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170 U.S. lawmakers urge Biden administration to push Turkey on rights

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a meeting with EU Council President Charles Michel in Brussels, Belgium March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - One hundred seventy members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a bipartisan letter sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging President Joe Biden’s administration to address “troubling” human rights issues as it formulates policy for dealings with Turkey.

The letter, dated Feb. 26 and made public on Monday, notes that NATO ally Turkey has long been an important U.S. partner but says the administration of President Tayyip Erdogan has strained the relationship.

“Strategic issues have rightfully received significant attention in our bilateral relationship, but the gross violation of human rights and democratic backsliding taking place in Turkey are also of significant concern,” said the letter, whose signers included Representatives Greg Meeks, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Mike McCaul, the panel’s ranking Republican member.

Erdogan said on Feb. 20 that the common interests of Turkey and the United States outweigh their differences and Turkey wants improved cooperation with Washington.

But relations have frayed over a host of issues, including Turkey’s purchase of a Russian missile defense system and U.S. support for the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria.

Washington has also expressed repeated concern over rights and freedoms. The lawmakers’ letter said Erdogan and his party have weakened Turkey’s judiciary, installed political allies in key military and intelligence positions, and wrongfully imprisoned political opponents, journalists and members of minority groups.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Jonathan Oatis