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US Secretary of State Blinken seeks to ease Turkey’s anger over Gaza conflict in Ankara talks

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In a bid to alleviate Turkey’s mounting frustration, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken engaged in a series of intense discussions during his visit to Ankara on Monday.

The primary focus of these talks was to address Turkey’s anger regarding the ongoing conflict in Gaza, considering the country’s significant strategic importance to the United States.

Blinken’s visit, his first since the outbreak of hostilities between Israel and Hamas in response to the October 7 attack by militants, occurred amidst growing public outrage in Turkey and within the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Protests against Israel and Western nations had erupted, with police resorting to tear gas and water cannons to disperse demonstrators who had marched on a US military base in southeastern Turkey just hours before Blinken’s arrival on Sunday.

Notably, Erdogan himself planned to traverse the remote northeastern regions of Turkey on Monday, seemingly as a symbolic snub to the highest-ranking US diplomat. The talks between Blinken and Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan were anticipated to be fraught with challenges, even prior to Israel’s escalated military actions aimed at eradicating Hamas.

Gaza had witnessed over four weeks of conflict, resulting in a significant loss of life, with the Hamas-run health ministry reporting over 9,770 casualties. The Israeli military campaign had been triggered by a deadly attack by militants, which had claimed the lives of more than 1,400 people and taken 240 hostages, marking it as the deadliest attack in Israel’s history.

This ongoing war in Gaza carried broader implications for the relationship between the United States and Turkey, a NATO member with a proactive foreign policy and substantial interests in Middle Eastern conflicts.

Washington has been keen on Turkey’s parliamentary approval for Sweden’s bid to join the US-led NATO defense organization. Additionally, the United States had been imposing sanctions on Turkish individuals and companies believed to be aiding Russia in circumventing sanctions and importing goods for use in its Ukraine conflict.

Moreover, Turkey had expressed its discontent over the delay in Congress’s approval of a deal endorsed by US President Joe Biden to modernize Turkey’s air force with a fleet of US F-16 fighter jets.

Turkey had long-standing concerns about US support for Kurdish forces in Syria, which had played a pivotal role in combating ISIS but were viewed by Ankara as affiliated with the banned PKK militant group. In retaliation for an October attack in the Turkish capital, attributed to the PKK, Ankara had intensified its airstrikes against armed Kurdish groups in Syria and Iraq, resulting in the deaths of two assailants.

Blinken’s visit followed his extensive tour of the Middle East, including an unannounced meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas in the West Bank. The US diplomat had been under growing pressure from Arab nations to advocate for an immediate ceasefire.

Israel had indicated its willingness to consider a temporary humanitarian pause in the conflict to allow for the delivery of additional aid shipments once Hamas released the hostages. Blinken supported this Israeli stance while emphasizing Washington’s commitment to alleviating humanitarian suffering.

President Erdogan, echoing the sentiments of many in Turkey, emphasized the nation’s role as a supporter of an independent Palestinian state and called for an immediate end to the violence. He disclosed that Turkey was working with regional allies behind the scenes to ensure a continuous flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza. However, he had severed communication with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and recalled the Turkish ambassador in protest. Erdogan had also criticized Western nations, accusing them of double standards and a loss of moral authority, particularly regarding their response to the Ukraine-Russia conflict.

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