US Senator Bob Menendez, who has been blocking fighter jets for Turkey over the years, told an audience in Washington this week that he was “a fan of the Greek people” and further had no qualms about okaying the F35 stealth for Athens.
According to Kathimerini Greece, which was one of the co-organizers of the Delphi Economic Forum in Washington this week, Menendez has green lighted the sale of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jets to Athens.
The Foreign Relations committee chair told the Forum on Tuesday that he was “pleased that two days ago I signed off for the F35-s to the Hellenic Republic and I did so not because I am simply a fan of the Greek people.”
“I did so because this is a country that shares our values, that is aligned with us to things that are important in the world, democracy, human rights, rule of law, a country that is not belligerent to its neighbors,” the Democratic senator from New Jersey said.
Menendez was referring to Greece’s neighbor and NATO ally Turkey, a country viewed by Athens as a bully.
Late last year it emerged that US President Joe Biden was pushing for a $20 billion arms sale to Turkey that includes 40 F-16 fighter jets and upgrades to the country’s current fleet.
'I did so because this is a country that shares our values... democracy, human rights, rule of law, a country that is not belligerent to its neighbors'
Menendez, who also backs the Republic of Cyprus, called out the White House by renewing his commitment to stop F-16 fighter sales to Turkey, calling instead on everyone to make sure that “all Turkish soldiers would leave Cyprus down to the last one.”
But new conditions have been introduced to block F16 sales to Turkey.
Last week over a quarter of senators warned Biden in a letter they were ready to tank the deal if Ankara kept blocking Sweden and Finland from joining NATO.
“Failure to ratify the protocols or present a timeline for ratification threatens the Alliance’s unity at a key moment in history, as Russia continues its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” the senators wrote.
Officials in Ankara suggest there is no problem for Finland to join the western alliance, but Helsinki says it would prefer to join along with Sweden, which has been singled out by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over allegations of ties to Kurdish militia and far-right extremism.
Matter of time
According to Reuters, a senior US official said it was “doubtful” the Biden administration would be in a position to proceed with F16 sales to Turkey “unless Menendez dropped his objection.”
On the contrary, the decision to sell F35 jets to Athens was “estimated to be a matter of time” according to Kathimerini, which explained on Wednesday that approval was needed by Senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the committee, as well as by Rep Michael McCaul, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep Gregory Meeks of New York, the ranking Democrat on the same committee.
“After this consensus has been obtained, which is estimated to be a matter of time, the US government will formally notify Congress of the sale of F-35s to Greece, and from there, the prescribed procedure for the ratification of the defense contract will be followed,” Kathimerini reported.
In 2019 the Trump administration kicked Turkey out of the F35 joint strike fighter program after Ankara agreed to receive the S-400 Russian-made air defense system.
Erdogan had blamed Washington for Ankara’s S-400 decision, saying US politicians were blocking American-made patriot defense systems and arguing that Turkey had no choice but to turn to Russia.