A U.S. official indicated Thursday that Israel’s absence from a NATO conference was not the result of Turkey’s intervention, adding that Israel was never invited to the conference in the first place.
Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon stated at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that there was “misconception” surrounding Israel’s appearance at the Chicago summit.
According to Gordon, Israel is an “important partner of NATO, certainly an important ally of the United States….But the Chicago summit was never going to have a meeting of every single one of those partnerships, simply as a matter of logistics and time.”
Gordon further stated that he had seen news reports and speculation about a Turkey veto, but that the claims were “just not accurate.”
“What is accurate, as you know very well, is that the Turkey-Israel relationship is fraught, which we deeply regret,” Gordon stated.
The controversy began with remarks made by several senior Turkish officials which expressed their country's objection to Israel’s participation in the summit, demanding that the two countries first normalize relations.
Two major Jewish organizations, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee sent letters to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressing their concern and asking to find a way to circumvent the Turkish veto.
ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman wrote that "it is extremely unfortunate that Turkey has implicated all of the NATO member countries in its highly politicized bilateral disagreement with Israel. The U.S., as host country, should assure such bilateral issues do not deprive the participants in the Chicago summit of the benefits of Israeli participation.”
Foxman rejected the State Department's argument that NATO's partners are not necessarily invited to every summit. "In addition to the 28 member countries, the summit will be attended by 25 additional guest countries", he wrote. "The politicized exclusion of Israel from the summit will potentially have real negative security consequences,” adding that Israel’s absence “will be noted in Tehran at a critical time for international solidarity to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear capability.”
AJC President Robert Elman and Executive Director David Harris wrote to Clinton, saying that "while we recognize that NATO acts by consensus, and that the current Government of Turkey very publicly opposes NATO involvement with Israel, it is our belief that ongoing consultation with Israel on matters of mutual concern strongly benefits all NATO members and the alliance itself.”
“Israel has a unique perspective, and can offer unique insights, on a range of strategic developments on NATO’s doorstep… Facilitating rather than impeding interaction with Israel on these and other matters is clearly to NATO’s advantage," wrote Elman and Harris.
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