A former U.S. diplomat warned that Turkey is a weakening link in the NATO alliance, citing that country's participation in negotiations with Russia despite the exclusion of the United States.
"It's a Turkey that's moving away from the West, but also a Turkey that's moving away from NATO," John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told talk radio host Hugh Hewitt on Wednesday.
Russia hosted negotiations over a cease-fire in the Syrian civil war with Turkey and Iran, one of its allies in the fight to prop up Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Turkey began engaging with Russia in secret, despite its ongoing alliance with the United States, which maintains a military presence in the NATO country that includes a nuclear weapons arsenal.
"Three countries that don't necessarily have our best interests at heart, despite one of them being a NATO ally, convening to decide what to do with the region," Bolton said. "No United States, no Europe, it's really remarkable. But it's a sign of the times. It is a precise reflection of the diminution of American influence under the Obama administration."
Secretary of State John Kerry's spokesman resisted the suggestion that Russia snubbed the United States by holding the talks without U.S. participation.
"I think the secretary would be the first to tell you that if not having us in the room can lead to finally a cessation of hostilities that can actually matter over a period of time and over a greater geographical area than what we've seen in the past, that can actually get humanitarian aid to people and can resume political talks, the secretary is perfectly fine with him not being in the room if that's the result of this," State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been engaging with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the last year, after their relationship reached a low point when Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet that violated its airspace in the course of operations over Syria. Putin condemned a failed coup attempt against Erdogan, which the Turkish government implicitly blamed on the United States.
"Putin is working hard, playing on Erdogan's own Islamist aspirations, but working hard to slice Turkey away from NATO," Bolton said.
Bolton, who served under George W. Bush, is a candidate for a senior job in the State Department under Trump. Senate Democrats, however, have vowed a fight against his hypothetical nomination, despite their separate concern that Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson is too friendly with Putin.