More than 170 US House of Representatives signed a bipartisan letter sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging President Joe Biden’s administration to press Turkey on human rights abuses and accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of straining Washington-Ankara ties.
Erdogan said on February 20 he wanted to strengthen Turkish-US ties under the Biden administration on the basis of “win-win” and that the common interests of Turkey and the United States outweighed the differences.
“We ask that you aim to address the troubling human rights abuses taking place under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey has long been a key United States ally. Unfortunately, President Erdogan has strained the relationship between our nations,” said the letter, dated February 26 and made public on Monday.
The Turkish leader’s speech struck a much softer tone when compared to Ankara’s recent rhetoric on the US since Biden took office.
Ties between the two NATO allies have been strained over a host of issues. In December, the United States sanctioned Turkey for its purchase of Russian S-400 defense systems, while Ankara has been infuriated by US support for the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria, which it considers a terrorist organization.
The US lawmakers said: “President Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party have used their nearly two decades in power to weaken Turkey’s judiciary, install political allies in key military and intelligence positions, crack down on free speech and free press, and wrongfully imprison political opponents, journalists and minorities.”
Ankara has called on Washington to end its support for the YPG and accused it of siding with militants who it says executed 13 Turks in northern Iraq this month, while the US has criticized Ankara over human rights and freedoms.
“While it is in our mutual interest for the United States and Turkey to remain strategic allies and repair the rifts between us, we believe changes to President Erdogan and his party’s behavior are vital to seeing that relationship restored. We hope that the State Department under your leadership and the Biden administration more broadly will elevate human rights and democratic backsliding concerns in our bilateral relations,” they added.