US-Turkey tensions at new heights

Erdogan bashes US for inaction following flotilla incident.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
July 16, 2010 02:36
3 minute read.
Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey PM Erdogan 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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WASHINGTON – Turkish media reports have exposed increased tensions between the US and Turkey in recent days, with disagreements flaring over the Gaza flotilla incident and efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

Earlier this week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan bashed the US for not taking more action following the death of a Turkish-American dual citizen in Israel’s raid on a Turkish-flagged ship attempting to break the blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

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“It is significant that the US administration has not taken action regarding Furkan Dogan. We expect them to follow this case,” Erdogan was quoted as saying. “Are you not defending Furkan’s rights because he was Turkish?” In response, US Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey told the Turkish newspaper Zaman that the US was concerned about Dogan’s case but took umbrage at Erdogan’s remarks.

“If the press report is true, we – the United States and I – personally find it deeply disappointing and worrying,” he was quoted as saying.

He went on to chide Turkey for not being more helpful with the investigation, and providing the autopsy results on the deaths to the Turkish group IHH, which participated in the flotilla, but not to the United States, according to media accounts.

“We requested it from the Turkish authorities many times, most recently on July 7,” he reportedly said. “We find it difficult to understand why we can’t have the autopsy report despite our requests while IHH already has been given it.”

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A State Department official said Thursday that Turkey had subsequently provided the autopsy reports.

The tensions come shortly after US President Barack Obama warmly received Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the White House last week, a meeting that was originally scheduled for the day after the flotilla incident occurred. Netanyahu cancelled to return to Israel in the wake of the raid.

Israeli analysts have assessed the tense exchange between Erdogan and American officials stems at least in part from ire on the part of the former at Netanyahu’s friendly reception while the flotilla incident has yet to be resolved.

Turkish-Israel ties have been in a tailspin since the incident took place in late May, with Turkey recalling its ambassador, cancelling joint military exercises and threatening a full cut off of ties if Israel doesn’t apologize for the incident and take other steps Jerusalem has ruled out.

The US has talked to both countries about cooling down the rhetoric and finding a way to mend relations. The issue came up during the Obama-Netanyahu meeting, amidst indications that Turkey was dissatisfied that the US didn’t press Israel harder on the issue.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a 45-minute call with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu Monday in which “the Secretary encouraged the foreign minister to continue important dialogue with Israel because that relationship remains a vitally important one to the future of the region,” according to State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley.

After the call, Turkish media also reported that Clinton had urged Ankara to stop negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program, which Erdogan then denied.

While many countries reacted with outrage and anger at Israel’s actions over the flotilla, political figures in the US have been more understanding of Israel’s perspective, and several members of Congress have warned Turkey to reassess its behavior.

They have also called for an investigation and potential designation of the IHH, the Turkish aid group whose members were involved in the deadly confrontation with Israel, as a terrorist organization.

The State Department has acknowledged contacts the IHH has had with Hamas, which is on the US terror list, but said no decision had been made about its designation.

“I believe we’re looking at the IHH, but it’s a long process to designate an organization a Foreign Terrorist Organization and there’s nothing to announce on that,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said last week.

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