Biden Admin Silent on Turkey's Sponsorship of Hamas in Counterterrorism Talks

Counterterrorism coordinator leaves out Hamas when discussing how to defeat terrorism in Turkey

Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Haniyeh Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Turkish Presidential Press Office/Handout via Reuters)
April 25, 2024

The State Department's top counterterrorism official was in Turkey this week for meetings, but missing from her schedule were discussions about Hamas—an omission that isn't going unnoticed on Capitol Hill.

Ambassador Elizabeth Richard, the State Department's counterterrorism coordinator, landed in Ankara on Monday to discuss regional operations with Turkish leadership. Richard was in the country to shore up support for the "defeat of terrorist organizations such as PKK, DHKP-C, and ISIS in Syria and Iraq," according to a notification issued by the State Department.

Hamas—the region's central Iran-backed terrorist group, which receives financial and logistical support from Turkey—does not appear to be one of the agenda items, indicating that the Biden administration is hesitant to raise the issue even at a time when the terror group is waging war on Israel and sowing discord throughout the Middle East.

Asked whether Hamas would come up in discussions, a State Department official said he was looking into the matter and then did not respond to subsequent Washington Free Beacon inquiries.

Questions surrounding Richard's hesitance to raise the issue come amid a failure by other top Biden administration officials to press major Arab players about their support for Hamas. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf, who is in Brussels this week, did not mention Hamas during a 30-minute briefing with reporters on "Israel and the broader region." In March, the Biden administration hosted a Qatari delegation that included an official who has praised Hamas terrorists and called for missile strikes on Israel. The issue has taken on renewed significance in recent days after Hamas released a video showing it tortured an Israeli-American hostage who is now missing parts of his arm.

Many regional experts see Turkey's ties to Hamas, which operates an office in the country, as a roadblock in U.S. relations with Ankara. Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hosted Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh earlier this week, when Richard was in the country for talks. Erdoğan also committed during those meetings to "defend the Palestinian struggle."

On Capitol Hill, Republicans are becoming increasingly frustrated with the State Department's posture on the conflict, as well as its failure to secure the release of hostages.

"The Biden administration is committed to making sure Hamas, Hezbollah, and other Iranian-backed terrorist groups survive," said one senior Republican congressional official who works on State Department issues. "They publicly and privately are pressuring Israel not to take action against those groups. So of course [Richard] can't bring them up in press conferences and press releases, let alone coordinate against them."

Lawmakers, the source said, worry the hostage issue is taking a backseat as the Biden administration shifts focus to a pressure campaign meant to force Israel into inking a ceasefire and pumping humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

Leaf's Wednesday briefing generated similar questions when she failed to mention both Hamas and its hostages in a nearly 30-minute question-and-answer session with reporters.

An invite to the briefing said Leaf would provide "an overview of developments in Israel and the broader region."

But Leaf's primary focus was increasing aid into the Gaza Strip and providing political support for the Palestinian government. The Biden administration's focus on these issues comes amid mounting pressure from the Democratic Party's far-left flank, which wants the United States to punish Israel and force the Jewish state to leave Hamas intact.

During the press conference, Leaf said she is working with regional partners to "substantially increase the flow of lifesaving humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians in Gaza" and "forge a consensus on a post-conflict vision for Gaza." The United States is also examining "ways by which the international community can bolster support to the Palestinian Authority and to the Palestinian public generally," according to Leaf.