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Erdogan's UNGA visit strained by Sweden's NATO delay, Turkey’s F-16s sale

President Erdogan’s visit to the United States is unlikely to overcome the current deadlock in the bilateral Turkey-US ties, but the Turkish leader is set to meet his Israeli and Greek counterparts in New York.
SPENCER PLATT/AFP via Getty Images

ANKARA — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan traveled to New York on Saturday to attend the upcoming United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meetings next week, in a visit that is poised to advance Ankara’s fence-mending push with regional countries but is unlikely to overcome the deadlock in US ties over Sweden’s NATO accession.

Erdogan's schedule so far casts a focus on European and regional diplomacy. He will be meeting Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Monday, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a later date. Erdogan will also hold a bilateral meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and is set to address the assembly on Tuesday. 

Thaw with Israel, Greece?

Erdogan’s meetings with the Greek and Israeli leaders come as Ankara is ramping up efforts to reset tattered ties with its former regional rivals. The Turkish president’s meeting with Netanyahu will mark the first one-on-one between them after years of being at odds. The two countries fully reinstated their diplomatic ties last year after more than a decade of deep freeze. 

The real question, meanwhile, is whether the diplomatic traffic in New York will yield any progress in bilateral ties between Ankara and Washington. Those are currently deadlocked over two major sticking points: congressional objections to Turkey’s bid to purchase new F-16 fighter jets and modernization kits from the United States and Turkey’s delay in ratifying Sweden's NATO accession to October. 

No White House meeting expected

Analysts warn against high expectations. According to Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Ankara-Washington ties have been suffering from a "mutual confidence problem" over Turkey impeding Sweden’s NATO accession and Washington’s failure to conclude the Turkish F-16 bid.

“At this stage, it seems to me that the sides are slowly losing confidence in each other's ability to deliver,” Cagaptay told Al-Monitor. “It's not just Erdogan, it's the broader national security elite that attach a lot of importance to the F-16 issue, and I think they're really frustrated that the US is not forthcoming on this issue.”

Turkey had requested in October 2021 to buy $20 billion of F-16 fighter jets and nearly 80 modernization kits. High-ranking members of Congress have objected to this sale, but could soften their position if Ankara ratifies Sweden’s bid, improves relations with Greece and maintains distance from Russia. 

Dropping his objections to Sweden’s accession to NATO after a year of resistance, Erdogan greenlighted Turkey's ratification on the sidelines of NATO's Vilnius meeting in July, but later postponed the process of ratification to October, when the Turkish parliament returns from summer recess. 

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