U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Istanbul and met with top Turkish officials to start a week-long diplomatic tour aimed at preventing the Israel-Hamas war from escalating into a broader conflict.
The United States’ most senior diplomat spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday afternoon after meeting with Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan earlier.
Blinken and Fidan discussed the war and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, as well as Turkey’s process to ratify Sweden’s membership of NATO, Turkey’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
The Biden administration hopes to convince Ankara to influence other Arab states against entering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, seeking to prevent a wider and more costly war.
A senior State Department official traveling with Blinken, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that Turkey has relationships with many parties in the conflict, a reference to its ties to U.S. adversary Iran and Hamas.
Erdogan has strongly opposed Israel’s military operation in Gaza and accused the Jewish state of committing war crimes against the 2.3 million Palestinians who live there. After the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Erdogan denied that Hamas is a terrorist organization, calling it a “liberation group” that is “waging a battle to protect its land and people.”
Hamas terrorists killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 240 hostages back to Gaza in the attacks.
Israel’s retaliatory war to eliminate Hamas’ governing ability has killed 22,700 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-led Gaza health ministry. However, Hamas officials do not distinguish between civilian and military casualties and their reported figures cannot be independently verified.
The renewed conflict in Gaza has spilled into the West Bank and been aggravated by Hezbollah terrorists firing rockets at Israeli forces along the northern border with Lebanon and Houthi rebels in Yemen attacking shipping vessels in the Red Sea.
Blinken’s mission is to persuade Arab states to stop these attacks and make progress in talks on how Gaza could be governed if and when Israel achieves its aim of eradicating Hamas.
Washington wants regional countries, including Turkey, to play a role in reconstruction, governance and potentially security in the Gaza Strip, which has been run by Hamas since 2007, the official told Reuters.
Blinken is next scheduled to travel to Greece and speak with officials there before bouncing around the Middle East with planned stops in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Egypt and Israel over the next week.
Reuters contributed to this report.