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US Congressmen express ire toward Turkey
By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
06/17/2010
"Turkey is responsible for the deaths" in Gaza flotilla incident.
 
WASHINGTON – US Congressmen ratcheted up their criticism of Turkey Wednesday, warning that Ankara was risking its historically warm ties with Congress by reaching toward Iran and breaking with Israel.

In a press conference defending Israel’s raid on a Turkish-flagged aid ship trying to break the Gaza blockade, several dozen of whose passengers had ties to terror organizations, numerous members of Congress turned their ire toward Turkey.

“Turkey is responsible for the nine deaths aboard that ship. It is not Israel that’s responsible,” declared Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nevada), who pointed to Turkish funding and support for the expedition.

“If Israel is at fault in any way, it’s by falling into the trap that was set for them by Turkey.”

She continued: “The Turks have extraordinary nerve to lecture the State of Israel when they are occupiers of the island of Cyprus, where they systematically discriminate against the ecumenical patriarch, and they refuse to recognize the Armenian genocide.”

Her comments – which were accompanied by an announcement that Turkish representatives were no longer welcome in her office – touched on sensitive issues with Turkey that the US has often shied away from pressing Ankara on aggressively.

Her words raised the prospect that the US Congress at least would be more assertive about its displeasure with Turkey.

Speaking at the same press conference, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana) said he recently warned the Turkish ambassador that “With regard to Congress of the United States, there will be a cost if Turkey stays on its current path of growing closed to Iran and more antagonistic to the State of Israel.”

Among other issues, he said, he was now likely to switch his vote to support a resolution recognizing the mass killing of Armenians during the Ottoman empire as a genocide, a move he had voted against in the past because he thought relations with Turkey were more important.

Turkey has vehemently opposed the resolution, briefly recalling its ambassador to the US when the measure passed a House committee earlier this year.

The Obama administration, in keeping with past administrations, has opposed the resolution moving to the full chamber for a vote because of Turkish sensitivities. Many Jewish lobbies in Washington opposed the resolution on the same grounds.

That argument also resonated in the past with Rep.

Peter King (R-NY), another participant in the press conference who said he was now likely to switch positions – as were many other of his colleagues.

King stressed that this wasn’t just about Turkey’s support of the Gaza flotilla and its heavy criticism of Israel, but the government’s move toward Iran and its turn away from running a secular democratic state.

“This is a clear effort, I believe, by Turkey to distance itself from the West, and there have to be consequences for that,” he said.

Indeed, Adam Schiff (DCalifornia) cited Turkey’s opposition to sanctions against Iran in circulating a letter Tuesday calling for his colleagues to take up the Armenian genocide resolution.

“Now is the time to recognize the Armenian genocide.

As Turkey sides with Iran, why defend its campaign of genocide denial?” asked Schiff, who sponsored the resolution.

At this point, Capitol Hill watchers don’t see enough momentum to force a floor vote, given how explosive the resolution would be in the current state of tension between the US, Turkey and Israel. But that could change, and insiders did see dissatisfaction with Turkey pushing forward initiatives to investigate the country’s connection to the flotilla and other moves opposed by Ankara.

The shift in tone, at least, was also evident in a letter Gary Ackerman (D-New York) sent to the Woodrow Wilson Center Tuesday afternoon calling on the think tank to rethink honoring Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu with its public service award.

“Publicly honoring Foreign Minister Davutoglu at this time is absolutely inconsistent – absolutely inconsistent – with the mission of the WWC and the ideals that animated President Wilson’s administration and foreign policy,” he wrote in a letter to the center.

At the same time, members of Congress are reaffirming their strong support of Israel and calling on the White House/administration to do the same.

A letter collecting signatures among members urges US President Barack Obama “to remain steadfast in the defense of Israel in the face of the international community’s rush to unfairly judge and condemn Israel in international fora such as the United Nations Security Council.” The letter has the support of many American Jewish groups, including the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, which put out a statement strongly backing the measure Wednesday.

But some have taken issue with it. The progressive J Street lobby urged senators and representatives to amend the letter, or write their own.

“The sign-on letters now circulating in the House and Senate, while expressing strong American support for Israel – a position we endorse – fail to address the impact of the present closure of Gaza on the civilian population, the deep American interest in resolving this conflict diplomatically, or the urgency of moving forward with diplomacy before it is too late,” J Street writes. “By ignoring these critical issues in favor of a simplistic statement that supports Israeli policy and actions, Congress is serving neither the best interests of the United States or of Israel.”
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