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Worries of Turkish Backsliding Deepen After Kerry Visit

Secretary of State John Kerry met Sunday with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu amid increasing concerns that Ankara is backsliding on commitments it made to Israel during a phone call arranged last month by President Barack Obama to facilitate rapprochement between Turkey and the Jewish state:

Eager to smooth the path for a restoration of ties that would lead to the return of Turkish and Israeli ambassadors to their posts, Mr. Kerry said that he had been assured by Mr. Davutoglu that the Turkish government would avoid any boastful displays of “triumphalism” in having succeeded in getting the Israelis to make concessions — which included an apology from Mr. Netanyahu. Mr. Davutoglu, however, appeared to sketch out a more ambitious set of expectations for rebuilding Israeli-Turkish relations, citing several “preconditions,” including the “lifting” of the Israeli embargo on Gaza, which he said should follow the settling of the compensation issue.

Analysts worry that Davutoglu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are overcompensating in an effort to save face and to placate hardliners. The two, along with other officials from their Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), were maneuvered into accepting an Israeli reconciliation offer that they had long belittled as inadequate.

Journalists are increasingly pressing the State Department on both Turkish backsliding and on Erdogan’s efforts to save face, which include among other things a commitment to visiting the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Last Wednesday journalists asked State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland about the degree to which “the Turks seem to have backed down or seem to have backed away from what was apparently their initial promise or pledge.” The questions continued the next day, revolving around Erdogan’s trip:

QUESTION: One, related to the Secretary’s trip, particularly his stop in Turkey, are you in a position now to say who he will be meeting with? Will he see Prime Minister Erdogan?

MS. NULAND: We expect that he will see Prime Minister Erdogan.

QUESTION: Okay. And in that conversation, do you expect him to raise the Prime Minister’s plans to travel again to Gaza in the context of the rapprochement?

MS. NULAND: As I said, Matt, I do expect that the whole complex of issues surrounding Middle East peace will come up. I can’t – they have in the past talked about appropriate reconciliation, if you will, among Palestinians and our insistence that Quartet principles need to be abided by if this is going to serve the cause of peace.

QUESTION: Right. Well, could I just ask, does the Administration see a visit to Gaza by Prime Minister Erdogan, as he plans to do, in keeping with the rapprochement that the President – President Obama brokered between him and Prime Minister Netanyahu?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think I’m going to get into characterizing a visit that hasn’t yet taken place. We have in the past in our conversations with senior Turkish officials urged that any contact with Hamas be in service to the greater issue of stability and peace and that the fundamental underlying tenets of the Quartet principles be reiterated as the necessary precondition.

QUESTION: Okay. But does that mean it’s not necessarily counter to the rapprochement that was —

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not prepared to comment at this moment on a visit that hasn’t taken place.

QUESTION: But just in a general way, I mean, isn’t Turkish – isn’t this one of the whole reasons for the rapprochement in the first place, that Turkey could play a helpful role in terms of working on Palestinian reconciliation and helping peace and stability in the region. I mean, isn’t that – wasn’t that one of the whole tenets of it?

MS. NULAND: Certainly, Turkey has significant influence with the Palestinians. It has the ability to encourage Palestinians of all stripes to accept Quartet principles and move forward on that basis. That’s a different matter than the question that Matt asked.

[Photo: U.S. Department of State / Wiki Commons]