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Turkey Closer To Acquiring US Fighter Jets After Supporting Sweden, Finland NATO Bids

The US on Wednesday thanked Turkey for its efforts in trying to get grain out of Ukraine and expressed support for its NATO ally obtaining American fighter jets, a day after Ankara stood down from its opposition to Sweden and Finland entering the Western alliance.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US President Joe Biden spoke to reporters on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Madrid before entering a closed-door meeting.

The meeting with Biden already fulfills one of Erdogan’s goals, given that he has not been able to get even a phone call with him until this week

After Erdogan spoke about attempting to get trapped food exports out of Ukraine, Biden expressed gratitude for his leadership, saying: “Thank you, I really mean that. Thank you.”

A readout of their meeting from the White House stated, “The leaders discussed their continued support for Ukraine in its defense against Russian aggression, as well as the importance of removing Russian obstacles to the export of Ukrainian grain. They also talked about the importance of maintaining stability in the Aegean and Syria.”

Turkey has tried to balance its support for Ukraine and its alliance with NATO alongside continuing ties with Russia, including not imposing sanctions on the country.

There have also been increased tensions in the Aegean Sea with regional rival Greece, and Erdogan has said his country will launch another military operation into Syria to fight US-allied Kurdish fighters.

Analysts say the Turkish president is attempting to drum up nationalist support among his conservative base amid declining popularity a year or less ahead of national elections.

Earlier on Wednesday, a US official said Washington was in support of Turkey enhancing its air capabilities with F-16 fighter jets.

Turkey is in need of updated aircraft for its military after it was kicked out of the US F-35 fighter jet program for buying defense systems from Russia.

Biden reportedly has sought approval from Congress to sell the F-16 jets to Ankara.

“The US Department of Defense fully supports Turkey’s modernization plans for its F-16 fleet,” Assistant Secretary of Defense Celeste Wallander said in response to a question from a reporter. “These plans are in the works.”

The comments came after NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced on Tuesday evening that Turkey, Sweden and Finland signed a memorandum that dealt with Ankara’s concerns over the Nordic nations’ potential membership in the alliance, including arms exports and cooperation on fighting terrorism.

All members of NATO must support a country’s bid to join and Ankara had raised the possibility of vetoing the two countries’ membership applications.

The agreement came after Biden and Erdogan held a phone call on Tuesday morning.

The Turkish government’s stated concerns revolved around an arms embargo against Turkey and accusations that the two countries weren’t taking strong enough positions against terrorist groups, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The PKK has launched a decades-long insurgency in Turkey and is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the European Union.

Stoltenberg added that Sweden and Finland would change their laws, crack down on the PKK and enter an extradition agreement with Turkey to address its security concerns.

Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Wednesday that his country expected the Nordic countries to extradite members of the PKK and a network of supporters of exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Ankara blames for the failed 2016 coup attempt.

The Swedish Foreign Ministry told The Media Line that a new terrorism law that will take effect on July 1 increases penalties for most offenses covered in the incident.

However, the ministry noted that the Swedish Supreme Court examines cases before the government becomes involved in an extradition case.

If the court deems that there are obstacles to extradition, such as the risk of political prosecution, the government has to reject an extradition request.

Soon after the announcement of the memorandum on Tuesday, Biden tweeted to congratulate Turkey, Sweden and Finland, adding that the new memberships would “strengthen our alliance and bolster our collective security.”

“The meeting with Biden already fulfills one of Erdogan’s goals, given that he has not been able to get even a phone call with him until this week,” according to Kristian Brakel, head of the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Turkey office.

Brakel told The Media Line that Turkey would be interested in dropping its opposition to Swedish and Finnish accession to NATO in exchange for concessions, such as getting the US F-16 fighter jets or being allowed to carry out a military operation in Syria against Kurdish militants.