US president-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate veteran diplomat Antony Blinken as his secretary of state, making good on a promise to restore EU-US relations and take a more active role on the global stage but also planting many unknowns in regards to Turkey.
Sources close to the Biden campaign say Blinken is a longtime confidant to the US president elect, with the career diplomat having served as No 2 at the state department and as deputy national security adviser in Barack Obama’s administration.
During an interview last summer, Blinken pointed to big changes over US engagement around the world, including the Mediterranean and Turkey, adding that a president Biden would seek ways to work together with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“I suspect you’d see some significant engagement on the part of a President Biden with his Turkish counterpart to see if we can work through a host of issues that we need to find ways to tackle together,” Blinken said last summer.
But in late October, Blinken wrote on Twitter "we regret calls by Turkish President Erdogan and Turkish Cypriot leader Tatar for a two-state solution in Cyprus. Joe Biden has long expressed support for a bizonal, bicommunal federation that ensures peace and prosperity for all Cypriots."
Biden has been heavily criticized in Turkey over comments he made in December 2019 about Erdogan, with a video of the comments resurfacing last summer just days before the launch of the Democratic National Convention prior to the November election.
Biden called Erdogan an “autocrat” and said “he has to pay a price," adding that Washington should embolden Turkish opposition leaders "to be able to take on and defeat Erdogan. Not by a coup, not by a coup, but by the electoral process."
But Blinken says Biden and Erdogan have known each other for a long time, adding the two leaders could find a way to work together.
“They’ve known each other. They’ve engaged directly on a lot of things and I think we found in working with Turkey that that relationship is obviously the most important one,” Blinken said back in the summer.
“We obviously want to find a way to have a more productive and positive relationship with Turkey, but that requires the Turkish government itself to want the same thing,” Blinken said, adding that “we obviously have some real issues and differences but we also have areas where it would make good sense for us to find ways to work more effectively together, Syria, for example, being one of them.”
It remains to be seen
Erdogan’s relationship with Biden did not go unnoticed in an op-ed by Athanasios Ellis, Editor in Chief of Kathimerini English Edition, who wrote on Monday it remains to be seen how a Biden administration would handle Turkey.
The Editor in Chief offered an analysis on Biden’s pick for state secretary, adding "it remains to be seen how the incoming president and his Cabinet would choose to handle a new, different -even more aggressive and expansionist- Turkey.”
Ellis also wondered how Erdogan might behave, including whether he would alter his behaviour to avoid a frontal collision with a Biden administration.