Blinken’s first visit (to Turkey) since Israel went to war with Hamas in retaliation for the militants’ October 7 attack comes with anger against Israel and the West spilling over into the streets of Turkey and inside the palace of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse hundreds of protesters who were marching on an air base housing U.S. forces in southeast Turkey hours before Blinken arrived Sunday.
Erdogan himself plans to visit northeastern Turkey on Monday, in what appears to be an affront to Washington’s top diplomat.
Blinken’s talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan were expected to be fraught with problems even before Israel launched a relentless bombing and ground expansion campaign aimed at eradicating Hamas.
The war threatens to have broad repercussions for Washington’s relations with Turkey – a NATO member with a muscular foreign policy and engaged in conflicts in the Middle East.
Washington is eager to see Turkey’s parliament finally ratify Sweden’s blocked bid to join the U.S.-led NATO defense organization.
The United States has also increased sanctions on Turkish individuals and companies suspected of helping Russia evade sanctions and import goods for its war against Ukraine.
And Ankara is unhappy that Congress is delaying approval of a deal backed by U.S. President Joe Biden to modernize Turkey’s air force with dozens of U.S. F-16 fighter jets.
Turkey also has long-standing reservations about American support for Kurdish forces in Syria, spearheading the fight against the jihadists of the Islamic State group – but which Ankara considers to be an emanation of the banned PKK militants.
Ankara has stepped up airstrikes against Kurdish armed groups in Syria and Iraq in retaliation for an October attack on the Turkish capital claimed by the PKK, in which two attackers were killed.
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 American diplomat faced a chorus of Arab calls for an immediate ceasefire.
Israel says it could agree to a humanitarian pause to allow additional aid shipments to arrive once Hamas frees the hostages.
Blinken has supported the Israeli position while trying to assure regional actors that Washington is focused on relieving humanitarian suffering.
Erdogan said Sunday it was Turkey’s “duty,” as a supporter of an independent Palestinian state, to immediately end the violence.
He said Ankara was “working behind the scenes” with its regional allies to ensure an uninterrupted flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza.
But he cut all contact with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and recalled Ankara’s ambassador to Israel in protest.
Erdogan also accused the West of double standards and losing its moral authority.
“Those who shed crocodile tears for civilians killed in the war between Ukraine and Russia are now quietly watching the murder of thousands of innocent children,” Erdogan said last month.