Peres: Erdogan spat 'nothing personal'

Turkish PM claims he left stage because he wasn't given enough time; gets hero's welcome in Istanbul.

erdogan quits davos 248 ap (photo credit: AP)
erdogan quits davos 248 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Despite his public spat with Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the World Economic Forum over the Gaza fighting, President Shimon Peres said Friday that his relationship with the Turkish prime minister had always been good and remained so. Speaking to reporters in Davos, Peres said Turkey was an ally and an important country, both in the Middle East and the World. Peres said he spoke to Erdogan after the row in which the Turkish prime minister stormed off the stage. "I called him up and said, 'I do not see the matter as personal,'" Peres said. "My respect for him didn't change. We had an exchange of views - and the views are views." Erdogan said he left not because of a dispute with Peres, but because he was not given time to respond to the president's remarks. Erdogan also complained that Peres had 25 minutes while he was only given 12 minutes. The Prime Minister's Office said that during their phone conversation, the two leaders agreed not to let the incident affect their relationship and that they would continue to cooperate. The PMO said that Erdogan assured Peres that he wasn't angry with him, but with the organizers of the forum. The PMO denied Turkish media reports that Peres had apologized to Erdogan. Meanwhile, Erdogan received a hero's welcome upon his return to Istanbul as some 5,000 supporters waving Turkish and Palestinian flags flooded Istanbul's airport when his plane touched down before dawn. Some outside of the airport gate held banners that applauded his Palestinian stance in Davos. "The conqueror of Davos," one banner read. CNN television said extra buses were put on duty so more people could turn out to welcome him. In brief comments at the airport, Erdogan said he had been insulted. "My responsibility is to protect the honor of the Turkish nation." During the forum, Erdogan had become enraged over being cut off by a panel moderator after listening to an impassioned monologue by Peres defending Operation Cast Lead. Peres's defense was prompted by harsh criticism leveled at Israel not only by Erdogan, but also by the two other panelists, Arab League head Amr Moussa and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. "You are killing people," Erdogan declared to Peres. However, a finger-pointing Peres told Erdogan that he would have done the same if rockets had been hitting Istanbul. "Do you understand the meaning of a situation where hundreds of rockets a day are falling on women and children who cannot sleep quietly, who need to sleep in shelters? What is the matter with you? You don't understand, and I am not prepared for lies." Peres's comments were met by hearty applause, which apparently irritated the Turkish prime minister. Erdogan asked the moderator, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, to let him speak once more. "Only a minute," Ignatius replied. Speaking in Turkish, Erdogan said, "I remember two former prime ministers in your country who said they felt very happy when they were able to enter Palestine on tanks. I find it very sad that people applaud what you said. There have been many people killed. And I think that it is very wrong and it's not humanitarian." "We can't start the debate again. We just don't have time," Ignatius said. "Please let me finish," Erdogan said. However, Ignatius responded, "We really do need to get people to dinner." The Turkish premier then said, "Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. I don't think I will come back to Davos after this." The confrontation saw Peres and Erdogan raise their voices - highly unusual at the elite gathering of corporate and world leaders, which is usually marked by learned consensus-seeking and polite dialogue. The packed audience at the Erdogan and Peres session, which included US President Barack Obama's close adviser Valerie Jarrett, appeared stunned. Afterward, forum founder Klaus Schwab huddled with Erdogan in a corner of the Congress Center. "I have known Shimon Peres for many years and I also know Erdogan. I have never seen Shimon Peres so passionate as he was today. I think he felt Israel was being attacked by so many in the international community. He felt isolated," said former Norwegian prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik. "I was very sad that Erdogan left. This was an expression of how difficult this situation is," he added. Moussa, the former Egyptian foreign minister, said Erdogan's actions were understandable. "Mr. Erdogan said what he wanted to say, and then he left. That's all. He was right," Moussa said. Of Israel, he said, "They don't listen." Erdogan brushed past reporters outside the hall. His wife appeared upset. "All Peres said was a lie. It was unacceptable," she said, eyes glistening. The unpleasant incident came at a meeting that both Israeli and Turkish diplomatic officials thought could help improve relations between the two countries - relations that have soured considerably due to Erdogan's extremely harsh criticism since the start of Operation Cast Lead. "Erdogan's actions in Davos show that he doesn't want to miss an opportunity to further harm Turkish-Israeli relations," sources in Jerusalem said in response to the incident. The sources said that Erdogan's behavior on the Davos stage obviously would not help Turkey's attempts to be seen in Europe as a rational and constructive actor on the international stage. "Israel's strategic relationship with Turkey is important to us, but it is no less important to Turkey," the official said. "Erdogan is harming his own interests." The official said that Israel was growing increasingly "tired" of Erdogan's tirades, and was unlikely to make any more efforts to "chase after the Turks." The official dismissed as no longer valid the argument that Erdogan's diatribes - he has called for Israel to be barred from the UN and said its actions were inhumane and would bring it to self-destruction - were the result of domestic considerations, and that he was playing to his strong Islamic base before the Turkish municipal elections in March. The incident came even as Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan appeared over the last couple of days to be tempering Turkish rhetoric and taking a more conciliatory approach. On Wednesday he called on Hamas to abandon violence. Hamas hailed Erdogan on Friday for storming off the stage. "Hamas appreciates the courageous step by the Turkish prime minister, who in Davos, defended the victims of the criminal war of the Zionists against our women and children in Gaza," said Fawzi Barhoum, one of the group's spokesmen in the Strip.