Blinken pledges $100m in aid to Turkey on tour of earthquake destruction

US Secretary of State landed in Adana on Sunday as quake death toll exceeded 46,000

Antony Blinken and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on a helicopter tour of earthquake-stricken areas in Turkey on Sunday. Reuters
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged $100 million in additional aid after arriving in Turkey on Sunday for a tour of the damage from this month's earthquake.

Mr Blinken said he was “profoundly saddened” to see the wreckage of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that has killed at least 46,000 people in southern Turkey and northern Syria.

“The United States remains committed to doing everything we can to help with rescue, relief, and recovery efforts,” he said in a tweet.

Mr Blinken announced on Sunday the authorisation of another $50 million in Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Funds in response to the earthquake.

Washington is also providing $50 million in humanitarian assistance through the State Department and USAid, bringing the total for Turkey and Syria to $185 million, the department said.

Mr Blinken landed at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey's southern province of Adana on Sunday afternoon, taking a helicopter tour of the damage with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Washington's ambassador to Ankara, Jeff Flake, was among those who greeted Mr Blinken on arrival.

The Secretary of State was later on Sunday due to meet members of the White Helmets rescue group, who have helped to lead rescue and recovery efforts in north-western Syria amid an absence of international support from the UN.

Mr Blinken also met the USAid Disaster Assistance Response Team (Dart) that administrator Samantha Power announced would assist with the recovery efforts shortly after the deadly quakes jolted Turkey and Syria.

The Dart search and rescue team is starting to leave Turkey, USAid announced on Saturday, after 11 days on the ground.

“We are shifting response operations beyond search and rescue to focus on surging the rapid delivery of relief supplies to millions of people,” it said in a statement.

Washington is working through UN agencies and charities to provide emergency assistance.

It included: “hot meals, water, medical care and supplies; non-food items such as blankets, clothes and hygiene kits, temporary shelter, and structural engineers; and essential mental health and psychosocial support. especially to affected children and to other vulnerable individuals,” the State Department said on Sunday.

Mr Blinken is expected to thank Turkey for “its support for cross-border aid to affected areas of Syria”, the department said, an issue that has reignited since the earthquake.

He will hold other talks in Ankara on Monday and is expected to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, AFP reported.

Washington last week committed $85 million in immediate humanitarian aid for Turkey, along with continuing USAid help.

This week's visit to Turkey is the US diplomat's first since becoming Secretary of State two years ago.

Lisel Hintz, an assistant professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University, said Mr Blinken's visit sought "to signal to Turkey that the US is a committed ally who takes Turkey's concerns seriously … a position Ankara has questioned frequently in recent months".

"The fact that he shows up with an additional $100 million in financial assistance is quite significant," Ms Hintz told The National.

"Turkey's economy was already in crisis prior to the earthquake and the costs of aid provision in the short term and rebuilding and recovery in the longer term are massive."

Mr Blinken landed in Turkey after international security talks in Munich, where the Russian war in Ukraine dominated discussion.

It is expected to also be a subject of his discussions in Ankara, including Sweden and Finland's stalled Nato bids that Turkey has refused to ratify.

Ms Hintz believes Mr Blinken's repeated emphasis that "the United States is here" to help get aid to the people may be an attempt to improve public opinion of the US in Turkey.

"[Turkish] government figures' anti-US rhetoric … had fuelled conspiracies and further hardened societal attitudes," she said.

"The effects of earthquake diplomacy don't seem to prove long-lasting but the US may hope this is an occasion for ameliorating its reputation while providing assistance.

"I would be sceptical of any real warming of relations at either the diplomatic or societal level. The issues of tensions between the US and Turkey are numerous and deeply resonant."

Updated: February 20, 2023, 3:46 AM