WASHINGTON – Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited the White House and Congress this week to present his country’s arguments for acquiring the F-35 stealth fighter as he lobbied against Turkey’s attempts to improve its aging. fleet of F-16s and acquire additional aircraft.

To keep up, Turkish officials will visit Washington later this week to prove to Congress that it agrees to approximately $ 400 million a deal to upgrade their F-16s with new missiles, radar and electronics – a prospect complicated by recent promises by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to block Sweden and Finland from joining NATO.

On Monday, Mitsotakis announced after a meeting with President Joe Biden that Greece would continue with its offer to acquire the F-35 after 2028.

“We will start the process of acquiring a squadron of F-35 aircraft and hope to be able to add this fantastic aircraft to the Greek Air Force before the end of this decade,” Mitsotakis told the White House.

He also noted that Lockheed Martin – which produces the F-35 and F-16 – “officially expressed interest in investing in Hellenic Aerospace” last week, just before his visit to Washington.

Greek media quoted Greek government officials as saying that Lockheed Martin had invited Athens to join the F-35 co-production program.

“Having built our partnership for more than 75 years, we are honored that the Greek government is interested in the F-35 and will provide any support the US government requires in the acquisition discussions,” Lockheed Martin told Defense News in a statement. .

Turkey has something to explain

The United States expelled Turkey from the F-35 program in 2019 over Ankara’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system amid fears that its advanced radar system could allow Moscow to spy on F-35 stealth fighters.

In addition to the F-16 improvements that the Biden administration notified Congress last week, Erdogan also tried to buy 40 Block 70 F-16 fighter jets. He designed the purchase worth about $ 6 billion to compensate for Turkey’s financial losses under the F-35 program.

But Mitsotakis used an appeal to a joint congressional meeting on Tuesday to issue a veiled warning to lawmakers not to allow the sale of the F-16 to Turkey.

“We will not accept open acts of aggression that violate our sovereignty and our territorial rights,” he said of the recent Turkish invasions of Greek airspace. “These include flights over Greek islands, which must stop immediately.

“The last thing NATO needs at a time when our focus is to help defeat Russian aggression is another source of instability on NATO’s southeastern flank,” Mitsotakis added to applause. “Please keep this in mind when deciding on defense procurement in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Mitsotakis insisted on his case in separate meetings with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, as well as bipartisan, bicameral foreign affairs committee leaders who could unilaterally block arms sales. These meetings included coffee with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, DNJ, one of Turkey’s strongest opponents on Capitol Hill.

However, Menendez’s less hard-line colleagues recently signaled a cautious openness to the green light on F-16 sales to Turkey, given its support for Ukraine. But Ankara’s recent threats to Sweden’s tanks and Finland’s NATO bid have created uncertainty about whether those same lawmakers will allow the sale of the F-16 to continue.

“Turkey has something to explain,” House Speaker Gregory Meeks, DN.Y., told Defense News. “They’re doing the right thing, I think, to a great extent. This is important to me, but there are other things that I still have problems with that we need to have a dialogue and talk about. “

Meeks said the dialogue would include Turkish opposition to Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO membership. Erdogan accused both sides of backing the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey describes as a terrorist group.

Erdogan has called on Sweden and Finland to lift the arms embargo against Ankara imposed after Turkey’s 2019 offensive against the PKK-dominated Kurdish-dominated Syrian Kurdish administration. Each NATO country must agree to the addition of a new member to the alliance, which allows Turkey to unilaterally reject the candidacy.

Representative Mike McCall, R-Texas, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that Erdogan’s blockade of two potential new NATO allies could stifle F-16 sales.

“Greece was a very good ally with Ukraine, but also Turkey again,” McCall told Defense News. “The big problem with Turkey is when Erdogan comes out, saying he may not support Finland [and] Sweden is in NATO. That would be problematic for Turkey. “

McCall suggested that Turkey could send its S-400 system to Ukraine, which is desperately looking for improved air defense systems against the Russian air force. In return, he said the United States could send the Patriot missile system to Turkey, an agreement similar to the one Washington struck with Slovakia after sending its S-300 system to Ukraine.

He may be able to raise that prospect when Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusgolu visits Washington on Wednesday.

Bryant Harris is a congressional reporter for Defense News. It covers the intersection of US foreign policy and national security in Washington since 2014. He has previously written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera and IPS News.

https://www.defensenews.com/congress/2022/05/17/greece-seeks-to-join-f-35-program-as-it-lobbies-against-turkey-f-16-sale/

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