Blinken has pledged to restore global American leadership and revitalise diplomacy. What does his tenure portend for NATO allies like Turkey?

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has taken office with a majority in the Senate. In his first five days as secretary he has initiated dialogue with the foreign ministers of 23 different countries as well as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Joseph Borrell and African Union Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat. 

We clearly see that Blinken wants to implement a certain culture, and set an example for US foreign policy by working day and night. Blinken has pledged to restore global American leadership, and he highlighted that he will revitalise American diplomacy to advance US interests and values in the world as it is, not as it was - leading by example, and putting a premium on diplomacy with US allies. 

At the secretary’s first press conference, he pointed out that serious steps will be taken in dealing with Russia, China, and Iran and in strengthening NATO. The press conference was also a good indicator as to what the Biden administration's foreign policy priorities are.

When I watched Secretary Anthony Blinken’s hearing, he was very confident during his Q&A with senators. Last week, his answer, and especially the phrase “so-called strategic partners,” for Turkey, a NATO Ally, raised eyebrows. His answer was in response to a question about Turkey from Senator Robert Menendez, who is in the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. In reality, I learned that Blinken, outside his public remarks, has made a more detailed explanation in writing regarding Turkey for the question and answer session for senators.

Here are Antony Blinken’s Turkey remarks in writing:

- Turkey is a tough ally. President Biden has vowed to bring Turkey’s violation of international law or commitments as a NATO ally to the agenda.

- Our administration also places importance on human rights and the rule of law.

- We have common interests in the fight against terrorism, ending the conflict in Syria, and ensuring regional stability. We will seek cooperation on common interests and enter into dialogue with Turkey to resolve disputes.

- More generally, it is important to keep Turkey facing west instead of them taking steps closer to Russia and other enemies.

- We will try to balance the differences in regional issues with efforts to keep Turkey at least broadly compatible with the transatlantic alliance.

There are four critical points in these explanations: being kept apart from Russia, common interests, loyalty to the transatlantic alliance, and the rule of law.

I firmly believe that Turkey and the US should work together to influence peace and prosperity in the region. When there is tension between the two NATO allies, Russia is the victor. Secretary Blinken is right, but the US should understand Turkey’s regional security concerns.

As I listened to Ambassador Tacan Ildem, the former Assistant Secretary General for NATO Public Diplomacy and member of the NATO 2030 Expert Group, I was impressed by how he explained the situation and offered recommendations. 

Ambassador Ildem said, “When you look at our NATO 2030 report on the emerging and disruptive technologies section, there is a clear recommendation, that in order to NATO Allies don’t go to external sources. There should be more investment for military technology transfer among allies. If Turkey had given a chance to procure western systems, I don’t think that there would be any need to go outside NATO to source like Russia.” 

So, let’s see how the Biden administration will act on Turkey’s S400 insistency.

In addition, the Biden administration has a known discomfort concerning Turkey and human rights. We know that statements will be made by the US Department of State in the coming days. Turkey should not delay implementing justice reforms in order to have a better understanding with Western allies.

The US State Department has top political appointees that understand Turkey well. Blinken’s team, taking lessons from the past, will consider the goals and objectives of Biden’s foreign policy and approach Turkey with the necessary tools and in a pragmatic fashion.

The US will apply its “wait and see” policy on certain issues and the same policy on certain issues with Turkey. Obviously, expected phone calls will take place soon between Ankara and Washington, but outside of these symbolic calls, the two sides to sit down and seriously discuss the problems, drawing a roadmap. 

However, as I mentioned previously, a negative perception of Turkey is deepening not only in the Biden administration but also through the efforts of anti-Turkey groups in the Congress.

In particular, Turkey will come up in statements from the US Department of State, US Department of Defense, and the National Security Council. Therefore, it will be important to build sincere and open channels of diplomacy with these three institutions.

First and foremost, the two important issues are to build a dialogue and rebuild trust. While Turkey and the US have conflicts of interest between them, I have not lost hope for bilateral relations to return to normal.

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