Blinken meets Turkey's Erdogan as Gaza diplomacy tour begins

The US Secretary of State emphasises the need to prevent the Israel-Palestine conflict from spreading

By Reuters

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Recep Tayyip Erdogan shakes hands with Antony Blinken prior to their meeting at the Vahdettin private residence of the presidency in Istanbul. — AFP
Recep Tayyip Erdogan shakes hands with Antony Blinken prior to their meeting at the Vahdettin private residence of the presidency in Istanbul. — AFP

Published: Sat 6 Jan 2024, 8:08 PM

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was meeting the leaders of Turkey and Greece on Saturday at the start of a week-long trip aimed at calming tensions that have spiked across the Middle East since Israel's war with Hamas began in October.

The Biden administration's most senior diplomat began in Istanbul, meeting Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan, a strong critic of Israel's military actions in Gaza.

In the talks, Blinken "emphasised the need to prevent the conflict from spreading, secure the release of hostages, expand humanitarian assistance and reduce civilian casualties," State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

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Blinken also stressed the need to work toward broader, lasting regional peace that ensures Israel's security and advances the establishment of a Palestinian state, he said.

Blinken and Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan had earlier discussed the war and humanitarian crisis in Gaza, plus Turkey's process to ratify Sweden's membership of the NATO military alliance, Turkey's foreign ministry said in a statement.

US officials have been frustrated by the lengthy process, but are confident Ankara will soon approve Sweden's accession after it won the Turkish parliament's backing last month, said a senior State Department official travelling with Blinken, speaking on condition of anonymity.

US lawmakers have held up the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey until it signs off on the addition of Sweden to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Sweden, which along with Finland applied to join NATO following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, would become the alliance's 32nd member. Finland joined last year.

Blinken will later travel to the island of Crete to meet Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Fellow NATO member Greece is awaiting approval by the US Congress of a sale of F-35 fighter jets.

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"We'll be discussing this issue. I think there will be positive developments," Greek Foreign Minister George Gerapetritis told Greek Skai television.

Blinken's tour will include Arab states, Israel and the occupied West Bank, where he will deliver a message that Washington does not want a regional escalation of the Gaza conflict.

The US official said Turkey has relationships with many parties in the conflict, a reference to its ties to US adversary Iran and Palestinian militant group Hamas. Unlike the US, Turkey does not view Hamas as a terrorist group and hosts some of its members.

Blinken also hopes to make progress in talks on how Gaza could be governed if and when Israel achieves its aim of eradicating Hamas.

Washington wants regional countries, including Turkey, to play a role in reconstruction, governance and potentially security in the Gaza Strip, which has been run by Hamas since 2007, the official said.


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