The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee opened a hearing on US-Turkey relations saying he expects the Biden administration to maintain a firmer stance on Turkish transgressions that undermine NATO or Washington foreign policy priorities.
Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) began Tuesday’s hearing with the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs by going through a list of Turkey’s aggression in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and in Syria, its purchase of the S-400 to Russia, and the continued decline of Turkish democracy under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Menendez said the world needed a “stable and democratic Turkey,” but he didn’t see this as likely to happen under Erdogan. He particularly described Erdogan’s crackdown on critics over the past six months as the actions of a “weak government”, not a world power.
Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), the leading Republican on the committee, made an equally harsh note on US-Turkish relations.
“It is unacceptable that Turkey hopes to continue to reap the benefits of its NATO membership,” Risch remarked, stressing the purchase of the S-400 by Ankara. “Turkey seems to have forgotten that NATO was formed to resist Russian aggression.”
Risch said the United States should assess Turkey where its work has been positive, namely its reception of four million Syrian refugees, and hold it accountable for the transgressions.
Today’s hearing with Under Secretary Nuland aims to assess the current state of US-Turkish relations six months after the start of the first year of the Biden administration. Nuland began his testimony by saying that the president and his deputies have been “straightforward” where they disagree and ready to work where they can agree.
In particular, Nuland said the United States and Turkey were aligned with Ukraine, Georgia, Libya and Idlib province in northwestern Syria. She also referred to the recent Turkish proposal to secure Afghanistan’s main international airport in Kabul after the United States withdrew from the country in September.
However, Nuland added that the administration condemns Erdogan’s recent remarks on the reopening of the Cypriot coastal town of Varosha along the border between the Greek Republic of Cyprus and Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus. She described these remarks as unacceptable and contrary to United Nations resolutions aimed at the reunification of Cyprus.
(All times are local, GMT +3)
19:37 US and Turkey “agree not to agree” on role of Syrian Kurdish forces in Syria – Nuland
Senator Menendez has turned to whether or not the Biden administration sees progress in resolving disagreements over the role of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Forces (YPG) in northeastern Syria.
In response, Nuland said that “the United States and Turkey agree to disagree” on their role, suggesting no serious progress in reducing Turkish opposition to American support for militants.
“Agreeing to disagree means that we continue to pursue our point of view and our engagement with the Syrian Kurds, including the YPG?” Menendez asked.
“Yes,” Nuland replied.
Turkey views the YPG as an extended arm of the PKK and has led three military offensives against the group since 2016.
7:34 PM Menendez asks Nuland on how the US will approach measures to ban HDP ahead of 2023 elections in Turkey
Senator Menendez has expressed serious doubts about how measures to ban the HDP will affect the legitimacy of the 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey.
While asking Nuland if this raised administration concerns about the validity of any election results, Menendez compared the work against the HDP to a hypothetical scenario of a US president banning his own opposition at home, which , according to him, would be undemocratic.
Nuland in response reiterated the administration’s concerns about the campaign to ban HDP.
7:20 PM Nuland does not offer details on how Biden would react to Erdogan’s stance on Cyprus
Nuland said the problem with Erdogan’s position on Cyprus, particularly his statement that he doesn’t care what critics of his two-state solution for the island have to say, is that she undermines UN reunification efforts.
However, she did not provide details when asked how the administration plans to act in response to Erdogan’s hardening position.
19:05 Turkey’s proposal on Afghanistan is “extremely welcome” – Nuland
Nuland called Turkey’s decision to maintain security at Kabul International Airport in Afghanistan following the US withdrawal from the country in September “extremely welcome.”
During his first meeting with Biden, Erdogan proposed that Turkey continue to provide airport security with the support of the United States and NATO. The Taliban opposed the move and called on Turkey to follow the United States and leave Afghanistan.
7:03 PM “Is Erdogan looking to play the United States against Russia?” -Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT)
Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) has asked emphatically whether or not Erdogan is seeking to deepen his ties with Russia in order to gain influence against the United States.
Nuland, an expert on Russia, acknowledged that the two have come closer, especially under the Trump administration. She said the administration’s priority was to deter Turkey from deepening its dependence on Russia.
She declined to speak on behalf of Turkey, but admitted that she felt Ankara was experiencing “buyer’s remorse” in its dealings with Moscow over disagreements in Ukraine, the Caucasus, and Russia. Libya.
18:55 “Turkey is weakened when it does not respect fundamental freedoms and political pluralism.” – Nuland
Asked by Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Nuland said the State Department and the Biden administration continued to oppose efforts to shut down the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP).
“We share your concerns about the steps taken to shut down the HDP,” Nuland said. “Turkey weakens when it does not respect fundamental freedoms and political pluralism.”
Nuland added that Turkey has the legitimate right to pursue counterterrorism cases against members of the Kurdistan Workers ‘Party (PKK), but did not accept Erdogan and his allies’ argument that the HDP was an extension of the banned group.
Turkey and the United States consider the PKK to be a terrorist organization.
18:48 Senator Risch (R-ID) calls Turkey’s decision to keep the S-400 “mind-boggling”
Senator Risch described Turkey’s insistence on keeping the Russian S-400 in the face of US sanctions from CAATSA as “mind-boggling” even as the administration offered exit ramps.
Asked about her own gauge of Turkey’s current feelings about the system, Nuland suggested Turkey was “uncomfortable” with the outcome of its purchase.
“I think they were tricked into buying the system by the seller [Russia]”Nuland said.” I think they were surprised at the costs associated with the S-400. “
Nuland declined to say what exits the administration offered Turkey to remove the sanctions, but which were not accepted by Ankara.
6:46 PM The Biden administration will continue to advocate for the release of Osman Kavala, Selahattin Demirtas and other political prisoners
Asked by Senator Menendez, Nuland said the administration will continue to advocate for the release of all political prisoners held in Turkey.
The Biden administration has condemned the imprisonment in Turkey of civil society activist Osman Kavala and leader of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas.
6:40 PM Nuland says Biden administration is committed to upholding CAATSA sanctions against Turkey and enforcing them worldwide
Undersecretary Nuland affirmed to Senator Menendez the administration’s commitment to uphold the sanctions under America’s Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) against Turkey on the S -400. She also confirmed that the administration will continue to apply CAATSA sanctions around the world.
Menendez quickly turned to disagreements in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, an area where he sharply criticized Turkey’s policies.
Menendez also criticized the lack of responsibility by the United States and the world over Turkey’s active support (including arms and foreign mercenaries) for the Azerbaijani attack on Artsakh, the Armenian name of the disputed Haut -Karabakh. Nuland agreed and said Turkey had “exasperated” tensions in the Caucasus region by siding firmly with Azerbaijan and allowing its harsher policies during and after the war last year.
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