New US ambassador hears first Turkish objections over Israel

Ricciardone listens to President Gül after a ceremony during which he presented his credentials on Friday.

January 29, 2011, Saturday/ 18:09:00

The United States' newly appointed ambassasdor was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Friday to hear Ankara's complaints concerning Washington's prompt declaration of backing for a recent Israeli report that cleared the Israeli government and the military of any wrongdoing during a deadly raid on an aid ship that killed nine Turks.

Ambassador Francis J. Ricciardone met with Turkish officials at the Foreign Ministry earlier this week, diplomatic sources told Today's Zaman. This was before Ricciardone, who arrived in Ankara last week after several months of congressional obstruction, presented his credentials to President Abdullah Gül, thus formally assuming his post, on Friday.

Foreign Ministry officials protested the US stance on the Israeli report and told the new ambassador that even Israeli media have given little credit to the report -- referring to an article in the Haaretz daily which said the report proved what Israel wanted to prove in the first place by concluding that the Israeli commandos' reaction during the May 31 raid was justified.

Eight Turkish citizens and a Turkish-American were killed when Israeli commandos boarded a ship in an international aid flotilla, the Mavi Marmara, on May 31. An Israeli panel that investigated the raid said in its report released last weekend that the armed defense of Israel’s maritime blockade of the Hamas-ruled coastal strip was justified under international law and that the soldiers acted in self-defense during the raid. Turkey condemned the report, saying it was “surprised, appalled and dismayed” and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the report “has no value.”

But Washington backed Israel, with State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley calling the Israeli inquiry “credible, impartial and transparent.” Crowley said Turkey’s own report on the raid, which is completely at odds with the Israeli report, was also “independent and credible” after insistent questions during a press briefing earlier this week. Diplomatic sources said Turkish Ambassador to US Namık Tan has also conveyed Turkey’s unease with the State Department’s statement about the Israeli report to US authorities in Washington.

Speaking to reporters before departing for Montenegro to attend a meeting of southeast European countries, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu publicly criticized the US for backing the Israeli position, saying it is “unacceptable in terms of international law.” Davutoğlu also said the Israeli report lacks objectivity, supporting fully the Israeli government’s arguments, and emphasized that Turkey expected its allies to show objectivity “without taking any sides.”

Turkey says in its report that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is unlawful and states that the conduct of Israeli soldiers during the raid was “excessive, brutal and pre-meditated.” Both Turkish and Israeli reports have been submitted to a UN panel investigating the deadly raid. The five-member panel is expected to meet in February or March, but it is not clear when it will conclude its inquiry.

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