Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has postponed his planned visit to the Gaza Strip at the request of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
- Sari Bashi / No Gaza, No Turkey
- First Round of Israeli-Turkish Reconciliation Talks End; Sides Agree to Reconvene
- Warring Palestinians Turn From Cairo to Ankara
- Refusing US, Turkish PM Going to Gaza
Kerry told Erdogan during their meeting in Istanbul last Sunday that visiting Gaza at this time could harm effort to normalize relations with Israel, and urged him consider postponing the trip to a later date, according to reports in the Turkish press.
Shortly before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Erdogan over the deaths of nine Turkish activists aboard a Gaza-bound aid flotilla raided by the IDF in 2010, the Turkish prime minister had hurried to announce that he was interested in visiting the Gaza Strip sometime during April.
During a press briefing for reporters Tuesday night en route to Kyrgyzstan, however, Erdogan said, “It seems the visit to Gaza will take place after I return from the United States.”Erdogan is expected to arrive in Washington on May 16 and meet with President Barack Obama at the White House. The meeting was scheduled following the reconciliation agreement with Israel and after a long period in which Obama refrained from extending an invitation to the Turkish prime minister.
The reconciliation talks with Israel that were supposed to begin Thursday in Ankara have been postponed to April 22.
According to a high-ranking Israeli official, the reason for the delay is Erdogan’s trip to Kyrgyzstan: Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, who is representing the Turkish government in hashing out the compensation agreement with Israel, joined Erdogan on his flight to Kyrgyzstan. Both Erdogan and Arinc are keen on keeping a close eye on the talks with the Israeli government, and therefore asked that the talks be postponed by ten days.
Turkey and Israel were once close partners, but the relationship plummeted after the 2010 flotilla raid. Obama kick started the rapprochement between Turkey and Israel during his visit to the region last month. Fixing the Turkish-Israeli relationship has been a long-sought goal of the Obama administration, and the U.S. desperately wants significant progress by the time Erdogan visits the White House in mid-May.
During Kerry's visit to Istanbul earlier this week, he urged Turkish leaders to speedily restore full diplomatic relations with Israel: the two countries are both American allies the U.S. sees as anchors of stability in a Middle East wracked by Syria's civil war, Arab Spring political upheavals and the potential threat posed by Iran's nuclear program.
But Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu suggested during a joint press conference with Kerry that full normalization of ties would probably take some time, however, with Turkey that Israel end all "embargoes" against the Palestinians first.
"There is an offense that has been committed and there needs to be accountability," Davutoglu said. He signaled that Turkey would pursue a "careful" advance toward a complete restoration of relations, with compensation and an end to Israeli trade restrictions on the Gaza Strip as the stumbling blocks.
"All of the embargoes should be eliminated once and for all," he said, speaking through an interpreter.
The full restoration of bilateral relations is expected to take about three months. Turkey stressed that it will not dispatch a new ambassador to Tel Aviv until after the compensation talks are completed.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s special envoy to Turkey, Joseph Ciechanover, and National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror will be handling the negotiations for the Israeli side. While the Turkish negotiating team will be headed by Deputy Prime Minister Arınç, the actual talks will be conducted by Turkey's Undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry, Feridun Sinirlioğlu, Ankara's point man on Israel since the raid on the Mavi Marmara.