Blinken meets Turkey’s Erdogan as Gaza diplomacy tour begins

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, accompanied by Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan and Ibrahim Kalin, head of Turkey's National Intelligence Agency (MIT), meets with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Istanbul, Turkey January 6, 2024. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Turkish Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS © Thomson Reuters

By Simon Lewis and Tuvan Gumrukcu

ISTANBUL (Reuters) -U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was meeting the leaders of Turkey and Greece on Saturday at the start of a week-long trip aimed at calming tensions that have spiked across the Middle East since Israel’s war with Hamas began in October.

Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest against U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit in Istanbul, Turkey January 6, 2024. REUTERS/Dilara Senkaya

Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest against U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit in Istanbul, Turkey January 6, 2024. REUTERS/Dilara Senkaya© Thomson Reuters

The Biden administration’s most senior diplomat began in Istanbul, meeting Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, a strong critic of Israel’s military actions in Gaza.

In the talks, Blinken “emphasized the need to prevent the conflict from spreading, secure the release of hostages, expand humanitarian assistance and reduce civilian casualties,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

Blinken also stressed the need to work toward broader, lasting regional peace that ensures Israel’s security and advances the establishment of a Palestinian state, he said.

Blinken and Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan had earlier discussed Gaza, plus Turkey’s process to ratify Sweden’s membership of the NATO military alliance, Turkey’s foreign ministry said.

U.S. officials have been frustrated by the length of the process, but are confident Ankara will soon approve Sweden’s accession after it won the Turkish parliament’s backing last month, said a senior State Department official traveling with Blinken, speaking on condition of anonymity.

U.S. lawmakers have held up the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey until it signs off on Swedish membership.


Blinken later traveled to the island of Crete to meet Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Fellow NATO member Greece is awaiting U.S. Congress approval of a sale of F-35 fighter jets.

“We’ll be discussing this issue. I think there will be positive developments,” Greek Foreign Minister George Gerapetritis told Greek Skai television.

Blinken’s tour will include Arab states, Israel and the occupied West Bank, where he will deliver a message that Washington does not want a regional escalation of the Gaza conflict.

The U.S. official said Turkey has relationships with many parties in the conflict, a reference to its ties to U.S. adversary Iran and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Unlike the U.S., Turkey does not view Hamas as a terrorist group and hosts some of its members.

The war began when Hamas fighters attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 240 hostages.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed 22,700 Palestinians, according to Palestinian officials, and the conflict has spilled into the West Bank, Lebanon and Red Sea shipping lanes.

Blinken also hopes to make progress in talks on how Gaza could be governed if and when Israel achieves its aim of eradicating Hamas.

Washington wants countries in the region, including Turkey, to play a role in reconstruction, governance and potentially security in the Gaza Strip, which has been run by Hamas since 2007, the official said.

Source: Reuters/Reporting by Simon Lewis and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Istanbul; Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou in Athens; Editing by Gareth Jones, Mike Harrison, Jan Harvey and Kevin Liffey