Washington distances itself from Perry’s remarks

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry is seen making remarks during the Republican Presidential Candidate Forum at the third annual Business Advocate Awards in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo: EPA)

January 18, 2012, Wednesday/ 18:13:00

A spokesperson for the US administration has announced that the US government fundamentally disagrees with a recent assertion by Republican presidential contender Rick Perry, who suggested that Turkey is run by “Islamic terrorists” and its ties to NATO and the US should be reconsidered.

Perry’s words, although denounced by Washington, caused uneasiness and disappointment in Turkey, which said it was unfortunate to hear such uninformed words from someone hoping to take over the huge responsibility of the US presidency. Perry needs to find greater support for his campaign in the primaries if he wants to keep up his bid for the Republican candidacy against Barack Obama’s re-election, but his remarks have landed a blow to his presidential aspirations while at the same time bringing him international coverage for advising Turkey be cut away from the US.

Mark Toner, deputy spokesperson for the US State Department, said at a daily briefing Tuesday, “We absolutely and fundamentally disagree with that assertion [that Turkey is run by Islamic terrorists].” He distanced Washington from Perry’s remarks, saying Turkey is “a stalwart ally” both within NATO and in terms of bilateral relations, and the US has “a strong partnership with Turkey in addressing issues of regional and global security.”

“We stand by our relationship [with Turkey],” Toner noted, dismissing Perry’s perspective that Turkey has failed to live up to the alliance between the countries. Toner also refuted Perry’s remarks that Turkey does not belong in NATO, saying the country is “one of the oldest members of NATO” and that it continues to play “a very positive and constructive role in the region,” being often cited as an example of “Islamic democracy in action.”

The Turkish Foreign Ministry also issued a written statement on Tuesday to “condemn” Perry’s accusations against Turkey and its leaders and criticized him for not being able to “recognize US allies,” recalling that the two countries co-chair a global counterterrorism forum and that Turkey is a long-standing partner of NATO forces, particularly active in Afghanistan.

“We strongly condemn the baseless and inappropriate allegations,” the ministry said on Tuesday, adding that a person trying to run for the position of US president should be “more knowledgeable about the world and more careful in the statements they make.”

Perry, the governor of Texas, said in a debate with other Republican contenders in South Carolina on Monday that Turkey was a US ally in the past, but is not anymore. “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,” Perry boldly claimed.

Perry was also slammed by the chairman of the Democratic Party Group at the US House of Representatives, John Larson, who said that the Texas governor has again demonstrated his weakness regarding global policies. “Perry lacks knowledge on the importance of strategic alliance and friendship,” the Anatolia news agency quoted Larson as having said while stressing that Perry’s words do not represent the feelings of the American people or the American government.

A congresswoman from Texas and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Sheila Jackson Lee also said that “instead of making accusations that are not based on realities, we should be in an effort of diplomacy to promote friendly relations.” She also criticized the inaccuracy of Perry’s remarks, saying candidates in their presidential campaigns should research US allies before making such mistakes. “Our citizens should know that Turkey and the US work together to further develop peace and democracy in the world,” she said as reported by Anatolia.

After his remarks were met with criticism and surprise in both the US and Turkey, Perry was asked again on a CNN broadcast Tuesday whether he actually meant that Turkey is run by Islamic terrorists, to which he replied that he still thinks along that same track. Perry justified his accusation of Islamic terrorism against Turkish officials saying that they have “allowed honor killings” and that makes them Islamic terrorists, dismissing the host of the broadcast’s protest that while the killings happen, they are not endorsed by Turkish officials.

Perry also repeated that the US should cut foreign aid to Turkey -- an idea misleading in nature as Turkey does not receive such assistance from the US -- saying that the US has given Turkey $4 billion over the last few years and another “$7 billion on the military side of things.” Turkey is not a recipient of US foreign aid but does cooperate militarily with the country -- the US deployed four Predator drones in Turkey when it pulled out from Iraq to help the country battle terrorism along its borders, the Associated Press reported -- but Turkey receives no financial assistance from the US.

Ankara also slammed Perry for questioning Turkey’s membership in NATO, saying that while Turkey became a member “when Perry was two years old,” the presidential hopeful does not have much backing from Republican grassroots, which demonstrates the commonsense of the US electorate.

Turkey’s ambassador to Washington, Namık Tan, also expressed that he was disappointed with Perry’s remarks and concerned over the accusations in a statement he sent to Yahoo News on Tuesday.

“I am disappointed and concerned that Turkey and its time-tested ties of alliance, partnership and friendship with the United States became the object of misplaced and ill-advised criticism during last night’s Republican candidates’ debate,” Tan said, adding that it is needless to say the Turkey described during the debate simply does not exist.

Tan underlined that while the comments were unfortunate, “we do hope this episode in last night’s debate leads to a better informed foreign policy discussion among the Republican Party candidates.”

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