210128 Blinken
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to journalists at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021 Image Credit: AP

Statements by the new US administration’s foreign policy officials on Turkey and Iran give many in the region hope that they understand the political dynamics in the Middle East and hopefully would act upon that understanding.

The Trump administration had imposed sanctions on both countries, a clear message that the US will not tolerate the actions of Ankara and Tehran as they continue to flout international norms and seek to destabilise the region.

Recent statements by both new Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan indicate clearly that those sanctions will remain in place, at least for now.

Last week, Blinken told the Senate that “the idea that a strategic — so-called strategic — partner of ours would actually be in line with one of our biggest strategic competitors in Russia is not acceptable,” referring to Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 missile defence system from Russia despite the objections of its Nato allies.

Averting diplomatic crisis

The Trump administration retaliated with imposing rare sanctions on a traditional ally late last year. Blinken hinted that the Biden administration might “determine whether more pressure is needed” on Turkey to also stop its aggressive actions in the eastern Mediterranean- the incursion into Greece territorial water for oil exploration, which has caused diplomatic crisis with the European Union.

At the United Nations, meanwhile, Richard Mills, the acting US ambassador to the organisation, called for the “immediate withdrawal” of Turkish troops from Libya and “the removal of the foreign mercenaries and military proxies that they have recruited, financed, deployed and supported in Libya.”

On Iran, Blinken has also signalled that the US sanctions on Iran, imposed by the Trump administration, will remain in place as the Biden administration mulls a return to negotiations with Tehran on a more comprehensive deal that would put other issues besides Iran’s nuclear activities- such as its ballistic missiles programme and its regional policies, on the table.

Iran has been escalating its violations of the 2015 nuclear deal, intensified its ballistic missile production and continued to arm and support proxy militias in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria.

Sullivan said last week that Tehran’s ballistic missile program “has to be on the table” if the US re-enters the Iran nuclear deal.

As Biden took office on 20 January, many were sceptic that his administration would take a tough stance on the actions of Iran and Turkey. They expected a repeat of the faulty policies the former President Barack Obama, who appeased both countries against the advice of America’s regional allies.

However, the positions taken by top Biden officials since seem to indicate a more realistic approach to the region. It is hopeful that Washington’s actions on the ground reflect that approach. The US needs to consult its regional allies to safeguard common interests.