Blinken tries to soothe Turkey's anger in Ankara
November 6, 2023 09:41 AM
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken holds tough talks in Turkey on Monday, aimed at soothing the anger of one of Washington's most strategic but difficult allies about the bloodshed in Gaza.
Blinken's first visit since Israel went to war with Hamas in reprisal for the militants' October 7 attack comes with fury at both Israel and the West boiling over on the streets of Turkey and inside the palace of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse hundreds of protesters who marched on an air base housing US forces in Turkey's southeast hours before Blinken's arrival Sunday.
Erdogan himself plans to travel across Turkey's remote northeast Monday in a seeming snub of Washington's top diplomat.
Blinken's talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan were set to be packed with problems even before Israel launched a relentless bombing and expanding ground campaign aimed at eradicating Hamas.
The Hamas-run health ministry said at least 9,770 people had been killed in more than four weeks of war in Gaza.
The operation started after the militants killed more than 1,400 people and took over 240 hostages in the deadliest attack in Israel's history.
The war threatens to have broad repercussions on Washington's relations with Turkey -- a NATO member with a muscular foreign policy and stakes in conflicts across the Middle East.
- 'Crocodile tears' -
Washington is anxious to see Turkey's parliament finally ratify Sweden's stalled drive to join the US-led NATO defence organisation.
The United States has also been tightening sanctions against Turkish individuals and companies that are deemed to be helping Russia evade sanctions and import goods for use in its war on Ukraine.
And Ankara is upset that Congress is holding up the approval of a deal backed by US President Joe Biden to modernise Turkey's air force with dozens of US F-16 fighter jets.
Turkey further has longstanding reservations about US support for Kurdish forces in Syria that spearheaded the fight against Islamic State group jihadists -- but which Ankara views an offshoot of banned PKK militants.
Ankara has stepped up air strikes against armed Kurdish groups in Syria and Iraq in reprisal for an October attack on the Turkish capital claimed by the PKK in which two assailants died.
Blinken's visit follows a whirlwind tour of the Middle East that included an unannounced visit to the West Bank for talks with Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas on Sunday.
The US diplomat has been facing a chorus of Arab calls to support an immediate ceasefire.
Israel says it could accept a humanitarian pause to allow in additional shipments of aid once Hamas frees the hostages.
Blinken has supported the Israeli position while trying to assure regional players that Washington is focused on relieving humanitarian suffering.
Erdogan said on Sunday it was "Turkey's duty" as a supporter of an independent Palestinian state to immediately stop the violence.
He said Ankara was "working behind the scenes" with regional allies to secure an uninterrupted stream of humanitarian aid into Gaza.
But he has cut off contacts with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and called back Ankara's ambassador to Israel in protest.
Erdogan has also accused the West of double standards and losing its moral authority.
"Those who shed crocodile tears for the civilians killed in the Ukraine-Russia war are now quietly watching the killing of thousands of innocent children," Erdogan said last month.