Antony Blinken will visit Turkey on Sunday to discuss relief efforts.
Blinken will visit the Incirlik air base.
The top US diplomat will also attend the Munich Security Conference.
WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Turkey on Sunday to discuss relief efforts following a devastating earthquake, his first visit to the NATO partner that has had strained relations with Washington.
Blinken will visit the Incirlik air base, through which the US has sent aid, and then hold meetings in Ankara on “continuing US support,” according to State Department spokesman Ned Price.
The top US diplomat will also attend the Munich Security Conference, where the Ukraine crisis and tensions with China will take center stage, and will pay a visit to Turkey‘s old foe Greece, a NATO ally.
The US has flown in 200 rescues and donated an initial $85 million in humanitarian aid to Turkey, deploying Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters to carry supplies to the hardest-hit areas.
The visit, which was planned prior to the February 6 earthquake that killed almost 40,000 people in the nation and neighboring Syria, will be Blinken’s first to Turkey in more than two years.
President Joe Biden was elected after promising to take a greater distance from his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom Biden has previously branded an autocrat.
However, the Biden administration now sees Turkey as useful in mediating between Russia and Ukraine, particularly in a pact to export grain through the Black Sea to alleviate global shortages.
The Biden administration has expressed support for Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 fighter fighters, but the transaction has been halted in Congress owing to worries about Turkey’s human rights record and threats to Greece.
The US has been looking for methods to persuade Erdogan to drop his objections to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, both of which have abandoned their previous neutrality since Russia invaded Ukraine.
Turkey has been the lone holdout, with Erdogan pressuring Sweden to crack down on Kurdish insurgents considered terrorists by Ankara.
During signs of progress, Erdogan reiterated his criticism of Sweden following a rally outside Turkey’s embassy in Stockholm in which a far-right activist set fire to Islam’s sacred book, the Quran.
In recent years, the US has been enraged by Turkey’s purchase of an advanced air defense system from Moscow, claiming that it will allow NATO’s main foe to zero in on Western fighter jets.
When Blinken visits Athens on Monday, he is expected to discuss tensions with Turkey, but the mood has dropped since the earthquake as Greece aids its neighbor.
Blinken will begin his journey in Frankfurt on Thursday and then travel to Munich for the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering of leaders held a week before the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Blinken will be joined in Munich by Vice President Kamala Harris, who is part of a spate of US politicians visiting Europe in honour of the anniversary, with Biden scheduled to visit Poland next week.
Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi is also due in Munich, which might lead to a meeting with Blinken, though US sources say nothing has been decided.
Blinken was scheduled to travel to Beijing earlier this month, the first trip by a top US ambassador in more than four years, to try to keep tensions between the world’s two largest economies from spiraling out of hand.
But he quickly canceled the trip after the US announced that a Chinese surveillance balloon, which was eventually shot down, had been sighted over the US mainland.
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