Blinken to focus on quake aid, Nordic NATO bid in Türkiye visit
The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has arrived on Sunday in Türkiye for an official two-day visit and to discuss how Washington can further assist Ankara regarding the earthquake response.
The top U.S. diplomat landed at Incirlik Air Base in the southern province of Adana, where he was welcomed by his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. The two top diplomats took a helicopter tour of the quake-struck area. Blinken and Çavuşoğlu are also expected to hold bilateral talks and a press conference today.
Blinken will visit Türkiye on Feb. 19-20 to “show solidarity and convey his condolences” following the disaster caused by twin earthquakes in southern Türkiye, a Foreign Ministry statement said.
Since the earthquake, the United States has sent a search and rescue team to Türkiye, medical supplies, concrete-breaking machinery and additional funding of $85 million (TL 1.60 billion) in humanitarian aid that also covers Syria.
Karen Donfried, the State Department’s assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told reporters on a conference call that Blinken will express the U.S.’ “sincerest condolences” for the loss of life during his meeting with Çavuşoğlu and discuss “how the United States can strengthen the ongoing effort to provide assistance in coordination with the Turkish government.”
The top diplomats will also hold a joint news conference in Ankara, and Blinken will visit Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of Türkiye’s founder, to participate in a wreath-laying in honor of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Donfried said.
Asked specifically if Blinken would meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Donfried said: “I’m not giving you a full lay down on the schedule, but what I’ve shared with you is what we’re sharing at this point.”
Blinken’s visit was planned for some time but it comes two years after he took office, in stark contrast with some of his predecessors including Hillary Clinton and Rex Tillerson, who made the visit within the first three months of their terms.
However, the top diplomat visiting shortly after the earthquake is also a show of support and of not repeating the mistakes of 2016, when U.S. officials did not display a concrete stance or condemn the act in the first hours of the failed coup attempt, analysts said as Washington’s response to the quake, aid pledges and rescue teams came immediately this time.
The first visit of Blinken to Türkiye as secretary of state comes as the two NATO allies faced unprecedented tumult in the past five years over disagreements on many issues, including Syria and Ankara’s closer ties with Moscow. There are additional sources of strain for the two countries, including the U.S. support for the PKK terrorist group’s Syrian wing, the YPG, whom Türkiye considers a threat, and the continued U.S. residency of FETÖ figures, including its head Fethullah Gülen, who plotted the failed coup attempt against the Turkish government in 2016.
However, the two countries also launched a strategic mechanism to further expand the countries’ bilateral cooperation last week to set up a procedure for improving their strained ties, eyeing cooperation in the areas of economy and defense.
Also topping the agenda will be the stalled NATO bids of Sweden and Finland.
Linked to the membership bids is Türkiye’s aim to buy U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets, a sale the U.S. Congress has objected to unless Ankara gives the green light for the Nordic accession process.
The Biden administration has repeatedly said it supports the sale and while it has refrained from linking the two issues, it has acknowledged that the approval for the Nordic countries would have a positive impact among members of Congress.
Türkiye has expressed its frustration that the issues are increasingly seen as linked. Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalın said last month he hoped the F-16 deal would not become a “hostage” of Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership bids.