Kerry criticizes Turkey's PM over remarks on Zionism

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ANKARA, Turkey -- Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that Turkey's prime minister had made "objectionable" remarks when he cast Zionism as a crime against humanity in comments earlier this week.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday at a U.N. meeting in Vienna, "Just as with Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it has become necessary to view Islamophobia as a crime against humanity."

Mr. Kerry indirectly chastised the Turkish leader for the statement in his opening remarks following a meeting with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, saying it was important for all leaders to encourage a spirit of tolerance. But Mr. Kerry was more pointed when asked about the comments during a joint news conference with Mr. Davutoglu. "We not only disagree with it. We found it objectionable," he said in response to a question.

Turkey is the fifth stop on Mr. Kerry's nine-nation tour and the first Muslim-majority nation he has visited as secretary of state.

Mr. Davutoglu, for his part, appeared unrepentant in his news conference with Mr. Kerry. The Turkish foreign minister insisted that Turkey was not hostile toward Israel, and said the downturn in relations was Israel's fault, referring to the 2010 episode in which eight Turks and an American of Turkish descent were killed when Israeli commandos boarded the lead ship of a pro-Palestinian activist flotilla trying to break Israel's blockade of Gaza.

"What did those nine individuals do so that with an army they were attacked as if they were aboard a hostile ship on open waters?" Mr. Davutoglu asked. "If Israel wants to hear positive statements from Turkey, it needs to reconsider its attitude both towards us and towards the West Bank," he said.

A senior State Department official, who spoke under ground rules that he not be identified by name on Mr. Kerry's flight to Ankara, expressed the U.S. position on the Turkish comments in less-diplomatic terms than Mr. Kerry, saying the pattern of Turkish denunciations of Israel was having a "corrosive effect" on U.S.-Turkish relations. "This was particularly offensive, frankly, to call Zionism a crime against humanity," the official said, referring to Mr. Erdogan's remarks. "It complicates our ability to do all of the things that we want to do together when we have such a profound disagreement about such an important thing."

The official said the United States wanted to foster a thawing in relations between Turkey and Israel, but that the current ties between those two nations were "frozen."

Efforts to revive the Middle East peace process between Israel and the Palestinians and the conflict in Syria are also subjects on Mr. Kerry's Ankara agenda. On Thursday, Mr. Kerry promised food and medical supplies for the armed Syrian resistance fighting to depose President Bashar Assad and $60 million in additional assistance to the opposition coalition's political wing at a conference in Rome.

Mr. Kerry's first stop in Turkey was a ceremony at the U.S. Embassy, where he paid tribute to Mustafa Akarsu, the Turkish security guard at the embassy compound who was killed Feb. 1 in a suicide bomber's attack. Mr. Akarsu's wife and children were in attendance, as were two other Turkish guards wounded in the attack.



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