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Blinken urges Turkey, Greece to end dispute in wake of earthquake goodwill

Wrapping up his Greece visit, the top American diplomat focused on unity among allies as the Ukraine invasion's first anniversary nears.
Greece's Minister for the Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Christos Stylianides (R) shakes hands with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (C) during a meeting with a Search and Rescue team that assisted during the earthquake in Turkey, in Athens, on February 21, 2023. (Photo by MICHAEL VARAKLAS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

While visiting Greece on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Athens and Ankara to ride the momentum of solidarity. The two neighbors had put their disagreements aside after twin earthquakes struck southern Turkey and northern Syria and killed more than 45,000 people. 

Wrapping up his tour of Germany, Turkey and Greece, Blinken focused his messages on efforts to set up a united transatlantic bloc a few days ahead of the first anniversary of the Ukraine war's start.

“I have no doubt in my own mind that would be profoundly to the benefit of people in Greece and in [Turkey],” he told journalists during a joint presser with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias. 

“I think we’re reminded in this moment of what brings us together as human beings, and that ultimately is much greater than any of our differences. And that is our common humanity and the desire that people have in both countries to help each other in a time of need. And that’s a very powerful thing that’s resonating very powerfully in [Turkey].”

Tensions between the two NATO allies were running high over conflicting territorial claims in the Eastern Mediterranean until the earthquakes struck southern Turkey and northern Syria on Feb. 6. The two neighbors have since temporarily put their differences aside with Greece being one of the first countries to dispatch aid and rescuers. Athens sent two groups of rescuers to Turkey's disaster zone in addition to several shipments of humanitarian aid. Footage of Greek rescuers pulling Turkish survivors from under the rubble have been hailed by the public in both countries, with Turks flooding social media with messages of gratitude. 

Blinken also urged the Turkish and Greek governments to avoid escalatory language over contentious issues in the run-up to the upcoming elections in both countries. “That can be more difficult in an election period, but it’s certainly our hope and expectation of both,” the top American diplomat added. Both Greeks and Turks are scheduled to head the polls this year in April and June, respectively.

The top US diplomat traveled to Greece from Turkey, where he toured the country’s disaster zone and met with USAID workers and the Syrian civic group the White Helmets, listening to details about their relief work on the ground. Blinken also met with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Blinken announced an additional $100 million in addition to the previously pledged $85 million to help relief efforts in Turkey and Syria during the second leg of his trip in Turkey. 

He also reiterated the US administration’s positions on a series of thorny issues between Washington and Ankara including NATO’s pending Nordic enlargement. 

The American diplomat said Sweden and Finland must be welcomed into NATO before the alliance’s upcoming leaders’ summit convenes in Lithuania in July. 

Responding to a question on whether the Nordic enlargement could be completed before the Vilnius summit, Blinken said, “I believe it will — it will happen soon, and in any event, it should happen soon. We believe that both countries would add tremendously to the NATO alliance, which would be to the benefit of all allies, including [Turkey] and the United States." 

“I think there’s been an important process that’s worked to address [Turkey’s] very legitimate security concerns, and I think both countries are taking very important steps to do that,” Blinken told Turkey's NTV television, in reference to Ankara's demands for both Nordic countries in return for supporting their membership bids. 

Finland and Sweden have abandoned their historical neutrality policies and are angling to join NATO in the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year. Turkey has been dragging its feet on ratifying the expansion, which requires a consensus among all NATO member states. 

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