Recep Tayyip Erdogan 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
WASHINGTON – The fallout over the deadly Gaza flotilla confrontation is threatening to disrupt efforts for another round of UN sanctions against Iran and could sour US-Turkey relations.
A previously scheduled meeting between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Tuesday was slated to focus on Iran sanctions. But it was instead overshadowed by the death of at least four Turkish citizens at the hands of the IDF when its raid designed to keep a ship bearing a Turkish flag from breaking the Gaza blockade turned bloody.
The US and Turkey have already been at odds in recent days over the UN process to pass a fourth Security Council resolution sanctioning Iran for continuing to enrich uranium in defiance of the international community.
Turkey, a non-veto-wielding member of the council, has opposed further sanctions and recently helped broker a deal with Iran over its enriched uranium stock that was seen as complicating the push for a new resolution.
A senior administration official on Friday said Turkey has seen the deal “as perhaps a means to put the sanctions efforts through the council on hold.”
He said that in contrast the US thinks that “it’s necessary to continue to apply pressure in order to get the ultimate result that we seek, which is Iran to be far more forthcoming than they’ve been willing to be so far in revealing the true nature of their nuclear program.”
But the Gaza flotilla incident early Monday turned the focus to Turkish-Israel relations and the ramifications of the violent encounter.
Turkey expert Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said that while the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting would have been topped by sanctioning Teheran, “now Iran sanctions drop to number two or number three” on the list.
In this charged environment, according to Cagaptay, Turkey will likely up its opposition to sanctions. Where once Turkey was expected to abstain in a Security Council vote, he now predicted an outright nay vote.
“Turkey is now freer to vote with its heart on Iran sanctions,” he said, “which means that Turkish-US relations are heading towards a major crisis if we don’t end up defusing the storm gathering over Iran sanctions.”
In that volatility comes the Turkish-Israel crisis, in which Ankara is blaming the US for not being critical enough of Israel.
The State Department meeting, originally scheduled to include a photo opportunity where reporters can sometimes ask questions, was closed to the press. But Davutoglu made his position clear to the media ahead of the meeting.
“I have to be frank: I am not very happy with this statement from Washington yesterday,” Davutoglu said. “We expect a clear condemnation.”
On Monday, US President Barack Obama conveyed to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu his “deep regret at the loss of life” and stressed “the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances around this morning’s tragic events as soon as possible,” according to a White House statement.
Later Monday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley put out a statement with similar language, though he also said, “We are working to ascertain the facts, and expect that the Israeli government will conduct a full and credible investigation.”
He added, “We will continue to engage the Israelis on a daily basis to expand the scope and type of goods allowed into Gaza to address the full range of the population’s humanitarian and recovery needs.”
But he also blamed Hamas for complicating the effort.
Davutoglu said that Turkey, a NATO member, would bring up the issue soon at the security alliance’s council.
“Citizens of member states were attacked by a country that is not a member of NATO,” he said. “I think you can make some conclusions out of this statement.”
Davutoglu contrasted his criticism of the United States with praise of the statements by the European Union.
Despite requests, State Department officials did not provide a response
to his remarks or any other comment on the meeting by press time.
Davutoglu told reporters that Turkey had been trying to facilitate
Arab-Israeli peace talks and had scheduled a meeting with Netanyahu in
Washington on Monday to advance Israel-Syria indirect talks, a process
in which Turkey once played an intermediary role.
But Netanyahu was never scheduled to be in Washington on Monday; he was
due to fly in and out on Tuesday for his White House meeting. Israeli
Embassy officials said they had no knowledge of the meeting Davutoglu
described.AP contributed to this report.