Blinken: U.S. will back quake-hit Turkey, raises NATO

STORY: Visiting the country after its devastating earthquakes, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged U.S. aid for Turkey on Monday (February 20).

He spoke after a Sunday visit to the quake zone, where rescue work was winding down two weeks after the worst disaster in the country's modern history.

"The United States is here to support you in your time of need and we'll be by your side as long as it takes to recover and rebuild."

The quake wasn't the only subject on the agenda, though.

Blinken wasted no time in pushing his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, on speedy NATO accession for Sweden and Finland - something Washington strongly supports.

The two countries applied to join the trans-Atlantic defense pact last year after Russia invaded Ukraine.

But, they faced unexpected objections from Turkey.

Ankara says Stockholm has harbored what Turkey calls members of terrorist groups, and recently indicated it would approve only Finland for NATO membership.

Cavusoglu said that all parties in the alliance must convince Sweden in particular to take more action to address Ankara's concerns, and win its support for the bid.

"Finland and Sweden have already taken concrete steps to fulfill the commitments they made under the trilateral memorandum agreement that they signed with Turkiye on the margins of the NATO summit in Madrid. We welcome and appreciate those steps, I think they are quite significant."

Cavusoglu added that suspended talks with Sweden and Finland would resume "soon" in Brussels though - an indication of easing tensions between Stockholm and Ankara.

Relations between NATO allies Turkey and the U.S. have been strained since 2019, when Ankara acquired Russian missile defense systems.

But, the U.S. State Department has offered a total of $185 million in humanitarian assistance to support the earthquake response in Turkey and Syria.

The death toll from the quakes now stands at more than 46,000 people across both countries.