Menendez indictment: Cui bono? Israel, Turkey, Azerbaijan. FBI: INVESTIGATE!

Menendez indictment: Cui bono? Israel, Turkey, Azerbaijan. FBI: INVESTIGATE! 

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Turkey gloats at Menendez indictment but will it get F-16 jets?


The announcement of federal corruption charges against Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., on Friday leading up to him stepping down as the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), was met by snarky reactions in Turkish news outlets and social media, a response to the lawmaker’s strong and persistent criticism of Turkey.

Menendez, a well-known foreign policy figure and established power broker in the Senate, allegedly participated in a bribery scheme involving his wife, Nadine, and three businesspeople in his state of New Jersey, federal prosecutors announced on Friday. 

The US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Damian Williams, told reporters that the senator allegedly “used his power and influence, including his leadership role on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to benefit the government of Egypt in various ways.”

Later the same day, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer announced that Menendez would temporarily step down as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Turkish reactions

Turkish media outlets noted Menendez’s differences with Turkey in their coverage on Friday, including his support for Greece and Armenia. Turkey’s official Anadolu Agency accused the senator of being tied to the “Greek and Armenian lobbies.”

“Menendez is known for his anti-Turkey stance and for his close ties with Greek and Armenian lobbies,” claimed the outlet.

Turkey’s public broadcaster TRT ran a headline reading “Anti-Turkey US senator accused of bribery.”

Turkish journalist Ragip Soylu took it a step further, referring to Menendez as an “Armenian and Greek lobbyist” in a tweet.

Menendez and Turkey

The reactions are unsurprising given Menendez’s history with Turkey. The embattled senator has long been a vocal supporter of Armenian issue, urging the US government to recognize the Armenian genocide, which Washington did in 2021. Turkey disputes that the events constitute a genocide, and criticized US President Joe Biden for his decision.

Relatedly, Menendez, 69,  is critical of Turkey’s ally Azerbaijan in the ongoing conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

He is vocal in defending Greece in its disputes with Turkey including the maritime border and has often lashed out at Ankara's military presence in Cyprus.

“If standing up to human rights abuses makes me an enemy of Erdogan — if calling out Turkey for arming Azerbaijan and enabling the massacre of innocent Armenian civilians makes me an enemy of Erdogan — if demanding Turkey recognize Greek and Cypriot sovereignty makes me an enemy of [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan — then it is a badge I will wear with honor,” said Menendez in a December statement.

Menendez has also placed a hold on the sale of US F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, something that has angered the policy and security establishment in Turkey. 

Turkey had requested in October 2021 to buy $20 billion worth of F-16 fighter jets and nearly 80 modernization kits. High-ranking members of Congress including Menendez 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. 

In July, Menendez said he was in talks with the Biden administration about the issue, calling on the administration to rein in Turkey’s “aggression.”

A hold is an informal practice  whereby a senator can delay action on a congressional matter. Under the US Constitution, Congress has the right to review foreign arms sales.

“The biggest obstacle to the sale of F-16s to Turkey was Menendez,” Asli Aydintasbas, a visiting fellow at Brookings, tweeted on Friday, adding that Turkey is following the indictment “very closely.”

“The US government needs Senate approval for the sale. The Biden administration has long struggled to convince Menendez,” she added.

Some other observers agree that the Menendez indictment will be welcome news in Ankara due to the F-16 issue.

“I am sure the Turkish establishment will be pleased with the news of Senator Menendez's indictment for taking bribes from Egypt,” tweeted Brooklyn College professor Louis Fishman on Friday. “He is one of Turkey's most avid major adversaries in Washington, blocking the F-16 sales. This will make Biden's work easier.”

Differences between Erdogan and Biden, however, could still delay the purchase. The US president has yet to invite his Turkish counterpart to the White House, and the two did not meet while in New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly meetings. 

Erdogan's delay in ratifying Sweden's NATO bid, new US sanctions on Turkish firms allegedly doing business with Russia, and tension with US allies in Syria have all created a rift between Washington and Ankara, making the F-16 sale less about Menendez and more about the bilateral relationship. 


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey’s chances of acquiring F-16 fighter jets from the U.S. have been boosted by Sen. Bob Menendez stepping down as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

ByANDREW WILKS Associated Press
September 26, 2023, 7:50 AM

ISTANBUL -- Turkey’s chances of acquiring F-16 fighter jets from the U.S. have been boosted by Sen. Bob Menendez stepping down as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in remarks published Tuesday.

Menendez, the senior Democratic senator for New Jersey, has been a vocal opponent of Turkey receiving aircraft to update its fighter fleet. He stood down from the influential role last week following federal charges that he took cash and gold in illegal exchange for helping the Egyptian government and New Jersey business associates.

“One of our most important problems regarding the F-16s were the activities of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez against our country,” Erdogan told journalists on a flight back from Azerbaijan on Monday. His comments were widely reported across Turkish media.

“Menendez’s exit gives us an advantage but the F-16 issue is not an issue that depends only on Menendez,” Erdogan added.

Ankara has been seeking to buy 40 new F-16s, as well as kits to upgrade its existing fleet. The request was backed by the White House but ran into opposition in Congress, where Menendez raised concerns about Turkey's human rights records as well as blaming Ankara for fractious relations with neighboring Greece.

Referring to talks between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan in recent days, Erdogan said: “It would be beneficial to turn this situation into an opportunity and meet with (Blinken) again.

“In this way, we may have the opportunity to accelerate the process regarding the F-16s. Not only on the F-16s, but on all other issues, Menendez and those with his mindset are carrying out obstructive activities against us.”

Erdogan also openly linked Turkey's F-16 bid to Sweden’s application for NATO membership, which is expected to be debated by the Turkish parliament after it returns from summer recess on Oct. 1.

He said Blinken and Fidan had discussed Sweden’s NATO bid, adding: “I hope that if they stay true to their promise, our parliament will also stay true to its promise.”

Questioned on whether the bid was tied to Turkey receiving the F-16s, Erdogan said: “They are already making Sweden dependent on the F-16 … Our parliament follows every development regarding this issue in minute detail.”

Stockholm applied for NATO membership alongside Finland following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. Only Turkey and Hungary are yet to ratify its application. Neither Washington nor Ankara have openly admitted a link between Sweden’s bid to the F-16 deal but it is widely acknowledged unofficially.

Erdogan was returning from a one-day trip to Nakhchivan, an Azerbaijani enclave separated from the rest of the country by a 33-kilometer (21-mile) stretch of Armenian territory.

Following Azerbaijan’s rout of Armenian forces in a 24-hour blitz in Nagorno-Karabakh last week, Baku has raised hopes of opening a land bridge between Nakhchivan and the rest of Azerbaijan, known as the Zangezur Corridor.

Erdogan said Turkey and Azerbaijan would “do our best to open this corridor as soon as possible.” He added that if Armenia would not agree, an alternative route could go through Iran, a move that Erdogan said Tehran regards “positively.”

In a wide-ranging briefing, Erdogan also raised the prospect of a visit to Turkey by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in October or November.

The two leaders met for the first time in New York last week while attending the U.N. General Assembly. Israel is one of a number of regional powers that Ankara has been patching up relations with in recent years, following more than a decade of hostility.

The Turkish president also addressed the issue of Cyprus, divided between ethnic Turkish and Greek communities for 49 years.

He reiterated his support for a two-state solution, with international recognition for the Turkish administration in the island’s north. Turkey is the only country to recognize the breakaway entity. The international community broadly supports the unification of the island under a federal system.

“We will raise our voices even more for Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to be recognized by other countries,” Erdogan said.

Erdogan says Menendez resignation from Senate committee boosts Turkey's bid to acquire F-16s  ABC News
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