The Obama administration has expressed its dissatisfaction of Turkey’s discrimination against Israel in partnership activities within the framework of NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip H. Gordon said on Thursday that the United States was not going to allow Turkey’s discrimination against Israel. Gordon was answering questions from senators at a hearing titled “NATO: Chicago and Beyond,” held by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
When asked a question by Utah Senator Mike Lee, concerning whether there would be any softening of Turkey’s objection to Israel’s participation in the summit within 10 days, Gordon replied that there was a misconception about this issue. “NATO had not envisaged inviting Israel to the Chicago summit. Israel is an important partner of NATO, certainly an important ally of the United States. It is a member of the Mediterranean Dialogue, one of NATO’s manifold partnership arrangements. But the Chicago summit was never going to have a meeting of every single one of those partnerships, simply as a matter of logistics and time,” said Gordon.
Agreeing with Gordon on the misconception about the issue, a senior Turkish diplomatic source told Today’s Zaman that Turkey didn’t veto Israel’s participation in NATO’s upcoming Chicago summit due to take place from May 20 to 21, an important diplomatic summit to be hosted by US President Barack Obama.
The same diplomatic source emphasized that Israel was not invited to the Chicago summit, but if it had been invited, Turkey would not hesitate to veto its participation in the summit.
Gordon also underlined that there was no particular invitation to Israel for Turkey to block. Meanwhile, some Jewish leaders who spoke to Haaretz did not find this statement credible.
He said that the relationship between Turkey and Israel was fraught, which the US deeply regrets. “One of the most positive aspects of the Middle East was the deep cooperation between the two countries. And we’ve invested a lot of diplomacy in overcoming that, and we regret that partnership activities at NATO with Israel are not proceeding because of Turkish objections,” said Gordon.
The assistant secretary stated that the US would not accept any member country bringing bilateral disputes into the alliance, underlining that the US was very clear about this point.
“If an ally is going to block the partnership with one country, then, the US will not accept that partnership,” said Gordon, stating that the situation had reached that point currently, and the US was not going to allow discrimination against a particular ally.
The countries that are members in the Mediterranean Dialogue, a NATO outreach program with seven non-NATO nations, were Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Mauritania, Tunisia, Jordan and Israel.
Gordon concluded by stating that the US would not allow certain countries to be blocked and others to go ahead with their participation.
Turkish and Israeli relations worsened in May 2010 and have remained strained since then after Israeli naval commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara, a ship carrying humanitarian aid to breach Israel’s Gaza blockade, killing eight Turkish civilians and a US citizen.
Turkey demands an official apology, compensation for the families of victims and an end to the Gaza blockade. Israel has refused to issue an apology, expressing only regret, claiming that its soldiers acted in self-defense.
Turkey said it would not allow Israel to take part in the alliance’s new “Partnership Cooperation Menu (PCM)” during a NATO meeting in Brussels in late April attended by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.
Davutoğlu stated during the meeting that Turkey wouldn’t cooperate with Israel unless it accepts Turkey’s demands. He said Turkey doesn’t consider Israel as a partner in any international platform, including NATO.
“We will never allow a NATO facility to be used by a third party. I want to make this very clear. And, if this party were Israel, our attitude would be more clear and visible,” Davutoğlu said.
Davutoğlu reminded the members that Turkey was a country that rescued citizens of other NATO member countries who were detained by Israel during the Mavi Marmara raid. “Go and tell Israel to apologize for the incident and to pay compensation for the Turkish citizens whom it massacred,” Davutoğlu said.
According to information obtained from Turkish diplomatic sources, Davutoğlu reacted to the criticism raised by some NATO members in the Brussels meeting who claimed bilateral problems should not be brought to the alliance by underlining that Turkey cannot consider a country that killed Turkish citizens in international waters as a partner.
A senior diplomatic source said Turkey’s bargaining power is too strong. “We [Turkey] are blocking Israel in many areas. We avoid contact with Israel in any international meeting,” the same source said.
Another senior diplomatic source said NATO-Israel relations cannot be restored until Turkey-Israel relations are normalized.
*Sinem Cengiz in Ankara contributed to this report.