Small Wars Journal

FDD's Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker June Trends

Fri, 06/02/2023 - 12:54pm
Access the Foreign Policy Tracker HERE.
Assessments are below.


FDD's Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker
June Trends

Trend Overview

Edited by John Hardie

Welcome back to the Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker. Once a month, we ask FDD’s experts and scholars to assess the administration’s foreign policy. They provide trendlines of very positive, positive, neutral, negative, or very negative for the areas they watch.

At the G7 summit in Hiroshima, President Joe Biden announced he would support a European initiative to train Ukrainian pilots on the F-16 — something he had previously opposed, wasting valuable time. The G7 allies also sought to display unity in their approach to China, although the Biden administration continues to be plagued by internal confusion over its China policy. The summit provided an opportunity, however, for Biden to discuss trilateral security cooperation with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts.

The administration, with backing from Congress, is encouraging Saudi Arabia to normalize relations with Israel. However, the Saudis want security guarantees from the United States, and it remains unclear whether Washington is prepared to meet Riyadh’s conditions. Meanwhile, the Biden team is still holding out hope for a diplomatic agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, even as Tehran continues to stonewall an international inquiry into its undeclared nuclear activities. Yet the White House remains unwilling to deploy sufficient pressure to make a worthwhile deal possible.

China, Russia, and other authoritarian regimes continue to abuse key international organizations, while the Biden administration’s engagement-first approach has yielded scant progress on reform. Finally, Arab normalization with Syria’s murderous Assad regime continues to gain steam with the Biden administration’s quiet approval.

Check back next month to see how the administration looks to deal with these and other challenges.


By Craig Singleton


Previous Trend: Negative

The Biden administration’s mixed messaging on China continued in May. At the G7 summit in Hiroshima, G7 leaders issued a communique condemning Beijing’s “malign practices.” But President Biden predicted a “thaw” in U.S.-China relations, even suggesting he is contemplating easing sanctions on China’s defense chief, General Li Shangfu, to pave the way for a resumption in high-level military-to-military engagement. The State Department later clarified Biden’s comments, insisting that the administration is not considering lifting sanctions on Li and that sanctions do not prevent Li from holding official meetings with his American counterparts. This latest gaffe is emblematic of the White House’s fractured policymaking process on China.

Meanwhile, China made clear it has no intention of reducing tensions. Beijing labeled the G7 communique a smear attack and lambasted Washington’s “arbitrary” interference in China’s “internal affairs.” Beijing has also repeatedly rebuffed White House offers to schedule a phone call between Xi Jinping and Biden. In holding diplomacy hostage, Beijing is signaling that Washington can either maintain its existing containment strategy against China or stabilize bilateral relations, but it cannot do both.

Further complicating the administration’s balancing act, state-sponsored Chinese hackers waged a massive cyberattack against communications, manufacturing, transportation, and maritime networks in the United States and Guam, home to a major U.S. military installation. Microsoft said the hackers aimed to spy on and disrupt “communications infrastructure between the US and Asia during future crises.” Failing to respond to China’s latest hack could lead Beijing to ramp up its cyber-bullying.


By RADM (Ret.) Mark Montgomery and Jiwon Ma


Previous Trend: Positive

The Biden administration demonstrated its increased cybercrime investigation capacity through efforts with international allies and partners. In early May, the Department of Justice (DoJ) and foreign partners announced the arrest of 288 criminals as a result of Operation SpecTor, the largest-ever operation against darknet trafficking of fentanyl and opioids. Similarly, DoJ and the Commerce Department’s Disruptive Technology Strike Force announced five coordinated enforcement actions against individuals supporting China, Russia, and Iran in stealing information on U.S. technologies.

In addition, the Internal Revenue Service’s criminal investigative division plans to equip Ukrainian investigators with tools from Chainalysis, a blockchain analytics firm, to pursue Russian oligarchs who may be using cryptocurrency assets to evade sanctions. Likewise, the Treasury Department sanctioned North Korean state actors for malicious cyber activities that support the Kim regime.

In other news, President Biden has nominated U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh to lead both U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency. He will replace Gen. Paul Nakasone, who is completing a highly successful five-year tour. Meanwhile, the national cyber director (NCD) position has remained vacant since NCD Chris Inglis’ departure in February. Nevertheless, Kemba Walden ably continues the work as acting NCD. Walden announced that the administration intends to produce a national cyber workforce strategy in the coming months.

Lastly, the Department of Defense submitted a classified defense cyber strategy to Congress. The strategy, informed by lessons learned in Ukraine, defines how the department operates in cyberspace. An unclassified version is set to be released over the summer.


By Bradley Bowman


Previous Trend: Negative

More than a year after Kyiv first requested F-16 fighter jets, President Biden relented and told allies at the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, on May 19 that he would support an international coalition to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16s, paving the way for their eventual transfer to Ukraine. The administration’s delay reportedly stemmed primarily from a desire to prioritize weapons Ukraine needed most for its counteroffensive and an eagerness to avoid escalation with Russia.

In a mistake that would make any self-respecting accountant blush, “the Pentagon overestimated the value of the ammunition, missiles and other equipment it sent to Ukraine by around $3 billion,” according to a May 19 Reuters report. Pentagon officials overvalued some items sent to Ukraine by using the cost to replace them rather than their current value. The Department of Defense apparently did not tell key congressional leaders for two months after the error was discovered.

In the latest effort to expedite the Pentagon’s dangerously slow weapons development and fielding process, the Navy on May 2 established the Maritime Accelerated Response Capability Cell (MARCC). “The MARCC will initially focus on Ukraine, Taiwan, and contingency support,” according to a memo cited by Defense News. The cell will respond to urgent Department of Defense taskings and then work with Navy and Marine Corps research labs, acquisition offices, fleet warfighters, and resource sponsors to “rapidly find and field a solution.” Such efforts could help more expeditiously arm U.S. forces and beleaguered democracies confronting ongoing or potential aggression.


By John Hardie


Previous Trend: Negative

At the G7 summit in Hiroshima, President Biden and his counterparts sought to display unity against common challenges. The joint communique declared a commitment to “de-risking” economic relations with China, including by reducing critical supply chain dependencies. The leaders also pledged to counter China’s “malign practices, such as illegitimate technology transfer or data disclosure,” and criticized Beijing’s human rights abuses and “militarization” in the South China Sea. However, while some G7 allies are clear-eyed about the China threat, others, such as Germany, continue to water down allied efforts.

In a joint statement on Ukraine, the G7 leaders pledged to support Kyiv “for as long as it takes.” Biden reinforced that message during a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the summit’s margins. The administration unveiled a new $375 million military aid package for Ukraine, adding to the $1.8 billion in other security assistance pledged in May. Biden also dropped his earlier objections to providing Kyiv with F-16 fighter jets (covered further in the Russia section).

In concert with its G7 allies, Washington unveiled new sanctions against Russia, focused chiefly on thwarting circumvention of Western restrictions targeting Moscow’s defense industrial base. The G7 leaders also welcomed Zelenskyy’s “Peace Formula,” declaring that “a just peace cannot be realized without the complete and unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops and military equipment, and this must be included in any call for peace.” They used the summit as an opportunity for outreach to Russia-friendly Global South countries, such as India and Brazil, which attended as observers.


By Hussain Abdul-Hussain


Previous Trend: Negative

The Biden administration showed urgency in pursuing normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Signaling bipartisan support for that policy, 28 members of Congress sponsored legislation to create a special envoy position tasked with “expanding and strengthening the Abraham Accords.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken is reportedly considering former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro for that position. Blinken had reportedly weighed whether to create such a position during the Biden administration’s first few months in office but ultimately decided against it.

During a May 8 trip to Riyadh, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan discussed normalization with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS). The Saudi ruler reportedly told his guest that he does not want to take any more incremental steps toward normalization. Instead, MBS seeks a big package that will include deliverables from Washington, including stronger U.S.-Saudi military cooperation.

The Saudis have previously outlined several conditions for normalization with Israel. Riyadh wants a written agreement defining the U.S.-Saudi strategic partnership and American security guarantees for Riyadh. In addition, the Saudis seek a guarantee of reliable American arms sales to the kingdom. They also want a U.S.-Saudi agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation that does not require Riyadh to forgo enrichment of uranium.

Although MBS reportedly favors a grand bargain, news reports suggest Riyadh and Jerusalem are nearing a U.S.-brokered deal to allow Arab Israelis to board direct flights to Saudi Arabia for the annual Islamic pilgrimage in Mecca.


By Craig Singleton


Previous Trend: Positive

With the debt ceiling crisis unfolding in Washington, President Biden was forced to cancel a much-anticipated trip to Papua New Guinea (PNG) this month. Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Port Moresby in his place. The two sides formalized several bilateral agreements, including one aimed at increasing surveillance of PNG’s exclusive economic zone to deter illegal Chinese fishing. The administration has devoted significant attention towards improving America’s posture in the Pacific Islands region, opening several new embassies and ramping up aid to countries hard hit by the pandemic. Still, Biden’s absence risks reinforcing concerns that Washington is falling back into old habits of neglecting the region.

Meanwhile, Beijing wasted little time capitalizing on Biden’s scuttled trip. China’s state-owned Global Times argued Biden’s cancelation “erodes U.S. credibility,” underscoring that “when its domestic issues override its political agenda,” Washington “easily turns back on its commitments.” This specious framing is consistent with China’s broader efforts to alter global perceptions about democracy in a bid to portray Washington as unreliable. To repair the damage, Biden should consider scheduling a follow-on trip to the region or, at a minimum, hosting Pacific Island leaders at the White House for a high-level summit.

In positive news, the United States and Taiwan agreed to the first stage of a bilateral trade initiative. The proposal covers trade facilitation, regulatory practices, and anti-corruption, while deferring action on more contentious issues surrounding tariffs, agriculture, and digital trade. The proposal falls well short of a formal free trade deal. But if enacted, it would enhance Taiwan’s international standing and could lead other nations to enter into their own trade pacts with Taipei.

International Organizations

By Richard Goldberg


Previous Trend: Negative

For the third year in a row, the Biden administration failed to win observer status for Taiwan at the World Health Assembly, the annual gathering of the World Health Organization (WHO). Meanwhile, the administration took no action to suspend Russia’s voting rights or membership on the WHO’s executive board. The assembly did, however, follow past practice of castigating Israel in a dedicated agenda item.

All of this deals a major blow to the Biden administration’s core UN strategy, which posits that Washington can achieve reform of flawed international organizations through active engagement rather than by conditioning U.S. funding or participation on reforms. Indeed, on his first day in office, President Biden restored U.S. funding for and participation in the WHO without first winning any concessions from the agency. Biden later backed its director-general’s bid for re-election, again without demanding reforms.

The administration has suffered similar failures at the UN Human Rights Council, which Biden rejoined after taking office. In mid-May, the council’s president announced that Iran had been appointed to chair the council’s Social Forum. While the U.S. ambassador to the council blasted the appointment, her statement also exposed a U.S. inability to achieve systemic reform within the organization.

In better news, the Biden administration boycotted the UN’s antisemitic “Nakba Day,” which commemorates the supposed “catastrophe” of the Jewish State of Israel’s establishment in 1948. Moreover, the administration blocked the UN Security Council from issuing a China-proposed joint statement condemning Israel for conducting precision strikes against the leaders of the Iran-directed Islamic Jihad terrorist organization in Gaza.


By Behnam Ben Taleblu and Rich Goldberg


Previous Trend: Very Negative

In their communique from the G7 summit in Hiroshima, President Biden and his counterparts expressed concern over “Iran’s unabated nuclear” escalation, which earlier this year included enrichment of uranium to near weapons-grade purity. But the statement contained no references to economic, political, or military consequences for Iran’s nuclear conduct. The communique remained silent on whether to snap back UN sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Nor did it declare Tehran to be in non-compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or express readiness to take military action to deny Iran a nuclear weapon. Instead, the G7 leaders reiterated their preference for diplomacy, calling the fatally flawed 2015 nuclear deal “a useful reference.”

The Biden administration did, however, offer a show of force in response to Tehran’s continued threats to civilian maritime traffic, including its May 3 seizure of another oil tanker. The U.S. military stepped up naval and air patrols in and around the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, and Gulf of Oman. Separately, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that current U.S. policy recognizes “Israel’s freedom of action” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

In other news, U.S. officials danced around questions as to whether the administration has lobbied the United Kingdom against proscribing Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. And while the European Union imposed its eighth round of human rights sanctions against Tehran over its ongoing repression of peaceful protests in Iran, the United States did not impose similar sanctions or take other steps in May in support of the protest movement.


By David May


Previous Trend: Neutral

After the Iran-backed Palestinian terror group Islamic Jihad launched more than 100 rockets at Israel in early May, Jerusalem responded with targeted strikes against the organization’s leadership and military infrastructure. The Biden administration reassured Israel of its continued support, worked to implement a ceasefire, and blocked a UN Security Council statement condemning Israel.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has expressed support for a normalization deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Top Israeli officials visited Washington this week to discuss this expansion of the Abraham Accords and the threat posed by Iran.

But the administration also rebuked Israel multiple times. On May 19, the State Department criticized anti-Palestinian slogans chanted by some Israelis during marches celebrating Jerusalem Day, which commemorates the reunification of Jerusalem. Days later, Foggy Bottom condemned an Israeli minister’s “provocative visit” to the Temple Mount, Judaism’s most revered location and a site of frequent Palestinian unrest. The administration also announced that it was “deeply troubled” by an Israeli decision to allow its citizens to return to an outpost in the northern West Bank.

On May 25, the Biden administration released its plan on combatting antisemitism. The plan embraced the widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, which outlines how criticism of Israel can venture into antisemitism. At the same time, the plan gave a nod to a competing definition that declares that holding Israel to a double standard is not inherently antisemitic. Despite the controversy, many mainstream Jewish organizations expressed support for the administration’s serious commitment to combatting antisemitism.


By David Maxwell


Previous Trend: Positive

North Korea did not conduct any missile tests or other provocations for six weeks, from April 13 to late May. But on May 31 (Korea time), it launched a space vehicle, purportedly to place a reconnaissance satellite in orbit. The launch violated UN Security Council resolutions. However, the launch failed.

The United States, South Korea, and Japan made progress on trilateral security cooperation at the G7 meeting in Hiroshima, which Seoul attended as an observer. President Biden held a joint meeting with ROK President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, during which they discussed deepening trilateral cooperation. Yoon and Kishida also met separately on the summit’s sidelines. This followed Kishida’s positive visit to Seoul earlier in May.

Meanwhile, South Korea and the United States have begun work on implementing the Washington Declaration on extended deterrence. ROK and U.S. forces held their largest-ever live-fire combined military exercises on May 25 and will continue to do so four times per year to demonstrate strength and readiness.

On May 23, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned four entities and one individual connected to Pyongyang’s malicious cyber activities and illicit revenue from overseas IT workers. South Korea issued a similar set of sanctions designations. Washington and Seoul continued to coordinate on cyber defense.

Julie Turner, Biden’s nominee to be the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights, laid out her top five priorities during her Senate confirmation hearing on May 17. This position has been vacant since 2017. Turner’s confirmation will allow the United States to implement a human rights-upfront approach in coordination with South Korea.

Latin America

By Carrie Filipetti and Emanuele Ottolenghi


Previous Trend: Negative

The Biden administration’s Latin America policy pays ample attention to issues such as migration and human rights. But the administration is failing to aggressively confront the influence of America’s enemies in the region.

Under Secretary of State Uzra Zeya visited Colombia and Guatemala in late May to discuss migration, countering narcotics trafficking, and civilian security. Brian Nichols, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, visited Brazil to open a new U.S. embassy building and advance a joint bilateral agenda to fight ethnic and racial discrimination. Finally, U.S. Southern Command chief General Laura Richardson visited Colombia and Brazil to discuss bilateral defense cooperation and speak at a conference on the role of women in peace and security. However, China, Russia, Iran, and transnational crime remained on the backburner.

The administration’s shift away from confronting malign actors head-on is evident with Venezuela. The May 19 departure of Ambassador James Story as the State Department’s top Venezuela hand likely signals the end of Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy toward Venezuela. It remains to be seen whether Francisco “Paco” Palmieri, a longtime Latin America hand at the State Department, will fight to continue his predecessor’s policies or move toward appeasement.

Finally, the White House nominated Ambassador Dennis B. Hankins, a career diplomat who previously served in Sudan and Congo, among other places, to be the U.S. ambassador to Haiti. The ambassador position has been open since 2021. Hankins’ nomination signals the Biden administration is finally ready to start taking the escalating violence and humanitarian crisis in Haiti seriously.


By Tony Badran


Previous Trend: Very Negative

The Biden administration’s nominee to be the next ambassador to Lebanon, Lisa Johnson, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 16. Unsurprisingly, Johnson voiced her support for the administration’s failed policies in Lebanon, including aid for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and Internal Security Forces (ISF) as a supposed counterweight to Hezbollah. “If confirmed, I would continue to advocate for very strong, robust security assistance” for the LAF and ISF, Johnson told the Committee. “They’re doing a great job of bolstering stability and security in this part of the world.”

To accept Johnson’s definition of stability and security, one must ignore Hezbollah. Case in point: Days after Johnson’s testimony, Hezbollah conducted a large military exercise in southern Lebanon, inviting local and international media outlets to flaunt its dominance and its readiness to wage war. But despite the LAF’s fecklessness, the Biden administration has divorced its provision of taxpayer-funded aid from any expectation of concrete action against Hezbollah.

For its part, the ISF conducts counterintelligence for Hezbollah. Moreover, in her testimony, Johnson would not rule out dealing with Lebanese government ministries controlled by Hezbollah or its allies, answering only that it “complicates our diplomacy.” In reality, the Biden administration routinely engages with Hezbollah cutouts, both in the government and in the security sector.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Beirut celebrated the construction of a new 43-acre compound that will cost American taxpayers $1 billion. Washington has seen fit to construct its second-largest diplomatic outpost in the world in a pseudo-state run by an Iranian-backed, U.S.-designated terrorist group.

Nonproliferation and Biodefense

By Anthony Ruggiero and Andrea Stricker


Previous Trend: Very Negative

Washington and its allies have not yet held Russia accountable for its use of chemical weapons by suspending Moscow’s voting rights and privileges at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), as they did with Syria in 2021. From May 15 to 19, the OPCW held a conference to review the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Russia continues to violate. Moscow and its bloc ultimately blocked consensus on adopting the review conference’s final report. Russia may have also joined Turkey, as well as China or Iran, to block FDD experts from attending.

Iran has made little to no progress in resolving an over four-year-old International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inquiry into Tehran’s undeclared nuclear activities. Nor has Iran made significant progress toward reinstalling surveillance cameras at nuclear sites. The regime also has yet to turn over to the agency key video recordings and monitoring information. Washington and its allies have a chance to hold Iran to account at the IAEA’s upcoming Board of Governors meeting, which starts on June 5.

Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant was disconnected from the national electricity grid for the seventh time since Russia invaded last year. When this occurs, the reactors must rely on emergency diesel generators for cooling and to maintain nuclear safety functions, risking a radiological disaster. IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi has urged both sides to declare a demilitarized zone around the reactor complex.


By John Hardie


Previous Trend: Negative

President Biden told his G7 counterparts that he would support a transatlantic effort to train Ukrainian pilots on fourth-generation fighter aircraft, including American-made F-16s. The Biden team had previously resisted Kyiv’s monthslong campaign for U.S.-made fighter jets, insisting it wanted to focus on Ukraine’s more pressing needs. The administration reportedly even blocked European allies from using their own F-16s to train Ukrainian pilots. Biden’s reversal came amid mounting congressional and international pressure, including from a growing number of European nations that supported the initiative. In the weeks before the G7 summit, the administration reportedly signaled it would not stop European allies from re-exporting F-16s to Ukraine.

U.S. personnel will participate in the training, which will take place in Europe. A senior administration official said the training “will require months to complete” and will hopefully begin “in the comings weeks.” It remains unclear which countries will provide the aircraft and how many Ukraine will receive. It is also unclear how the Western coalition plans to maintain the aircraft. Training Ukrainian maintenance personnel will likely take even longer than training the pilots.

Ukraine’s new aircraft are not likely to be a game-changer against Russia. Kyiv will likely receive older versions of the F-16 and AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile. Russian fighter aircraft will continue to enjoy an advantage in the air, and Ukrainian pilots will still face potent threats from Russia’s ground-based air defenses. But the new aircraft will help Kyiv offset attrition within its Soviet-made fighter fleet, provide some additional capability, and further Ukrainian integration with NATO.

Sunni Jihadism

By Bill Roggio

Previous Trend: Negative

The U.S. military continues to target Islamic State leaders and networks in Iraq and Syria. U.S. Central Command reported that, in April, American and local partner forces conducted 25 operations in Iraq, killing nine ISIS operatives and detaining seven more. U.S. and partner forces conducted another 11 operations in Syria that killed four ISIS operatives and detained 21 more. Three of the ISIS operatives killed in Syria were senior leaders, and two of them were involved in terror plots in Europe and the Middle East.

However, the U.S. military is retracting its earlier claim that it killed a senior al-Qaeda leader in a strike in Syria. The military believes it may have killed a low-level al-Qaeda operative, but local Syrians claim a civilian was killed in the strike.

In Somalia, al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, overran a Ugandan military base outside of the capital of Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab forces killed scores of Ugandan troops while seizing military hardware. The U.S. military continues to target the group. U.S. Africa Command launched two counterterrorism strikes, one of which targeted al-Shabaab fighters after they seized military equipment during the raid on the Ugandan base.

The Taliban yet again claimed it would not allow foreign terrorist groups to use Afghanistan as a base of operations. This time, the Taliban promised China that it would reign in the Turkistan Islamic Party, an affiliate of al-Qaeda. The Taliban has made this claim many times in the past, including before the 9/11 attacks.


By David Adesnik


Previous Trend: Negative

The Arab League welcomed Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad back with open arms at its May 19 summit in Riyadh, 12 years after suspending his regime for its atrocities. The Biden administration claimed to oppose Assad’s rehabilitation, consistent with its pose as a defender of the Syrian people, while quietly encouraging Arab governments to negotiate the terms of reengagement with Damascus. The White House told reporters it is committed to upholding the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019, which prescribes tough sanctions on those doing business with the Assad regime. In practice, the administration has barely enforced the Caesar Act, leading top lawmakers from both parties to warn of their disappointment. With such concerns likely in mind, the administration imposed Caesar Act sanctions at the end of May on two Syrian currency exchanges and three exchange proprietors.

On May 16, the House Foreign Affairs Committee pressed Biden for a much firmer line on Syria by approving the Assad Regime Anti-Normalization Act. The bill would expand the range of targets subject to Caesar sanctions and create a process to accelerate their designation. It also clarifies that all energy-related transactions with the Assad regime are subject to sanctions. That provision targets a pair of regional energy deals that the Biden administration has supported, claiming they are exempt from sanctions even though they would enrich the Assad regime. In addition, the act directs the president to sanction those in Syria responsible for the theft of humanitarian assistance, while requiring annual reports on the Assad regime’s manipulation of UN agencies.


By Sinan Ciddi


Previous Trend: Positive

President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his re-election as Turkey’s president on May 28. The administration is now eyeing when Ankara will push forward with ratifying Sweden’s NATO accession bid. Erdogan has been holding up Sweden’s membership since 2022, citing Stockholm’s alleged support for the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a militant Kurdish separatist organization. In reality, Erdogan delayed Sweden’s accession so he could use it as a campaign issue, rousing his voter base by accusing Stockholm of supporting the PKK. Now that the election is over, Erdogan is expected to ratify Swedish accession.

In return, Ankara wants Washington to approve its request to buy F-16 fighter jets. But while the Biden administration supports the sale, key members of Congress have threatened to block it. Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, recently signaled that he may be in favor of approving the F-16 sale, provided that he “see[s] some action from Turkey” on Sweden’s NATO membership bid. But for the sale to go forward, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would also have to consent. Whether Menendez will do so remains unclear, as he has a longer list of grievances against Ankara, including Turkey’s belligerent stance towards another NATO ally, Greece.

The analyses above do not necessarily represent the institutional views of FDD.


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