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Blinken arrives in Turkey after attending the Munich Security Conference

: [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this story, we incorrectly say that Norway is seeking admission to NATO but facing challenges from NATO member Turkey. In fact, Sweden and Finland are the two countries seeking NATO membership and encountering objections from Turkey.]

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Turkey this morning to discuss a number of pressing issues.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

It's the second stop of a three-country trip. Blinken had already planned to go to Turkey before a massive earthquake devastated the country's south two weeks ago. Now he's there, and the trip is taking on new meaning. But he's still facing some of the old issues in the close but contentious U.S.-Turkey relationship.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us now from Istanbul. Peter, what do we know about Blinken's agenda?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, Blinken arrived in Turkey Sunday after attending the Munich Security Conference. He visited Incirlik Air Base, being used by the U.S. Air Force and others. He was given a helicopter tour of some of the areas damaged in the February 6 quake. He arrived as Turkey is winding down search and rescue operations in all but two provinces and turning to the much longer job of reconstructing many of the thousands of buildings destroyed by the quake and the powerful aftershocks that followed. So the visit has taken on a more urgent tone. Blinken is now visiting an area in mourning for what's now estimated to be at least 46,000 lives lost in Turkey and Syria.

MARTÍNEZ: And what's the U.S. doing in terms of earthquake relief?

KENYON: Well, Blinken arrived with a pledge of additional aid that the State Department says brings Washington's total commitment to Turkey and Syria to some $185 million. Meanwhile, Turkey's foreign minister says it needs more. It needs additional mobile housing, more tents from NATO, increased air support from its allies to deliver aid to areas hard to get to by road. The two diplomats met. They held a news conference at which Blinken reiterated Washington's firm support for Turkey despite their differences on some issues.

MARTÍNEZ: I know that Blinken was headed there to talk about other issues, one of them NATO expansion. The U.S. wants Sweden and Norway to join, but Turkey, a NATO country, has threatened to block that. What's at stake there for both countries?

KENYON: Well, that's right, and it's a potentially thorny issue for both sides. Turkey is the only member state that has yet to affirm that it will ratify expanding the alliance by adding Sweden and Finland. Here's a bit of what Blinken said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONY BLINKEN: The United States greatly values Turkey's contributions as a long-standing and active member of the NATO alliance, and we'll keep working together to strengthen and grow our alliance, including through the accession of Sweden and Finland, which will help deliver even stronger and more capable assets to the alliance.

KENYON: Now, President Erdogan wants the extradition of some 130 people, particularly from Sweden, to face charges of supporting terrorism. Sweden says that's basically impossible. On other issues, Blinken reiterated his concern that China is considering supplying lethal aid to Russia for use in Ukraine, and he talked about Turkey's bid to buy American F-16 fighter jets, though he didn't offer anything conclusive on overcoming opposition from Congress.

MARTÍNEZ: So safe to say, Peter, that Turkish officials want to press Blinken on earthquake recovery support as a No. 1 priority?

KENYON: Yes, I think that's extremely likely. The death toll is, of course, expected to keep rising as the crews get to more of the thousands of buildings that were very heavily damaged or collapsed entirely in the earthquake and the aftershocks. Thousands of people will be needing more permanent accommodation. And the effort, of course, needs to begin to rebuild or construct thousands of buildings, presumably this time with state-of-the-art earthquake defenses. I mean, critics charge that too often corners were cut in building homes in earthquake-prone areas in the past, and that left a situation where many of the buildings were less able than they should have been to withstand the shock of a quake.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Peter, thanks.

KENYON: Thank you, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: February 21, 2023 at 12:00 AM EST
In this story, we incorrectly say that Norway is seeking admission to NATO but facing challenges from NATO member Turkey. In fact, Sweden and Finland are the two countries seeking NATO membership and encountering objections from Turkey.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
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