(photo credit: Associated Press)
WASHINGTON – Following the visit of a Turkish delegation to Washington, members of the US Congress and Jewish community are noting a change in Turkey’s rhetoric, but stress that words have to be backed up with actions.
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After Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu held meetings with key officials at the White House, State Department and Treasury as well as with representatives of US Jewish organizations last week, Turkish officials were quoted in the Turkish press making positive statements about Israel and the relationship between the two countries.
their meetings, diplomatic sources described sharp differences in
Ankara and Jerusalem over Israel’s deadly raid on a Turkish-supported
flotilla trying to break the Gaza blockade as an incident between “two
friends,” according to the Anatolia news agency.
message was conveyed at Tuesday’s meeting with Jewish leaders, according
to the Hürriyet Daily News and Economic Review, which reported that
Turkey conveyed the message that Israel was “a friend” and that the
visit ended with “smiles and good wishes.”
Until now, positive
gestures between Turkey and Israel have been few and far between since
the raid, which left nine Turkish activists dead. Amid harsh criticism,
calls for an apology and a UN investigation, Ankara recalled its
ambassador from Tel Aviv.
The reverberations of the dispute,
which followed other heated exchanges over Gaza and other regional
policies between the two onceclose allies, have been felt in Washington.
The Obama administration has called for a calming of tensions, while
members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have slammed the Turkish
government. The confirmation of the next US ambassador to Turkey is
being held up in the Senate, while members of the House of
Representatives have threatened to block arms sales to Ankara.
“Their stated desire to be friends with Israel has to be backed up with something.
far all I’ve seen is an active PR machine,” said one Democratic
congressional aide who works on Turkey, speaking on condition of
“Actions are going to speak louder than words.”
he was “glad to hear” the statements of friendship with Israel, he
added, “It’s actually a sad state of affairs that they have to say it.
It’s not something they ever had to say before.”
Jewish officials who met with Sinirlioglu also said they are looking for actions to make the shift in rhetoric meaningful.
would like to see demonstrations that they take the relationship with
Israel seriously, [such as by] sending their ambassador back to Israel,
beyond the more positive words expressed to Jewish organizations,” said
one participant, speaking anonymously about the off-the-record meeting.
“We’ll all be looking for that.”
Significant differences on
policy clearly remain, however, and not just regarding the flotilla
incident. Congress is worried about a general shift by Turkey away from
the West, epitomized by its relations with Iran. Turkey infuriated the
US by voting against a fourth set of UN sanctions on Iran in June
despite its continued enrichment of uranium in contravention of
Treasury officials visited Ankara earlier
this month “to ask Turkey not to trade with Iran” and to coordinate on
the sanctions imposed against Iran, according to sources quoted in
Hürriyet. But the newspaper reported that Turkey doesn’t believe itself
bound by the further, much more comprehensive sanctions, passed by
Congress and other countries.
Still, Washington sources said it was a positive sign that Turkey saw the need to act to improve its image in the US.
Jewish official said he was glad to see that the officials reached out
to the community last week and recognized the importance of indicating
they were listening to American Jewry’s perspective.
concerned that they’ve crossed a certain line and need to find a way to
walk back,” he said. “We certainly have their attention.”