The Turkish government on Tuesday denounced Rick Perry’s comments about the country during a GOP presidential debate in South Carolina, accusing the Texas governor of making “unfounded and inappropriate allegations.”
The statement comes after Perry argued that Turkey, a democratic U.S. ally, is ruled by “what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists” and should have its NATO membership reconsidered.
Since 2002, Turkey has been led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or the AKP, a conservative party with Islamic roots.
Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said in a statement Tuesday that Turkey “became a member of NATO when the Governor was just two years old” and “has also been among the front line countries in the fight against terrorism.”
Unal went on to take a shot at Perry’s performance in the campaign, saying that “the weak support that Mr. Perry received at the opinion polls and the primaries has revealed that his unfortunate views are not shared by the Republican Party grassroots.”
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday that U.S. leaders “absolutely and fundamentally disagree” with the idea that Turkey is run by Islamic terrorists.
At Monday night’s debate, sponsored by Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and the South Carolina Republican Party, Perry was asked by moderator Bret Baier whether he believed Turkey still belongs in NATO, given the increasing number of women who have been murdered in the country, its shortcomings with press freedom and its more aggressive foreign policy.
Perry responded: “Well, obviously when you have a country that is being ruled by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists, when you start seeing that type of activity against their own citizens, then yes. Not only is it time for us to have a conversation about whether or not they belong … in NATO, but it’s time for the United States, when we look at their foreign aid, to go to zero with it.”
Turkey is a relatively wealthy country that gets almost no foreign aid from the United States. The State Department this year requested about $5 million, which was earmarked for peace-keeping and security operations.