erdogan - Reuters - December 1 2010
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo by Reuters
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Turkey's prime minister accused U.S. envoys on Wednesday of slander after leaked cables said he had accounts in Swiss banks, painted him as an authoritarian who hates Israel and leads a government with Islamist influences.

The trove of diplomatic messages released by website WikiLeaks also reveal a complex and difficult relationship between the United States and its NATO ally, with U.S. diplomats casting doubts over Ankara's Western orientation and at times clashing with Turkish officials over Iran's nuclear program.

"The United States should call its diplomats to account," Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told an audience in Ankara in his first comments on the leaks, which received wide coverage in Turkish media.

"The U.S. is responsible in first degree for the slanders its diplomats make with their incorrect interpretations. There are lies and incorrect information in those documents," he said.

Turkish officials had played down the impact of the leaks on Turkish-U.S. relations, and President Abdullah Gul even suggested the existence of a plot behind the revelations.

But Erdogan's words revealed a greater depth of anger. He suggested Turkey was considering taking legal action against some U.S. diplomats. A Turkish daily said U.S. President Barack Obama had called Erdogan and Gul to try to smooth things over.

In 2004, then-U.S. ambassador Eric Edelman portrays Erdogan, whose AK Party swept to power in 2002, as a politician with "unbridled ambition stemming from the belief God has anointed him to lead Turkey."

Another cable by Edelman in 2004 says: "Inside the party Erdogan's hunger for power reveals itself in a sharp authoritarian style and deep distrust of others: as a former spiritual advisor to Erdogan and his wife Emine put it, "Tayyip Bey believes in God...but doesn't trust him."

Writing about alleged corruption in the ruling AK Party, Edelman said: "We have heard from two contacts that Erdogan has eight accounts in Swiss banks."

Erdogan said on Wednesday he "did not have a penny in Swiss banks" and said he would resign if such accusations were proved.

"We will continue the process on these diplomats within international law, our officials are working on this," he added."

Iran and Israel

The AK Party government has deepened ties with Iran and other Muslim countries, raising doubts in Western circles about the political direction of the Muslim state spanning Europe and Asia.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the brainchild of Turkey's foreign policy, is described in a cable in 2004 as "exceptionally dangerous" by a Turkish aide.

And the welter of cables highlighted concern among U.S. diplomats over Turkey's foreign policy under Erdogan, and a robust difference of views on Iran's nuclear program.

Ankara irked Washington earlier this year when it voted against the latest round of U.N. sanctions against Iran.

According to one recent cable, former ambassador James Jeffrey confronted a senior Turkish foreign ministry official after Erdogan said that Iranian nuclear ambitions were "gossip."

After a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in January 2010, in which a NATO-wide missile shield program against Iran was discussed, Jeffrey wrote in another cable.

"Erdogan is concerned that Turkey's participation might later give Israel protection from an Iranian counter-strike."

In a meeting between Jeffrey and his Israeli counterpart in October 2009, the Israeli envoy complains that Erdogan is "a fundamentalist. He hates us religiously."

In a final analysis, Jeffrey wrote in January 2010 that Washington will have to learn how to love with its vital ally.

"Does all this mean that the country is becoming more focused on the Islamist world and its Muslim tradition in its foreign policy? Absolutely. Does it mean that it is 'abandoning' or wants to abandon its traditional Western orientation and willingness to cooperate with us? Absolutely not," he said.

"This calls for a more issue-by-issue approach, and recognition that Turkey will often go its own way."