US Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken gave a first inkling about the stance the Biden administration will take regarding Turkey in the hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His approach was clearly critical; however, the relationship is complex and any conclusions would be premature.
In his first official statement, Blinken said it was “unacceptable” for a “so-called strategic partner of ours” to buy the S-400 and “be in line with one of our biggest strategic competitors, in Russia.” The Biden administration will follow a carrot-and-stick policy, criticizing Turkey but also trying to keep it aligned with the West. Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said yesterday that Biden “as Obama’s vice president visited Turkey four times and knows the region. Our contacts with the transition team are very positive, so far.” He added that the new US president’s aides “declare that they want to develop good relations with Turkey and turn the page.”
Kalin demanded an end to sanctions against Turkey, especially concerning the F-35 fighter jet, collaboration against imam Fethullah Gulen and that the US does not resume support for Kurds in Syria.
As far as these three issues are concerned, the climate is not favorable for Turkey, especially concerning the Kurds, a sensitive issue for Erdogan, since Biden has been one of their most ardent supporters.The critical stance of the new chief American diplomat sends strong messages that Erdogan cannot afford to ignore. “I think we need to take a look and see the impact the existing sanctions have had and then determine whether there’s more that needs to be done,” said Blinken in response to a question by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, leaving open the option of further sanctions if the current ones do not produce the desired results.
Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, a consequential voice since he took over the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, pointed out Turkey’s “aggressive behavior” in the Eastern Mediterranean against “our democratic allies Greece and Cyprus.” He also expressed the hope that the Biden administration will stop coddling Turkey in view of the “engagement it has had in destabilizing actions in Syria, the invading into territorial waters of Cyprus in terms of its exclusive economic zone… and claiming of a whole area of what would be Greece’s exclusive economic zone all the way… to Libya.” “The bottom line is that Turkey is an ally that in many ways decided it is not acting as an ally should. This is a very, very significant challenge for us and we are very clear-eyed about it,” Blinken responded.
The Biden administration wants to cooperate with Ankara, but for this to happen, the latter must change its behavior.