Turkey President Cancels Talks With Peres, but Plans to Meet Ahmadinejad

Gul says schedule too tight to meet Israel's president, even after reports last week that the two were to convene for the first high-level talks between the two countries since the deadly raid on a Turkish-flagged Gaza-bound flotilla.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul said Monday that he would no longer be able to meet with President Shimon Peres on the sidelines of a United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, citing time constraints.

Gul will meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, however, telling reporters in New York that he expected the international row over Tehran's contentious nuclear program to top the agenda for many at the conference.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul

The Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman reported last Friday that Gul and Peres would hold talks, the first of its kind between the two countries' high level government representatives since the Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in May, during which nine Turkish nationals were killed.

Although Gul would not say that he had decided not to meet Peres due to tensions over the raid, he did tell Turkey's official Anatolia news agency: "We will not forgive Israel for those killed in the Israeli attack on the aid flotilla, even if Israel apologizes."

Last week, Today's Zaman quoted an unnamed official as saying that Gul had intended to tell Peres that relations between the two countries won't be normalized until Israel apologizes for the flotilla raid and pays monetary compensation to the families of those killed during the ensuing clashes.

Israeli Foreign Ministry officials said in June that Israel would not apologize to Turkey over the raid and that the demand for an official apology was mainly an excuse to allow Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to cut diplomatic ties with Israel.

Turkey recalled their ambassador to Israel after the raid and has said it will not send an ambassador back unless Israel apologizes for the raid and pays the requested compensation. They have also threatened to impose sanctions against Israel.

Though there are no reports of a forthcoming apology from Israel, Gul reportedly said “foreign ministers can meet with others from the enemy country even in the battlefield.”

Turkey-Israel relations have had several moments where the escalated tensions were eased, including a meeting between Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in late June.

Though the contents of the meeting were not disclosed, Ben-Eliezer reiterated the Israeli stance that there will be no apology for the raid because the Israel Navy acted lawfully.

In a separate incident on Monday, an envelope containing suspicious white powder was sent to the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv. The powder was sent to a lab in Nes Tziona for inspection.