On Wednesday, January 18, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hosted Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in Washington, marking the first visit between the diplomatic counterparts during the Biden administration. Prior to this engagement, it was presumed that the diplomatic leaders would evaluate Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, energy cooperation, and Syria; however, discussion expanded beyond these talking points as Blinken and Çavuşoğlu conversed on F-16 fighter jet sales and its potential relationship to the Swedish and Finnish NATO bids.
This diplomatic visit led to the creation of the Joint Statement on the US-Turkiye Strategic Mechanism which showcased areas of shared commitment and collaboration. The statement highlighted: “Secretary Blinken and Minister Çavuşoğlu reiterated their commitment to a concrete and results-oriented positive bilateral agenda. They discussed strengthening the U.S.-Türkiye defense partnership, including modernization of Türkiye’s F-16 fleet…They reaffirmed their long-standing commitment to collective defense as Allies, as well as to NATO’s Open Door Policy. They discussed the implementation of the trilateral memorandum signed by Finland, Sweden, and Türkiye to advance Finland and Sweden’s application to join the NATO Alliance.”
Notably, this visit occurred as Turkey awaits approval on an F-16 fighter jet sale, an arms deal that has invoked mixed reactions among the U.S. executive and legislative branches. Written in Daily Sabah, Minister Çavuşoğlu said “Türkiye expects the U.S. to approve the sale of F-16 fighter jets, noting that the purchase is in line with the ‘joint strategic interests’ of both countries. ‘As we said together before, this is not only for Türkiye but also important for NATO and for the United States as well,’ Çavuşoğlu said, adding that Ankara expects Washington's approval, in line with joint strategic interests of both countries. The Biden administration has expressed its support for the sale of the jets to Türkiye, despite opposition from the U.S. Congress.”
U.S. and Turkish leadership inevitably discussed their opposing stances on Nordic NATO bids. Al Jazeera outlined the active debate: “Turkey has been the main roadblock to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, which requires the approval of all 30 member states. Turkey and Hungary have yet to endorse the applications. Turkey has accused the countries of harbouring Kurdish groups it deems ‘terrorists.’ It said Sweden, in particular, must first take a clearer stance against these groups, as well as individuals it blames for a 2016 coup attempt.”
Many top U.S. officials believe that F-16 approval should be contingent on Turkish acceptance of Sweden and Finland as NATO members. Explained in Middle East Eye, “The most notable opposition comes from Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A senior administration official said Washington was unlikely to follow through with the sale unless Menendez reverses his opposition… According to US officials, the arms sale is contingent upon Turkey agreeing to Sweden and Finland's accession to Nato. Turkey has held off on agreeing to their joining the alliance, over what it claims is their support for Kurdish militants, and Sweden said earlier this month it cannot fulfill all of Turkey's demands.
Many parties, both American and Turkish, have expressed concern of the F-16 deal influencing NATO membership talks. Written in Cyprus Mail, “Ibrahim Kalin, [Turkish President] Erdogan’s chief foreign policy advisor, said Washington’s demands relating to the supply of the fighter jets were ‘endless.’ He added he hoped the F-16 deal would not become ‘hostage’ to the NATO memberships of Sweden and Finland.”
Çavuşoğlu and Blinken each identified the visit as successful while recognizing that certain conversations and debates are ongoing. Outlined in Arab News, Çavuşoğlu said that “the talks were very productive and that both sides agreed on further developing energy cooperation between the two countries…The US attitude toward Turkiye has been less than conciliatory for several years and has become tougher during the Biden administration. However, the Ukrainian crisis has changed several paradigms, including the US perception about Turkiye’s importance to the Euro-Atlantic community.”
Çavuşoğlu’s optimism was echoed within the Biden administration. Highlighted in Andolu Agency, U.S. spokesperson Ned Price asserted: “We have a very constructive relationship with Turkey. We are grateful for the role that Turkey has played in helping to address many of the most pressing challenges of our time.”