U.S. Senate begins nomination hearing on Turkey - live blog
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee opened a hearing on United States-Turkey relations by saying he expects the Biden administration to maintain a stronger stance on Turkish transgressions that undermined NATO or Washington's foreign policy priorities.
Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) began Tuesday's hearing with Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs by walking through a list of Turkey's aggression in the eastern Mediterranean Sea and Syria, its purchase of the S-400 from Russia, and the continuing decline of Turkish democracy under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Menendez said the world needs a "stable and democratic Turkey" but he did not see that as likely to happen under Erdogan. He described in particular Erdogan's crackdown on critics in the last six months as the actions of a "weak government", not a global power.
Senator Jim Risch (R-ID), the ranking Republican on the committee, sounded a similarly dour note on U.S-Turkey relations.
"It is unacceptable that Turkey expects to continue to reap the benefits of NATO membership," Risch remarked, pointing to Ankara's purchase of the S-400. "Turkey seems to have forgotten NATO was formed to have to resist Russian aggression."
Risch said that the U.S should appraise Turkey where its work has been positive, namely its hosting of four million Syrian refugees, and hold it accountable for transgressions.
The hearing today with Under Secretary Nuland is meant to assess the current state of U.S-Turkey relations six months into the Biden administration's first year. Nuland began her testimony by saying that the president and his deputies have been "frank" in where they disagree and ready to work with it where they can agree.
In particular, Nuland said the U.S and Turkey were in alignment on Ukraine, Georgia, Libya and Syria's northwestern province of Idlib. She also touched on the recent Turkish proposal to secure Afghanistan's main international airport in Kabul after the U.S withdraws from the country in September.
However, Nuland added that the administration condemns Erdogan's recent remarks about reopening the Cypriot coastal town of Varosha along the border between the Greek republic Cyprus and the Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus. She called the remarks unacceptable and contrary to United Nations resolutions aimed at Cyprus' reunification.
(All times are local, GMT +3)
19:37 U.S and Turkey "agree to disagree" on the role of Syrian Kurdish forces in Syria - Nuland
Sen. Menendez turned to inquire as to whether or not the Biden administration was seeing any progress in navigating disagreements on the role of the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Forces (YPG) in northeastern Syria.
In response, Nuland said that the "U.S and Turkey agree to disagree" on their role, suggesting no serious progress on reducing Turkish opposition to American support for the militants.
"Agree to disagree means we continue to pursue our view and our engagement with the Syrian Kurds including the YPG?" Menendez asked.
"Yes," Nuland replied.
Turkey considers the YPG to be an extended arm of the PKK and has conducted three military offensives against the group since 2016.
19:34 Menendez questions Nuland on how U.S will approach the moves to ban the HDP ahead of the 2023 elections in Turkey
Sen. Menendez raised serious doubts of how the moves to ban the HDP will affect the legitimacy of the 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey.
While asking Nuland whether this raised administration concerns about the validity of any outcome of the election, Menendez compared the work against the HDP to a hypothetical scenario of a U.S president outlawing their own opposition at home, something he said would be anti-democratic.
Nuland repeated in response the administration's concerns about the campaign to ban the HDP.
19:20 Nuland does not offer specifics on how Biden would respond to Erdogan's stance on Cyprus
Nuland said that the issue related to Erdogan's stance on Cyprus, particularly his statement about not caring what critics of his two-state solution for the island have to say, is that it undermines the U.N's reunification efforts.
However, she did not provide specifics when pressed on how the administration planned to act in response to Erdogan's hardening position.
19:05 Turkey's Afghanistan proposal is "extremely welcome" - Nuland
Nuland described Turkey's decision to maintain security at Kabul international airport in Afghanistan following the U.S withdrawal from the country in September as "extremely welcome".
In his first meeting with Biden, Erdogan proposed that Turkey would continue providing security at the airport with U.S and NATO support. The Taliban have opposed this move and called on Turkey to follow the U.S and leave Afghanistan.
19:03 "Is Erdogan looking to play the U.S against Russia?" -Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT)
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) pointedly asked whether or not Erdogan was purposely seeking to deepen his ties to Russia as a means to gain leverage against the United States.
Nuland, an expert on Russia, acknowledged that the two have grown closer, particularly during the Trump administration. She said it was the administration's priority to dissuade Turkey from deepening any reliance on Russia.
She declined to speak on Turkey's behalf, but acknowledged that it was her perception that Ankara was experiencing "buyer's remorse" in its relations with Moscow over disagreements in Ukraine, the Caucasus and Libya.
18:55 "Turkey weakens itself when it doesn't uphold fundamental freedoms & political pluralism." - Nuland
Asked by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Nuland said that the State Department and the Biden administration continue to oppose the efforts to shut down the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP).
"We share your concerns with the moves to shut down the HDP," said Nuland. "Turkey weakens itself when it doesn't uphold fundamental freedoms & political pluralism".
Nuland added that Turkey has a legitimate right to pursue counterterrorism cases against members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), but she did not accept the argument from Erdogan and his allies that the HDP was an extension of the outlawed group.
Both Turkey and the U.S consider the PKK a terrorist organisation.
18:48 Sen. Risch (R-ID) calls Turkey's decision to maintain the S-400 "mind boggling"
Sen. Risch described Turkey's insistence on maintaining the Russian S-400 in the face of U.S CAATSA sanctions as "mind boggling" even as the administration offered off ramps.
Asked about her own gauge on Turkey's current feelings on the system, Nuland suggested that Turkey was "uncomfortable" with the outcome of its purchase.
"I think they were romanced into buying the system by the seller [Russia]," Nuland said. "I think they were surprised at the costs that came with the S-400."
Nuland declined to specify what off-ramps the administration has offered Turkey to remove the sanctions but that they were not accepted by Ankara.
18:46 Biden administration will continue advocating for the release of Osman Kavala, Selahattin Demirtas and other political prisoners
Under questioning from Sen. Menendez, Nuland said that the administration will continue advocating the release of all political prisoners being held in Turkey.
The Biden administration has condemned Turkey's imprisonment of civil society activist Osman Kavala and the head of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas.
18:40 Nuland says the Biden administration is committed to maintaining CAATSA sanctions on Turkey and enforcing it worldwide
Under Secretary Nuland affirmed to Sen. Menendez's the administration's commitment to maintaining sanctions under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) against Turkey over the S-400. She also confirmed the administration will continue enforcing the CAATSA sanctions worldwide.
Menendez quickly pivoted to disagreements in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, an area where he has been a vocal critic of Turkey's policies.
Menendez also criticized the lack of U.S and global accountability over Turkey’s active support (including arms and foreign mercenaries) for Azerbaijan’s attack against Artsakh, the Armenian name for the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Nuland agreed and said that Turkey has "exasperated" tensions in the Caucasus region by siding strongly with Azerbaijan and enabling its harsher policies during and after the war last year.