Turkey must stand for democracy after rise in global autocracy - U.S. top diplomat

The United States is in a very challenging relationship with ally Turkey that will require much work as the country backslides on democracy, said Victoria Nuland, nominee to be Under Secretary of State for political affairs.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do in our bilateral relationship to make clear our concerns about not only what Turkey is doing outside its country but also inside its country, including the democracy, human rights and freedom of press,” Nuland said at a hearing of the U.S. State Committee on Foreign Relations on Thursday.

Bilateral relations have strained after NATO ally Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 air defence system in 2019, its deteriorating human rights record, which resulted in the detention of a U.S. pastor on terrorism charges three years ago and differences over Syria and Libya.

“It’s very important that we re-commit at the table to the things that make us the strongest, particularly in the context of the rise of autocracy across the world,” Nuland said. “A NATO ally needs to stand after democracy. I look forward to rolling up the sleeves, getting back to Ankara and having these conversations.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is yet to receive a phone call from U.S. President Joe Biden since he took the office in January. As vice president in the Obama administration, Biden accused Erdoğan of being an autocrat. Last week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi referred to Erdoğan as a dictator, prompting a stinging response.

The United States needs to continue to press Turkey on the S-400 weapons systems and to get on the same page with regard to Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh, Nuland said.

“And more broadly, we need to start a conversation in NATO about backsliding on our values among our allies,” she said.

The United States has expelled Turkish manufacturers from the F-35 fighter jet programme and imposed sanctions through the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) in December over the purchase of the Russian missile systems.