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State Dept: Turkish PM Trip to Gaza “Counterproductive,” Hamas is a “Destabilizing Force”

The State Department is emphasizing that a planned trip by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the Gaza Strip next month is “counterproductive.” Speaking to reporters at a briefing yesterday, State Department Acting Deputy Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell added that U.S. officials consider the Iran-backed group to be a “foreign terrorist organization [and]… a destabilizing force.”

QUESTION: So – wait, just let me – so when Secretary Kerry was in Istanbul or – yeah, Istanbul – and when he goes there for this Syria meeting upcoming this weekend, if this – I don’t want to assume that this issue is going to come up, so let’s make it broader. When U.S. officials talk with Turkish officials about this subject, do they say hey, we think it’s a bad idea for you to send – for senior Turkish officials to go to Gaza? Or do you say we think it’s a bad idea for them to go to Gaza without consulting with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah first?

MR. VENTRELL: Our position is that engagement with Hamas is counterproductive, and we don’t think it should continue. But in terms of this, they should coordinate with the Palestinian Authority.

QUESTION: Why would it be counterproductive, if they’re going, as I assume that you asked them to do, to go and deliver a message that they should adhere to the principles that you just laid out? I mean, you certainly don’t have any influence on them. It doesn’t seem that that many people do. So why not your allies that have a better relationship with them be able to deliver that message?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, our policy on Hamas hasn’t changed. They’re a terrorist organization.

Analysts have expressed concerns that Erdogan’s travel to Gaza is an attempt to save face domestically after being maneuvered into accepting an Israeli offer for reconciliation on terms that he had long rejected as inadequate, but is coming at the cost of boosting Hamas.

The trip has been blasted by both U.S. and Palestinian Authority officials, and comes amid worries that Ankara is backsliding on the rapprochement deal. Those worries deepened over the weekend after Erdogan announced that a Turkish envoy will not be sent back to Israel until Israel’s blockade of Gaza is lifted. The declaration threatens to badly erode a reconciliation deal that administration figures and observers alike had hailed as a “significant ‘get’ in [President Barack] Obama’s trip to Israel.”
[Photo: World Economic Forum / Flickr]