; editing by Mark Heinrich)