Anthony Blinken, the next US Secretary of State, says the Biden Administration will take a clearly critical approach to Turkey. He noted during a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the relationship is complex and that any conclusions would be premature.

Blinken said at his confirmation hearing this week "that Turkey was not acting as an ally" and further stated that the US will review whether additional sanctions over its 2019 purchase of a Russian air defence system are appropriate.

Washington imposed the long-anticipated sanctions on Turkey's defence industry last month. These came over its purchase of S-400 missile defence systems from Moscow. The sanctions measure was described by Turkey as a "grave mistake". 

The US added that it was "unacceptable" for a "so-called strategic partner of ours" to purchase the S-400 and "fall in line with one of our biggest strategic competitors, such as Russia". 

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AP/Turkish Defence Ministry - A Russian transport plane, carrying parts of the S-400 air defence systems, lands at Murted military airport outside Ankara

Blinken's comments came just as Joe Biden was sworn in as US president after the end of the four-year term of Donald Trump, with whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a close relationship.

However, the Biden administration will pursue a carrot-and-stick policy with Turkey while continuing to try to keep it aligned with the West. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said that Biden had visited Turkey during his vice presidency under the Obama administration and knows the region, and that his contacts with the transition team were very positive. 

He said that the new US president's aides "declare that they want to develop good relations with Turkey and turn the page". He also called for an end to sanctions against Turkey, especially with regard to the F-35 fighter jet, from the procurement process of which Turkey was excluded. He also called for an end to collaboration with Imam Fethullah Gulen (Erdogan's opposition rival) and for the US not to resume support for the Kurds in Syria.

But the wind is not in Turkey's sails on these three issues, especially the Kurds. 

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PHOTO/Turkish presidency via AP - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

"I think we need to take a look and see what impact the existing sanctions have had and then determine if there is more to do," Blinken responded to a question from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. This question addressed the possibility of more sanctions if existing sanctions do not produce the desired results.

Bob Menendez, a Democratic senator who assumed the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee, denounced Turkey's aggressive behaviour in the Eastern Mediterranean against "our democratic allies Greece and Cyprus". 

He also expressed the hope that Joe Biden's administration would stop "coddling Turkey in view of the engagement it has had in destabilising actions in Syria, the encroachment on Cyprus' territorial waters in terms of its exclusive economic zone (...) and the claim to an area of what would be Greece's exclusive economic zone all the way (...) to Libya". 

The bottom line, he said, is that Turkey is a partner that decided one way or another not to act as an ally when it should. "This is a very, very important challenge for us and we are very clear about that," Blinken responded.

The Biden administration aims to engage with Ankara; however, for this to happen, Turkey will have to change its behaviour.


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