NY Jewish Groups Meet With Turkish Prime Minister

tayyip-erdoganNEW YORK (Today’s Zaman)—Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with representatives of New York and Washington-based Jewish groups on Monday at the New York Plaza Hotel,

The meetings are the first since he walked out of a World Economic Forum session in Davos, Switzerland in late January after an angry exchange with Israeli President Shimon Peres over Gaza.

Erdogan, who arrived in New York to attend the UN General Assembly and then a G20 summit in Pittsburgh, PA., gathered with around 50 representatives of New York and Washington-based US-Jewish groups. Among the Jewish leaders he met with was: Abraham H. Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

The meeting took place at the Plaza Hotel, where Erdogan and his accompanying delegation have been staying. Relations between Turkey and Israel, regional allies who cooperate particularly in the military and defense arena, were strained after the Israeli army launched a deadly offensive in Gaza last December, leaving more than 1,300 people dead.

But tension later subsided and dialogue between the two countries has been restored. In June, then-Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Ambassador Ertugrul Apakan, who is now Turkey’s permanent representative to the UN, visited Israel. Apakan then had talks on political and economic cooperation with Yossi Gal, director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry. The senior officials agreed that relations between the two countries should continue to improve.

Foxman, speaking with ANKA news agency after the meeting, called the Davos spat “history,” while the Anatolia news agency cited anonymous sources as saying that the meeting’s environment was positive.

“Neither Erdogan nor us opened up this issue of [Davos] during the meeting. It was a very positive meeting. Indeed, we have buried the Davos incident in history,” Foxman said.

“For us, what matters is the fact that Prime Minister Erdogan received us first as soon as he came to New York. This is an important point for us because Prime Minister Erdogan has shown the importance he attached to us as well as to relations between Turkey and Israel,” Foxman added.

Turkey maintains good relations with Arab nations as well as with Israel. In recent years, it has sought to play a more active role in the Middle East. It mediated several rounds of indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel. Yet, earlier this month, a senior Israeli government official said Israel, under right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would not resume Turkish-mediated peace talks with Syria, insisting that any new negotiations be direct.

Within days of the Davos incident, Foxman had welcomed remarks by Erdogan stressing that his reaction at Davos did not target Israeli or Jewish people at all. “We welcome Prime Minister Erdogan’s comment upon returning to Istanbul that his criticism was not directed toward the Israeli people or Jews. We believe that a more moderate tone in the prime minister’s criticism of Israel would help to tamp down the recent outpouring of anti-Semitism in Turkey,” Foxman had said then.

During the meeting at the Plaza Hotel, Erdogan told the group that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), whose Minsk Group has been working for a decade and a half to mediate the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, has been making a significant contribution to ongoing efforts for the normalization of ties between Armenia and Turkey, Anatolia reported.

He added that the Minsk Group, one of the three co-chairs of which is the United States along with France and Russia, should intensify its efforts for making more contributions to the normalization process, the agency said.

While the US-Jewish representatives expressed concern over the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in the Middle East as well as over Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s repeated denial of the Holocaust, Erdogan voiced Turkey’s objection to all kinds of WMDs and nuclear weapons both in its region and in the entire world, Anatolia said, citing the same anonymous sources.

The US-Jewish representatives, meanwhile, conveyed the pleasure of the Jewish community in Turkey over the fact that the issue of discrimination was the first lesson for the 2009-2010 year at elementary and high schools throughout Turkey which started earlier this month.

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