Ethnic, faith-based, public policy, and civil society groups echo bipartisan Pallone-Bilirakis letter
WASHINGTON—A bipartisan group of over 50 U.S. Representatives joined Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Hellenic Caucus Co-Chair Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) in pressing the departments of State and Defense to block the sale of next-generation U.S. F-16 fighter jets and upgrade kits to Turkey President Erdogan’s increasingly hostile regime, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
“We strongly urge you to reject Turkey’s request for new F-16s and modernization kits and take immediate action to hold the Erdogan regime accountable,” stated the February 4 Congressional letter addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. “The United States must not provide any further support to Turkey’s military until President Erdogan takes tangible steps to halt his destabilizing actions and violations of international law at home and abroad. Precedent shows that he will not change his behavior until the United States uses all its diplomatic tools, including targeted economic sanctions.”
Members of Congress joining Representatives Pallone and Bilirakis in co-signing the letter to the Biden Administration are Representatives: Jake Auchincloss (D-MA), Tony Cardenas (D-CA), Judy Chu (D-CA), David Cicilline (D-RI), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ)Jim Costa (D-CA), Danny Davis (D-IL), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), James Langevin (D-RI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Kathy Manning (D-NC), James McGovern (D-MA), Grace Meng (D-NY), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Chris Pappas (D-NH), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Katie Porter (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), John Sarbanes (D-MD), Janice Schakowsky (D-IL), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Christopher Smith (R-NJ), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Tom Suozzi (D-NY), Mark Takano (D-CA), Dina Titus (D-NV), Lori Trahan (D-MA), David Valadao, (R-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT), and Susan Wild (D-PA).
The Congressional action has broad support from a growing coalition of U.S. ethnic, faith-based, and foreign policy groups concerned about the U.S. security implications of arming Erdogan with cutting-edge U.S. military technology while Turkey remains under sanctions for their purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system and amid worsening government crackdowns on Turkish civil society.
American Hellenic Leadership Council Executive Director Endy Zemenides explained, “Congress is reminding Turkey that no amount of dinner parties and Twitter activity by Erdogan’s Ambassador in DC will smooth over the fundamental policy differences that led to Turkey being denied advanced American weapons. Congress is right in demanding a change of substance, not merely of style.”
ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian concurred. “The very same interest-based arguments – in fact the very same U.S. sanctions and statutes – that prohibited Turkey’s purchase of F-35s also apply to Turkey’s desire to buy advanced Block 70 F-16s. There can be only one American answer to both of these requests: No jets for Turkey,” stated Hamparian.
Diliman Abdulkader, co-founder & spokesperson of the American Friends of Kurdistan (AFK) noted, “The Erdogan regime continues its endless demands from the U.S. all while failing to act like a reliable ally. Turkey has done enough damage with the weapons it already possesses, advanced F-16 parts will only embolden Erdogan to target vulnerable minorities like the Kurds.”
Cliff Smith, Washington Project Director of the Middle East Forum, was blunt in his assessment of Turkey’s proposed F-16 purchase. “Turkey’s request for upgraded F-16’s shows they still don’t get it. It’s their behavior that needs to change, not their ask. An increasing number of members of Congress get this. I encourage Congress to reject any request from Turkey for any advanced military equipment until Turkey mends its ways.”
Since rumors of Turkey’s request to purchase 40 F-16 fighters and 80 F-16 modernization kits surfaced in October 2021, a number of Congressional initiatives have called for clarification of the White House position on the sale and announced efforts to block the effort. In November, over 40 U.S. House members cosigned a letter led by Representatives Chris Pappas (D-NH), and Congressional Hellenic Caucus Co-Chairs Bilirakis and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), concerned that such a sale would be in violation of CAATSA laws. “We share your goal of a Turkey that is rooted to the West, but we will not achieve that goal if the Erdogan government escapes accountability for violating U.S. law and the standards of the NATO alliance,” argued the Representatives. The House members requested “a formal notification of any Turkish Letter of Request (LOR), the specifics of such an LOR, the Administration’s position on such an LOR, and responses to our specific objections.”
In response to the Pappas-Bilirakis-Maloney letter, State Department Bureau of Legislative Affairs Senior Official Naz Durakoglu repeated the flawed State Department refrains of the past. “Turkey is a longstanding NATO Ally with whom we share many strategic interests,” argued Durakoglu. “Despite the very real challenges in U.S.-Turkish relations, Turkey remains an important ally, acting as both a bridge and a buffer to a region in constant flux.”
Richard Ghazal, Executive Director of In Defense of Christians, challenged that position. “It’s high time that the U.S. replace an out-dated Turkey policy with a sober, merit-based approach. When assessing whether Turkey should be rewarded with advanced U.S. weapons of war, we mustn’t be taken by the antiquated Cold War nostalgia of the NATO ‘stalwart,’ we must look at their malign actions today,” argued Ghazal.
A separate letter led by Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) and cosigned by 10 House colleagues last October also urged President Biden and Secretary Blinken to refuse Turkey’s request. “As long as President Erdogan advances his expansionist project in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey will continue to threaten our national security and the security of our closest allies in the region – Greece, Israel, and Cyprus. We urge you to act in our national interest and for the sake of stability in the Eastern Mediterranean by refusing to reinforce Turkey’s aging arsenal of fighter jets, and we look forward to receiving your response,” stated the Malliotakis letter.
Text of Pallone-Bilirakis-led Congressional Letter to Biden Administration
Dear Secretaries Blinken and Austin:
We strongly urge you to reject the recent Turkish proposal to purchase Block 70 F-16s and mechanical upgrades from the United States to modernize its air force. Approving this proposal would reward President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for ignoring both Turkey’s alliance commitments to the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the vast human rights abuses his regime continues to commit at home and abroad.
In November, Turkey requested 40 Block 70 F-16 fighter jets and 80 modernization kits for their current fleet from the U.S. The request comes after the Erdogan regime has repeatedly used its military power to destabilize the Eastern Mediterranean, Middle East, South Caucasus, and North Africa for years. Turkish and Turkish-backed forces have utilized American-made weaponry and components during these incursions to commit war crimes, including purposefully bombing civilian targets like hospitals and schools in Iraq, Syria, and Nagorno-Karabakh.
The purchase of advanced fighter jets from the United States for Turkey’s military arsenal will not incentivize Erdogan to change course and become a good actor. It will more likely lead to further death and destruction in the region at the hands of his military. Turkey also continues to utilize S-400 missile defense systems, which potentially exposes important tactical information about U.S. weaponry and military operations to Russia. While this is antithetical to their commitments as a NATO ally and jeopardizes American national security, Erdogan uses this tactic consistently to pit the United States and Russia against each other to achieve his desired goals.
At home, the Erdogan regime also continues to promote unfair elections, suppress civil society, and abuse human rights to maintain its grip on power. Just last week, a Turkish journalist was arrested for reportedly insulting Erdogan, a common occurrence under this repressive government that does not respect freedom of speech or the press.
We strongly urge you to reject Turkey’s request for new F-16s and modernization kits and take immediate action to hold the Erdogan regime accountable. The United States must not provide any further support to Turkey’s military until President Erdogan takes tangible steps to halt his destabilizing actions and violations of international law at home and abroad. Precedent shows that he will not change his behavior until the United States uses all its diplomatic tools, including targeted economic sanctions.
Thank you for your attention to these concerns, and we look forward to your timely response.