US Senator Bob Menendez has renewed his commitment to stop F-16 fighter sales to Turkey, calling instead on everyone to make sure that all Turkish soldiers leave Cyprus down to the last one.
Menendez, who is likely to remain chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee after Democrats recently retained control of the senate, spoke during an online event marking the anniversary of Turkish Cypriot declarations in the northern part of divided Cyprus.
“The threat of the occupied area is one that has to be taken very seriously. The US should not put any F-16 fighter jets in President Erdogan’s hands. I will not approve any F-16s for Turkey until he halts his campaign of aggression across the entire region,” Menendez said according to the Cyprus News Agency.
The senator, who supports the Greek and Greek Cypriot sides in their respective disputes with Turkish and Turkish Cypriots, said he was proud to be a supporter of the Cyprus cause and asked “everyone to make sure that the last Turkish soldier leaves Cyprus.”
He made the comments during an online event organized by pro-Greek Cypriot PSEKA to condemn the unilateral declaration of the Turkish Cypriots. The discussion was attended by Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides, Senators Chris Van Halen, John Sarbanis, and Dina Titus, Cypriot Presidential Commissioner Fotis Fotiou, and PSEKA President Philip Christopher, along with representatives of Greek and Greek Cypriot expat groups.
'I will not approve any F-16s for Turkey until he halts his campaign of aggression across the entire region'
On 15 November 1983, the Turkish Cypriot leadership moved unilaterally to declare independence after peace talks on the divided island had collapsed, but the move was condemned by the international community except Turkey.
Greek Cypriots in the south, who represent the Republic of Cyprus in the UN and EU, view the declaration as a violation of international law against UN resolutions.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is known to dislike Menendez, had hoped a Republican win in the senate in last week’s elections could have made an F-16 deal “much easier” for Ankara.
But supporters and critics of an F-16 deal, which is favored by the White House, come from both Democrats and Republicans, while Menendez stands in the way with harsh criticism of Turkey's human rights record under Erdogan.
Even though Menendez’ seat was not up for a vote during the elections in early November, last month the senator was told he was under federal criminal investigation.
In late October US media reports said Menendez was once again under federal criminal investigation by the US Attorney's Office in Manhattan, but it was unclear what crimes were being suspected in the case.
Back in November 2017 Menendez got off the hook after federal prosecution for corruption ended in a mistrial due to the jury reportedly being hopelessly deadlocked.
It was not clear whether federal prosecutors were trying to start a new trial or if Menendez was being investigated for a different case.
Back in September Erdogan suggested he had received "positive" feedback from two US senators he had met in New York on their potential support for the F-16 sale.
It remains unknown whether a deal could go forward as Menendez currently retains control over the foreign relations committee and a cross-section of senators in favor of a Washington-Ankara deal is still not yet fully understood.
A spokesperson for Erdogan had stated before the US election that the purchase could be complete by early next year.