U.S. acts to restore ties with Turkey; foreign minister likens attack to 9/11

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 2, 2010; A08

The Obama administration moved Tuesday to heal a breach with Turkey over its response to the deadly Israeli attack on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton huddled with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu for more than two hours in Washington, and President Obama spoke to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after both Turkish officials publicly lashed the United States and Israel.

"Psychologically, this attack is like 9/11 for Turkey," Davutoglu told reporters over breakfast before his meeting with Clinton, an analogy that reflected the heated nature of the Turkish rhetoric. "We will not be silent about this," he said. "We expect the United States to show solidarity with us. . . . I am not very happy with the statements from the United States yesterday."

Although Turkey has long had close ties with Israel, Erdogan, speaking in the Turkish capital, Ankara, told parliamentarians that "nothing would ever be the same" in relations between the two countries. "Israel's behavior should definitely, definitely be punished," he declared.

Turkey, at the crossroads of the Middle East and Europe, is an important NATO ally and central to the Obama administration's outreach to the Muslim world. But the administration increasingly appears to have less leverage over the current government, which has charted its own path on diplomacy with Iran and encouraged the flotilla that challenged Israel's blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

In a statement, the White House said that Obama told Erdogan that the United States supported a "credible, impartial and transparent investigation of the facts surrounding this tragedy" and that the administration would seek "better ways to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza without undermining Israel's security."

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that Clinton and Davutoglu agreed that "we are here as allies, and we have a shared interest in working through what are very tragic circumstances."

To resolve the crisis in the relations between Ankara and Jerusalem, Davutoglu said, Israel must make a "clear and formal apology," accept an independent investigation, release all passengers immediately, return the bodies of all dead passengers and lift what he called the "siege of Gaza." If the demands are not quickly met, he said, Turkey will order action from the U.N. Security Council.

In the breakfast with reporters, Davutoglu said the "Israelis believe they are above any law," but they will be held to account by Turkey and the international community. He likened the actions of the Israeli government to "pirates off the coast of Somalia" and ridiculed Israeli claims of links between the flotilla and al-Qaeda.

U.S. officials stopped well short of joining in the international condemnation of Israel for its actions. Instead, they walked a fine line of expressing "regret" at the deaths, calling for greater humanitarian access to Gaza and supporting an inquiry that would be largely managed by Israel.

The two nations also remain deeply split over Iran. Davutoglu spoke at length about what he described as strenuous efforts by Turkey and Brazil to meet the terms of a letter Obama sent to Erdogan and Brazil's president, outlining the terms of the deal to fuel a research reactor. The deal, intended as a confidence-building measure, collapsed last year, but Brazil and Turkey revived it last month to forestall sanctions.

Davutoglu made it clear that Turkey, a Security Council member, is in no mood to entertain fresh sanctions. "Diplomacy, diplomacy, more diplomacy" is needed, he said.

But Crowley said the United States will press ahead for a vote on a sanctions resolution in "the next few days," despite the possibility that Turkey would cast a "no" vote. "Turkey will make up its own judgment," he said.

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