Turkish officials defend sanctions vote

Ankara ambassador says Israel is nearing "global isolation."

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
June 20, 2010 01:34
4 minute read.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

 
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WASHINGTON - Turkish officials here took a defiant tone Friday, warning Israel it could lose its best friend in the region and defending its vote against American- backed Iran sanctions.

“Israel’s current policy is leading the country to global isolation,” Ankara’s ambassador to the United States, Namik Tan, warned at a Middle East Institute conference on Turkey Friday.

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“Not only that, Israel is on the verge of losing one of its closest friends [Turkey].”

Tan stressed that Israel could repair the relationship – which he said his country still valued – if it acceded to Turkish demands that Jerusalem apologize for its raid on a Turkish-flagged aid ship attempting to break the Gaza blockade and undergo an international investigation.

Israel has rejected these demands and suggested that Turkey should be itself investigated for allegedly facilitating and aiding the ship. Tan dismissed a Turkish apology as “ridiculous.” He and other officials at the conference, however, seemed to drop previous Turkish demands that Israel lift the Gaza blockade or otherwise modify its policies as a condition for improved relations.

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Ibrahim Kalin, chief adviser to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also stressed that the government had appealed to the civilian-run ship not to sail for Gaza, but that it paid no heed.

“We tried to convince these people not to go. We advised them not to go, given the circumstances and difficulties and dangers,” he told The Jerusalem Post after his speech.

In his address, Kalin called the incident a “deep wound” and “one of the most tragic events in our recent history,” declaring that an Israeli-run investigation was not sufficient, or credible.

Another Turkish speaker, Omer Celik, deputy vice president of Turkey’s ruling party, accused Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of “trying to derail the bilateral relationship.” He also said that while the country wanted to maintain its historically strong relationship with American Jews, it would not come at the expense of principle.

“If the Jewish community expects us to behave differently on an issue where we have the right stance, we cannot behave differently,” he said.

Celik also criticized those Jewish groups that declined a meeting with his delegation this week, as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Anti- Defamation League and B’nai B’rith did due to the recent tension.

“Those who did not come made a mistake in terms of their approach to the Turkish-Jewish relationship,” he said, adding, “If the Jewish community here starts on a journey from the very beginning suggesting that Israel is right on every issue, then they will hurt their friends.”

Tan, however, said he still considered as friends the Jews he met in Israel on his recent tour as ambassador there, and during a previous posting in Washington.

Turkish official calls American Jews "very emotional"

He described American Jewry as “extremely sophisticated, and very, very credible people, all of them.” He went on to say, though, that “They are very emotional, very emotional. They have chosen the simplest way, [to] try to shift the focus on Turkey, shift the blame on Turkey. This is wrong.”

Tan and his colleagues also criticized members of Congress who this week denounced Turkey for its treatment of Israel over the Gaza incident and for voting against the Iran sanctions approved by the UN Security Council earlier this month.

Kalin stressed that Ankara values its enduring relations with the US, but pushed back against recent Congressional criticism of the government’s actions as “not responsible” and “very disappointing.

“It’s simply not acceptable. We completely reject that kind of attitude,” Kalin told the Post.

“We believe that there’s much more to be gained by retaining good relations between the US and Turkey, and that kind of language of threat will only hurt.”

Kalin referred specifically to New York Rep. Gary Ackerman’s call for a Washington think tank to reconsider its plan to give an award to the Turkish foreign minister; but other members of Congress have questioned Turkey’s reliability as a NATO ally and charged that the country was choosing the East and Islam over the West.

Turkish representatives have been making the rounds at the State Department, the White House and Capitol Hill this week to try to calm tensions, an effort Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkeley dismissed on Wednesday as a “charm offensive” before declaring that she refused to meet with the Turkish delegation until Turkey changed its policies.

While the Obama administration has been more measured, Kalin noted that his party has been hearing a lot about “disappointment” and “displeasure” in Washington over the Iran vote.

But he insisted that “We don’t see a crisis in US-Turkish relations, and we don’t want to see [one].”

He defended the Turkish position as one that resulted from America’s own request that Ankara mediate with Iran, and argued that voting in favor of sanctions would have ruptured the relationship with Teheran too seriously to allow further engagement.

Tan told the conference that his country shares the goal of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, but thinks that sanctions won’t work and that the recent UN vote was a “mistake.”

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