U.S. President Joe Biden and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan discussed the war in Gaza and Sweden’s application to join the NATO alliance in a phone call late Thursday, the two countries said in separate statements.

Turkey, which backs a two-state solution to the generations-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has lambasted Israel over its devastating offensive in Gaza, a tiny Hamas-ruled enclave, and called for an immediate ceasefire. It has also criticised Western support for Israel, namely from the United States.

Washington, Israel’s closest ally, has repeatedly said it supports Israel’s right to defend itself after the cross-border rampage by Hamas militants on Oct. 7 but has stepped up calls on Israel to act with restraint in its campaign, which has killed nearly 19,000 people and laid much of the Gaza Strip to waste.

In a statement, Turkey’s presidency said Erdogan had told Biden the United States had a historic responsibility to achieve a lasting ceasefire in Gaza, which could be ensured if its NATO ally cut back its unconditional support for Israel.

“It is the historic responsibility of the USA to ensure a permanent ceasefire in the region as soon as possible,” Erdogan was cited by his office as saying.

The White House said Biden “reiterated his support for Israel’s right to defend itself” and emphasised “the need for a political horizon for the Palestinian people” – namely, the Palestinian quest for a state in Israeli-occupied territory.


The two men also delved into Turkish-U.S. relations, including the issue of F-16 fighter jet sales to Turkey, Erdogan’s office said.

White House spokesperson John Kirby told reporters: “I certainly wouldn’t be surprised at all if it was also raised that we continue to support a modernization program for their F-16s.”

Turkey asked in October 2021 to buy 40 Lockheed Martin Corp LMT.N F-16 fighters and 79 modernization kits for its existing warplanes. The Biden administration backs the $20 billion sale but there have been objections in the U.S. Congress over Turkey’s human rights record and over its delaying of NATO enlargement to bring in Sweden.

The White House said Biden and Erdogan also discussed “the importance of welcoming Sweden as an ally as soon as possible and further enhancing” Turkey’s “interoperability” with NATO.

After long-time non-alignment, Sweden applied to join NATO to bolster its security in response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, but has been left waiting due to resistance from alliance states Turkey and Hungary.

Akif Cagatay Kilic, Erdogan’s senior foreign policy adviser, told CNN on Thursday that there were still some issues that need to be “ironed out” for Sweden’s bid to be ratified by Turkish lawmakers. He said the ideal situation would be for Washington to move forward with the sale of F-16 jets simultaneously.

“It would help immensely with the work in (Turkey’s) parliament because as you know they have to approve it. It is in the works, it is in debate,” Kilic said.

There were still issues Ankara was “in doubt” over, Kilic said, and there was “a certain amount of resistance” among lawmakers. He gave no timeline for a ratification vote.