US-Turkey F-16 talks to start next month, F-35 case closed

Turkish National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar is seen in front of an F-16 before a flight exercise. (Photo: Defense Ministry)

Talks on the Turkish request from its NATO ally the US to buy 40 new F-16 fighter jets and 80 upgrade kits are to start next month (in December) in Ankara, a US official asked not to be named told a group of journalist including from YetkinReport. The official also said that F-16 talks are separate from those of F-35 claims talks that are on a legal and technical basis because Turkey’s return to the F-35 program is no longer a subject of negotiations.

İbrahim Kalın, the Security and Foreign Policy Advisor for Erdoğan had recently said that the priority of Turkey was still going back to the F-35 program instead of claiming back the $1.4 billion Turkey has already paid.

Turkey’s exclusion from the F-35 program has created a gap in the air defense of the country and also on the southern flank of NATO, according to Turkish authorities. Turkish defense sources say they need F-16s until Turkey produces its own National Combat Plane (MMU). On the other hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin offers Su-57 jets to Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan.

Turkey was ousted from the joint production and purchase of the fifth-generation F-35 program by the Donald Trump Administration in 2020. That was in reaction to the Turkish purchase of the Russian S-400 missiles which was considered as a violation of US sanctions of Russia.

F-16 talks can take “many months”

In answer to questions on F-16 talks the American official said the following:
• “The F-16 Letter of Request (LOR) talks will start next month in Ankara. This is a very large, complex request. Many licenses will ultimately need to be submitted to Congress for tiered review.
• “Previous licenses [from Turkey’s F-16 production program] do not apply to the current request. These are new platforms, new technologies, new licenses. This is a process of discussion between the US Administration and Turkey at the technical level that will take many months. The Administration acknowledges the security needs of Turkey as an Ally and a strategic partner.”

Erdoğan has said after he met with US President Joe Biden in Rome in the premises of the G20 Summit on 31 October that, he hoped that if Biden wanted, he can get the Turkish F-16 request since the democrats have the majority in both chambers of the Congress.

S-400 is the critical issue: how about India?

In a meeting in the White House on 13 November 2019, Trump had invited a group of congressmen to talk to Erdogan to demonstrate that it was not only in his hands. The negative atmosphere in the Congress about Erdoğan and Turkey has grown since then, mainly because of the S-400 deal. There is also a veto-proof bipartisan majority in both chambers. It seems it’s not only the will of Biden that is needed.
Reminded of media reports about a possible CAATSA sanctions exemption of India that also wants to purchase S-400, the US official said the following:
• “There is no Administration action or decision on this. The press is commenting on a CAATSA sanctions waiver, not an “exemption.” The status of Turkey and India are different. Turkey is a NATO Ally and there is specific statutory language about the requirements for a waiver of CAATSA sanctions for a formal member of an Alliance.”

What the F-35 talks are about?

If there will be no waiver for Turkey on S-400 because of being a NATO member country, what the ongoing F-35 talks are about? Here is the answer from the same source:
• “F-35 claims talks are separate from those on F-16s. These are not political discussions; they are legal and accountancy/contract-based dispute resolution negotiations.
• “Turkey is now formally out of the F-35 program. Full stop. It’s done. Turkey formally departed from the project as of September 23.
• “Turkish companies will continue producing F-35 parts for several months or a bit longer but then it will end. The production of those parts has already been contracted to other countries. “

As Turkey and the US are split into such strategic topics, what has remained from this presumably strategic partnership?
“We will keep focusing on what we can do together,” said the source; “in regional issues”.

Unless a US personnel is hurt

There are several regional issues in the interests of both countries, not necessarily in full harmony.
Syria is one of them. Erdoğan asked Biden in both of their meetings to stop supporting the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) with its backbone People Defense Units (YPG) the Syria branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which carry out cross-border attacks against Turkey. But the Pentagon immediately said that there would be no change in their policy to cooperate and sport the SDF against ISIS in Syria. It seems there are no talks on the status of the YPG as well. On the other hand, the Americans are not likely to stop Turkey from military operations against the PKK and affiliates, as long as no US personnel on the ground is hurt.
Ironically, this fragile outlook is valid only for the East of Syria. In West of Syria, around Idlib for example where Turkey has established buffer zones, the US supports the Turkish position regarding the Russians and the Syria regime forces. A complicated picture.

Democracy Summit and the persona non grata crisis

Abut the exclusion of Turkey from the Democracy Summit led by Biden as one of his elections promises the US official did not want to give any answer.
A delicate subject, like the letter asking the release of the social activist Osman Kavala by ten ambassadors including the US Ambassador to Ankara. A furious Erdoğan had asked the Turkish Foreign Minister to announce them “persona non grata” and send away, but the crisis has been averted through a lot of diplomatic effort, and by steps taken back from all sides.
“We will continue to raise the issues of democracy and human rights,” said the US official; “in cases like Kavala.”
But, likely, there will not be a similar joint declaration of ambassadors any time soon considering the lessons extracted from the PNG crisis. (It is understood that the Erdogan-Biden meet in Rome was decided upon between Kalın and Jake Sullivan, Biden’s National Security Advisor late September, before the PNG crisis.)

It is not clear for how long more Turkish and American sides can hide the real depth of the problems in between but they pretend that such things happen between allies for the time being. Perhaps until the next crisis.

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