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Blinken meets with Turkish, Greek leaders amid Gaza war

January 6, 2024

The top US diplomat will spend a week traveling around the Middle East in a push to stop the war in Gaza from spreading across the region.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken boards a plane to travel as he departs Greece
Blinken first stop was Istanbul, before he travelled to CreteImage: Evelyn Hockstein/AP Photo/picture alliance

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the leaders of Turkey and Greece on Saturday as he kicked off a weeklong diplomatic mission in the Middle East.

He said he wants to make sure the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza "doesn't spread."

"One of the real concerns is the border between Israel and Lebanon, and we want to do everything possible to make sure we see no escalation," he added.

It is the fourth such tour he has undertaken since the Islamist militant group Hamas' October 7 terrorist attack on Israel sparked a deadly conflict in the Gaza Strip. The US, Israel's closest ally, as well as the EU, Germany and others, consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization.

Blinken will later visit Arab states including Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, as well as Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where he is set to deliver a message that Washington does not want to see the conflict escalate across the region.

Erdogan and Blinken talk Gaza

In Istanbul, Blinken met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan.

The US State Department said Blinken "emphasized the need to prevent the conflict from spreading ... and work toward broader, lasting peace that ensures Israel's security and advances the establishment of a Palestinian state."

A Turkish official said that Fidan called for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza to allow the "uninterrupted" delivery of aid, and claimed Israel's "increasing aggression" was a threat to the region.

Antony Blinken shaking hands with Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkey has called for a cease-fire in GazaImage: Mustafa Kamaci/Anadolu/picture alliance

Separately, Blinken stressed the importance that Washington places on Turkey's ratification of Sweden's membership in NATO.

Erdogan has been able to use Turkey's veto power in NATO to pressure Sweden into taking a tougher stance against Kurdish groups based in Stockholm that Ankara views as "terrorists."

The Turkish leader had also tried to make Sweden's entry into NATO conditional on the US delivery 40 F-16 fighter jets and nearly 80 modernization kits for Turkey's air force.

Greece and US 'standing together'

Blinken then visited Chania on the Greek island of Crete, where he met Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at his residence.

"We are standing together facing some of the most acute challenges that we've seen. But the fact that we're standing together ... that's a tremendous source of strength and reassurance for the United States," Blinken said.

Mitsotakis said it was important that the two allies stand together for "peace and security to return to the region."

Kyriakos Mitsotakis sitting with Antony Blinken
Blinken and Mitsotakis met on the island of CreteImage: Evelyn Hockstein/AP Photo/picture alliance

Greece has fiercely contested the US fighter jet sales to Turkey due to longstanding territorial disputes.

Athens itself is seeking to purchase a number of more advanced F-35 jets from the US in order to counter the perceived Turkish threat.

In an interview with Skai TV on Saturday, Greek Foreign Minister Giorgos Gerapetritis said it was only a matter of time before Greece joined the F-35 program.

He said relations between Athens and Washington "have reached their peak."

zc/lo (AP, Reuters, AFP)