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US diplomat affirms immediate start of Türkiye’s F-16 upgrade

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The modernization process of Türkiye’s existing fleet of F-16s will commence without delay, immediately after the 15-day period granted to the U.S. Congress for potential objections to the sale of fighter jets and upgrade kits, says U.S. Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland.Play Video

The Joe Biden administration last week notified Congress of F-16 sales to Türkiye after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed off on Sweden’s accession to NATO – a development that caps off more than a year of negotiations.

Under the deal, Türkiye is slated to receive 40 new F-16s along with upgrades to 79 of its existing fleet.

“This agreement encompasses various facets, primarily involving the sale of new ones and the modernization of current jets. Both aspects are crucial. The modernization will kick off promptly. Frankly, I cannot pinpoint the exact timeline for when the new jets will be ready, but it is evident that Türkiye acquiring these jets is a priority for the United States,” Nuland said in a televised interview with Turkish private broadcaster CNN Türk during her visit to the capital Ankara.

While Ankara internally discussed Sweden’s NATO membership, the White House underscored in Congress that the enhancement of Türkiye’s F-16 fleet is vital for U.S. security as well.

“We were also trying to explain the Congress that Türkiye’s fully active engagement and participation at this level is important for burden-sharing among the allies. Türkiye has already a large fleet of F-16s. But, enhancing it will be crucial from our perspective too,” Nuland expressed.

The U.S. Congress has a 15-day legal period to evaluate the sale following the notification, and if there are no objections during this time, the sale is officially finalized.

Reminding that this period commenced on Jan. 26, Nuland stated that the implementation phases would swiftly follow at the end of the process.

On a question, Nuland stated that her visit to the Turkish capital on Jan. 28, just days after the Turkish parliament’s approval for Sweden, was not a mere “coincidence.”

She clarified that the Nordic country’s bid has been a longstanding focal point in U.S.-Türkiye relations, asserting that its resolution would significantly contribute to fostering a positive dynamic in the ties.

“While I refrain from characterizing it as a hiatus, Sweden’s accession has been the dominant issue in our relations. Therefore, one of Secretary of State [Antony] Blinken’s directives to me was to reinvigorate the broader spectrum of our relationship and engage in discussions concerning the agenda for 2024, including preparations for the NATO summit in Washington scheduled for July.”

Addressing Türkiye’s expulsion from the F-35 program, Nuland stated that if the S-400 issue is resolved, the United States would be pleased to welcome Ankara back.

Türkiye was removed from the U.S.-led F-35 joint strike fighter program in 2019 over its decision to acquire an advanced Russian missile defense system, S-400.

The U.S. diplomat depicted her visit as an optimistic venture, “conducive to planning comprehensively across economic, security, and interpersonal dimensions within this pivotal relationship.”

Nuland’s visit on Jan. 28 and 29, initiated at the invitation of Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Burak Akçapar, is part of the ongoing Türkiye-U.S. Strategic Mechanism, according to sources from the Turkish ministry.

Source: Hurriyet Daily News

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