Baird: Turkey's remarks on Zionism 'deplorable'

In 'Post' exclusive, Canadian FM criticizes Turkish premier's statements equating Zionism with crimes against humanity.

John Baird Canada (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)
John Baird Canada
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)
WASHINGTON – In an interview with The Jerusalem Post Sunday, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird sharply criticized Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statements equating Zionism with a crime against humanity.
“These remarks, we deplore them, and they’re incredibly unhelpful to the situation in the region,” Baird told the Post ahead of his address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference.
During a speech on Wednesday in Vienna, Erdogan said that “just as with Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it has become necessary to view Islamophobia as a crime against humanity.”
“How many Islamic states are there? There’s only one Jewish state,” Baird said.
“I think events in the middle of the last century compel humanity to make sure there is a Jewish homeland, a sanctuary and today a country with peace and security.”
Baird also warned that the Palestinian Authority would stand to lose a significant amount of aid from Canada should Fatah join with Hamas in a national unity government, as is currently being discussed.
“If Hamas were to come into a government of the Palestinian Authority, that is a red line for us,” Baird said.
“We’re not going to be partnering with and funding an international terrorism group. It’s a non-starter.”
His comments come after Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren urged the Palestinian Authority leadership not to take such a step, at AIPAC’s opening conference panel Sunday morning.
Baird also has been campaigning among his European counterparts to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, which would have consequences for the Lebanese militant group’s funding.
“When terrorist incidents can happen right inside the European Union by Hezbollah, that compels civilized people everywhere to act,” Baird said, referencing the killing of five Israeli tourists and a local bus driver in a bombing in Bulgaria this summer that the local authorities have blamed on the Lebanese group.
“We’ve got to call it for what it is. No moral relativism,” he declared.
“No saying, ‘Well the left hand gives out social services and the right hand is an international terrorist organization.’ It’s all attached to the same body and the same head.”
Canada, he noted, recently designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrrorist group and taken other strong actions against Tehran, which is suspected of working on a nuclear weapons program.
Earlier this week, the six world powers known as the P5+1 offered Iran some sanctions relief in exchange for certain concessions on its uranium enrichment efforts.
“Would I say I was optimistic on the P5+1? No,” Baird said. “But I think it is well worth continuing to take every diplomatic measure possible.”
Baird expanded on Iran sanctions at a round-table discussion Sunday evening at the AIPAC conference with former Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini. Though he expressed doubts about sanctions prompting a change in Iran’s political leadership, he added there is “no doubt sanctions have had a real impact on the economy.”
The Canadian foreign minister also said that “Iran’s regime is the greatest threat to international peace and security,” adding, “We will not back down on sanctions and pressure on Iran.”
In addition to stressing the importance of continuing with diplomacy during his Post interview, Baird seemed to warn against the consequences of a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
“Obviously we don’t want to see Israel have to do that,” he said.
“There are real concerns: On one night with one strike could you accomplish it, and then what would happen the next morning?” Making a joking reference to the push-back Canada has received from some quarters for its unequivocal support for Israel at the UN, Baird said, “Some people think they’re too good.”
Canada’s government voted last year against the PA’s bid for statehood at the United Nations. During the AIPAC panel, Baird said that a legal move by the PA to pursue judicial action against Israel at the International Criminal Court would “certainly have consequences” when it comes to Canada.
He did not offer the specifics for such a scenario. Canada is providing a five-year aid package to the PA totaling $300 million. The funds are slated to end in March, but $60-70 million was not spent and for now will continue to flow to the Palestinians, according to Baird.
The foreign minister spoke warmly about his personal travels to Israel and the relationship between Ottawa and Jerusalem. He told the Post that Canadian-Israeli relations were “by a factor of 10, at a high water mark.”