Gul, Peres ‘Agree To Return Normal Ties’

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Israeli President Shimon Peres (L) and Turkish President Abdullah Gul (R) at the Climate Summit in Copenhagen.

COPENHAGEN (Hurriyet)–Turkish President Abdullah Gul met Friday with his Israeli counterpart, Shimon Peres, on the sidelines of the U.N. climate summit. It was the highest-level meeting since ties between the two allies unraveled in the wake of the Gaza war.

Gul and Peres “agreed to return to a normal, positive and stable routine in relations,” Peres’ office said after the meeting in the Danish capital, Copenhagen. Peres thanked Gul for Turkey’s “efforts to advance peace in the Middle East,” and extended to him an invitation to visit Israel, the statement said. While Peres’ office said the Turkish president accepted the invitation, Turkish officials had made no comment as the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review went to press.

Relations between Turkey and its main regional ally Israel took a downturn in January when the Ankara government launched an unprecedented barrage of criticism against Israel for its deadly offensive on Gaza.

In a memorable outburst, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stormed out of a debate at the World Economic Forum, accusing Israel of “barbarian” acts and telling Peres, sitting next to him, that “you know well how to kill people.”

In October, Turkey excluded Israel from joint military drills and said ties would continue to suffer unless Israel ends “the humanitarian tragedy” in the Islamist Hamas-run Gaza and revives peace talks with the Palestinians.

But since then, both sides have taken steps toward mending the strained ties, with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak saying Thursday he had been invited to Turkey.

“Today [Thursday] I met the Turkish ambassador, who delivered an invitation to me to travel to Turkey,” Barak, who is also head of the center-left opposition Labor party, said at a political meeting in Tel Aviv. “The question of relations [with Ankara] is of utmost importance given the ups and downs our relations have had this year,” Barak said.

During his meeting with Peres, the Turkish president said the events in the Middle East were creating serious sensitivity and uneasiness in Turkey. “Nothing stays concealed. The Turkish public is following the developments in the Middle East closely. The events create serious sensitivity and uneasiness.”

Gul also called for a return to pre-1967 borders – a key Palestinian demand in peace talks with Israel – and said, “As Turkey, our wish is that the two states [Israel and Palestine] live in peace, tranquility and security.”

Gul’s meeting with his Israeli counterpart came hours after the Turkish president met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri in Copenhagen on Thursday. Gul and Ahmadinejad’s meeting was held behind closed doors and no statements were made afterward. Turkey’s close ties with the Islamic Republic and Ankara’s support for Iran’s controversial nuclear program also concern Israel and the Western allies.

In his meeting with Western-backed Lebanese Prime Minister al-Hariri, Gul expressed his wish to strengthen relations between Turkey and Lebanon and said Turkey’s support of Lebanon would continue. Al-Hariri thanked Turkey for its support and said Lebanon wanted to cooperate with Turkey within the U.N. Security Council. Gul and al-Hariri also discussed current regional issues and bilateral relations.

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