On Feb. 20, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met in Ankara to discuss the aftermath of twin earthquakes that recently struck southern Turkey, killing tens of thousands and causing widespread destruction. Though the two NATO allies don’t agree on every issue, Blinken stressed that U.S.-Turkey relations have “withstood many challenges” and that Washington will support Turkey “for as long as it takes.” Cavusoglu urged the two countries not to wait for further crises to improve their relations, but also aired some of Turkey’s longstanding grievances with U.S. foreign policy, especially Washington’s continued support for the YPG, the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
On Feb. 19, Blinken arrived at the U.S. military’s Incirlik Airbase in Turkey’s southern Adana province and then traveled to the nearby city of Antakya, capital of the quake-hit Hatay province, to survey the damage. He said he was “profoundly saddened” to see the devastation firsthand and that the U.S. remains committed to helping with rescue, relief, and recovery efforts. The U.S. has allocated $185 million in humanitarian assistance for quake-hit areas of Turkey and northern Syria.
The F-16 deal, a $20-billion agreement that has remained in limbo for four years, was also discussed. Cavusoglu said the sale of the warplanes to Turkey was in both countries’ “national and security interest” and crucial to “NATO interoperability,” but ruled out any preconditions. He also urged the Biden administration to act “decisively” on the issue in the face of congressional opposition to the deal.
Recent weeks have seen speculation that the U.S. could drop its objections to the F-16 sale if Turkey approved a joint bid to join NATO by Finland and Sweden. Turkey has vetoed the joint NATO bid, claiming that Sweden harbors members of the PKK. Cavusoglu said Turkish approval for the Nordic NATO bids would depend on subsequent actions by Sweden.
The greatest irritant to U.S.-Turkey relations is Washington’s continued support for the YPG. Cavusoglu described the practice of backing terrorist groups as a “fatal mistake” and challenged the notion that the YPG was, in fact, effectively combatting ISIS. Blinken said the U.S. recognizes Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns” and will “stand side by side” with Turkey “in confronting common security challenges.”
The sensitive issue of Turkey’s relations with Russia also came up in discussions between Blinken and Cavusoglu. Ankara has declined to support Western-led sanctions on Russia, with which it shares extensive trade relations and a lengthy maritime border. Cavusoglu dismissed Western claims that Turkey was re-exporting EU products to Russia, including electronic components that could be used for military purposes. Blinken praised Turkey’s “clear voice in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” and commended Turkey’s many “contributions” to NATO.