US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Turkey on Sunday to show support to the earthquake-hit country and NATO ally which has had tumultuous ties with Washington, Agence France-Presse reported.
His visit comes after a 7.8-magnitude tremor hit southeastern Turkey and northern Syria killing nearly 45,000 people but his trip had been planned before the disaster.
It is his first visit to Turkey since he took office more than two years ago.
Deeply moved to hear the tragic stories of Turkish military families affected by the earthquakes, and inspired by their resilience and strength. I am proud to count #Türkiye as a @NATO Ally, and they can count on us to continue assisting with relief and recovery efforts. pic.twitter.com/poWqdCSYCP
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) February 19, 2023
The top US diplomat arrived at Incirlik air base in southern Turkey through which the United States has shipped aid after the worst natural disaster to hit the region in more than a century.
He will meet officials coordinating the delivery of US aid and see the humanitarian effort under way in Hatay, one of the worst affected Turkish provinces.
The United States has sent rescue teams and contributed an initial $85 million in relief for Turkey and Syria, deploying helicopters to bring supplies to worst-hit areas.
US-Turkey relations have been strained in recent years, but Washington has since viewed Ankara as helpful for its mediatory role between Russia and Ukraine since Moscow’s invasion last year.
Blinken will hold talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday where two issues will likely be high on the agenda.
Turkey wants to buy F-16 fighter jets but the sale is being blocked in Congress due to concerns over Turkey’s human rights record and threats to Greece.
Blinken will also likely bring up Turkey’s refusal to ratify Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership applications.
He will head to Greece late on Monday for talks during which he is expected to discuss tensions with Turkey, although frosty relations have thawed slightly since the earthquake as Greece provided assistance to its NATO ally and neighbor.