Kathimerini Greece Newsroom
by Michalis Ignatiou and Lena Argiri
The developments surrounding Sweden’s NATO membership are rapidly unfolding, with indications pointing towards an imminent announcement of an agreement during the Vilnius summit held on July 11-12. However, there remains the possibility that Turkey may disrupt the proceedings at the last moment.
Based on the current information available, while no agreement is considered final until the necessary signatures are obtained, Turkey appears to be willing to compromise and has given the green light for the expansion of the alliance. However, this acceptance comes with stringent conditions that accompany the potential sale of F-16s.
Sources in Washington reveal that the potential agreement could only collapse if Turkey reverses its stance, as Ankara continues to introduce new demands even when it appears that everything has been settled.
Late on Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan requested that US President Joe Biden push the acceleration of negotiations between Turkey and the European Union for its accession. This demand introduced fresh uncertainty regarding the prospects of an agreement concerning Sweden’s NATO membership.
In response, Biden made it clear that such a guarantee could not be provided by the United States. He also emphasized the difficult position Turkey would find itself in and the potential consequences for US-Turkish relations if Sweden’s accession does not move forward. This sentiment was reiterated during a subsequent phone call between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan.
Sources in Washington have also indicated that if Turkey chooses to obstruct a deal in Vilnius, the repercussions for US-Turkey relations will be dramatic. Ankara will face multiple blows, particularly in terms of the economy, and the US will no longer turn a blind eye to Turkey’s failure to adhere to sanctions against Russia. This could potentially lead to the imposition of secondary sanctions against Turkey. “The stakes couldn’t be higher for Turkey,” the sources said.
Despite recent attempts by American officials to downplay the connection between Sweden’s NATO accession and the issue of F-16 fighter jets, the developments and Biden’s public admission on CNN Sunday have provided evidence to the contrary.
Throughout the months-long and highly challenging negotiation process, which was mostly shrouded in secrecy, the key factor shaping the developments was not Stockholm, as one might expect, but Athens – despite the fact that Greece did not actively seek this role. This highlights that Turkey’s relationship with the US now clearly hinges on Greece.
US officials have repeatedly stressed in recent weeks that the only way to break the impasse and soften Congress’ hard stance was for Greece to give its approval.
Consequently, the White House, State Department, and Pentagon have been engaged in a race against time to fully address the demands put forth by Congress during the preceding period. These demands specifically revolve around safeguarding Greek national interests.
In line with the request made by Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, any final agreement with Turkey, if and when reached, must incorporate mechanisms that anticipate the suspension, postponement, or even cancellation of weapon system transfers in the event of Ankara reverting to its aggressive behavior.
This requirement stems from the fact that, as Menendez has consistently emphasized, such aggressive behavior is not solely directed against Greece but also undermines US national security interests and the unity of the NATO alliance.
Therefore, it appears that the “F-35 model” will be adopted. It should be noted that Turkey was removed from the program due to a provision in the 2020 Defense Budget that prohibits the transfer of fifth-generation fighters as long as Turkey possesses the Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems.
Drawing from this precedent, sources in Congress have indicated that the process of selling weapons can take years. They noted, “During this extended period, Congress can utilize legislative tools to block, revise, or modify the terms of a sale, even up until the final delivery dates.”
Furthermore, members of the Hellenic Caucus in Congress emphasized in a recent letter to Blinken that all US defense systems sold, leased, or exported under the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) are subject to end-use monitoring. This ensures that the recipient fully complies with the requirements imposed by the US government, which mandate lawful use and prohibit the use of weapons against allies.
It has been stated that during the complex procedures, there was consideration given to including detailed terms, conditions, and monitoring mechanisms governing the transaction in the Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) for the fighter jet sales request. However, objections from Lockheed Martin, which opposes the inclusion of such terms in its contracts, appear to have averted such provision.
It is important to highlight that as a result of the influential campaign led by the Greek-American lobby in the United States over the past two years against the sale of F-16s, a firm opinion has now taken hold among circles in Congress. This opinion asserts that the security of one of NATO’s longstanding members, Greece, should not be jeopardized in order to facilitate the accession of a new member, Sweden, to NATO. It is believed that for Turkey to be eligible to purchase American weapons, it must modify its stance.
According to sources in Washington, it is now evident that if the United States is faced with a choice between Greece and Turkey, it has already made its decision in favor of Greece. This decision is based on the credibility demonstrated by Athens both in bilateral relations and within the framework of NATO. Additionally, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is viewed by the US and President Biden personally as a trusted partner with whom they can effectively safeguard the shared interests of the two allies.