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INTERVIEW - US Senator Lauds 'Positive' Relations With 'Very Important Ally' Türkiye

22.02.2024 12:57

Discussions with Turkish President Erdogan focused on ‘how we can better partner in the future on a number of issues,’ US Senator Jeanne Shaheen tells Anadolu ‘One of the things we talked about is the ability to partner in Africa’ where Türkiye ‘has relationships that we don’t have,’ says...

The US views Türkiye as a "very important ally" and the current trajectory of our bilateral relations is "positive," according to American Senator Jeanne Shaheen.

Shaheen was in Türkiye with her colleague Senator Chris Murphy for meetings with top Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who hosted the duo at the Presidential Complex in the capital Ankara on Tuesday.

In an interview with Anadolu, Shaheen said the meeting with the Turkish president addressed "the importance of the ratification of Sweden into NATO" and the F-16 sale to Türkiye, approved recently by the US Congress.

"We talked also about the importance of NATO to our relationship and the fact that this is an opportunity for us to think about how we can better partner in the future on a number of issues," she said.

Türkiye-US partnership in Africa

On her assessment of Turkish-American relations, she said: "I think it's positive."

The two sides now have "an opportunity to look at how we can work together, and during our meeting (with President Erdogan), one of the things we talked about is the ability to partner in Africa," said the Democrat lawmaker.

Acknowledging that Türkiye "has relationships that we don't have" in Africa, Shaheen said: "We can work together in areas that will be important, not just for those countries, but I think for world stability."

To a question about the significance of F-16 sales to Türkiye, Shaheen said she hopes that it would prove to be a harbinger of a new era in bilateral ties.

"We view Türkiye as a very important ally. Obviously, the participation in NATO is very important. Türkiye has the second largest army in Europe and we think that's important, and having that airpower with the F-16s will be very important to the security, not just of Türkiye and Europe, but also to the United States," she said.

"We also have a very warm relationship with the Turkish people. That's very important."

Opportunity for Türkiye-US to 'work more positively'

On whether Ankara and Washington should enhance ties to the level of a strategic partnership, the US senator said the two countries "have resolved some of the differences that we've had."

"Like all families and all allies, we don't always agree on everything. We have an opportunity to work more positively together," said Shaheen.

"We need to see how we can address any outstanding issues between our countries."

On Türkiye rejoining the F-35 program, Shaheen believes that is "something that is open for conversation."

"There is still a great deal of concern about the S-400," she said, referring to the Russian-made air defense system bought by Ankara, which led to its removal from the F-35 program and US sanctions on Türkiye.

The US suspended Türkiye from the F-35 fighter jet program in 2019 after objecting to the purchase, claiming the S-400 system would endanger the jets and is inoperable with NATO systems.

Ankara has said repeatedly that there is no conflict between the two and proposed a commission to study the issue. Türkiye also said it fulfilled its obligations on the F-35s and that its suspension was unwarranted.

"We appreciate that it's not operating yet and that's positive," said Shaheen.

"But that continues to be an issue that we would need to work through."

US 'recognizing' Türkiye's Syria concerns

About possible cooperation between Washington and Ankara in northern Syria, the American senator said the US is "recognizing the concerns that Türkiye has about what's happening there."

In the long term, she said, it is important to have "discussions that address the concerns that Türkiye has about the (terrorist) operations there."

She also emphasized that the US "has designated the PKK a terrorist organization."

A major point of contention between Ankara and Washington is US support for the YPG terror group, which was renamed as the Syrian Democratic Forces, and is touted by Washington as a key partner in the fight against the Daesh/ISIS terrorist organization.

Türkiye has consistently opposed US backing for the YPG because of its ties to the PKK, which is listed as a terror organization by Türkiye, the US, and EU. The PKK is responsible for the deaths of over 40,000 people during the course of its more than 35-year terror campaign against Türkiye.

Since 2016, Ankara has launched a trio of successful anti-terror operations across its border in northern Syria to prevent the formation of a terror corridor and enable the peaceful settlement of residents: Euphrates Shield (2016), Olive Branch (2018), and Peace Spring (2019).

"We are concerned about what happens in Syria in the long term because of the influence of Iran and Russia, and I think no one wants to go back to (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad's total control of the country," said Shaheen.

"So, partnering with our ally, Türkiye, is very important, and we need to think about how we can work through areas where we might disagree."

Concern about Gaza

Commenting on Israel's devastating war on the Gaza Strip, the US senator stressed that Türkiye has played a "very helpful" role in trying to resolve the crisis.

"We spoke with President Erdogan about the war and about the joint concerns that we share about the loss of life and Gaza. We talked about the importance of making sure that Hamas can't continue to operate as a terrorist organization," said Shaheen.

"But I think everyone who sees the pictures coming out of Gaza has to be concerned about the humanitarian situation and the need to provide more aid."

Appreciation for Türkiye's role in Ukraine war

On the Russia-Ukraine war, soon entering its third year, Shaheen said Washington appreciates Türkiye's support in addressing "the challenge that Russia's invasion … presents to other NATO countries."

She contended that Russian President Vladimir Putin has made clear that "he doesn't intend to stop at Ukraine."

"Our concern from the United States is what that might mean and why it's so important to do everything we can (do) to support Ukraine. So, we very much appreciate the support that Türkiye has given," said the US senator.

"One of the things that we have come to recognize as the result of the war in Ukraine, (is) the importance of the Black Sea," she added.

Ankara played an instrumental role in sealing the Black Sea grain deal, signed in July 2022 in Istanbul by Russia, Ukraine, the UN and Türkiye, to resume grain exports from Ukrainian ports that were halted due to the war. Russia withdrew from the agreement last year.

"We very much appreciate the work that Türkiye has done in trying to help keep those lines for grain open to get those shipments out to the rest of the world, and helping … to keep conflict from coming to the Black Sea," Shaheen said. -

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