ANKARA (Combined Sources)–In a harshly worded response to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Wednesday that he would file legal action against U.S. envoys he accused of making false claims against him, the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review reported.
Speaking during a municipal ceremony in Ankara, Erdogan called on the U.S. administration to take action to discipline the diplomats who “slandered” him in the leaked State Department documents.
The trove of diplomatic messages released by WikiLeaks also reveal a complex and difficult relationship between the United States and its NATO ally, with US diplomats casting doubts over Ankara’s Western orientation and at times clashing with Turkish officials over Iran’s nuclear program.
“The US 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.
“This is the United States’ problem, not ours… Those who have slandered us will be crushed under these claims, will be finished and will disappear,” the prime minister said in his first comprehensive comments about the WikiLeaks release.
“The United States should call its diplomats to account,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told an audience in Ankara in his first comments on the leaks, which received wide coverage in Turkish media.
Turkish officials had initially played down the impact of the leaks on Turkish-US 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 US diplomats.
“My friends are working [to take action] against these diplomats in terms of national and international law. We will continue this process there. Thereafter, they [the diplomats] have to think [about the consequences],” Erdogan said.
A Turkish daily said US President Barack Obama had called Erdogan and Gul to try to smooth things over. “We have discussed these issues with the U.S. administration. They have extended their apologies, but it’s not enough. They have to take all necessary measures against these diplomats.”
One leaked cable that was signed by former U.S. envoy to Ankara Eric Edelman claimed that Erdogan had eight secret accounts in Swiss banks, a claim the American diplomat said had been made to the U.S. Embassy by two contacts. He did not give further evidence. Other documents accused Erdogan of reaping personal gain from a billion-dollar privatization.
In addition to criticizing the U.S. administration and its envoys, Erdogan also slammed the Turkish media and the head of the main opposition for publicizing the allegations.
Saying he does not have a single penny in Swiss banks, Erdogan said: “Now I tell the opposition leaders that the moment they prove otherwise, I will resign. But will they still sit in their places [if they cannot prove it]?”
Calling the opposition “opportunist” for repeating slanderous remarks made by foreign diplomats, Erdogan accused his political rivals of being dishonorable, while also lashing out at media outlets that reported the claims.
“An honorable media [outlet] or media member should first ask the person these slanders are made against [about the claims],” he said. “If the subject is the prime minister, you should ask: ‘Esteemed prime minister, is this true?’ If the prime minister tells you, ‘No, I have nothing to do with it,’ then you should not write about it. But if you write it without asking, without investigating [the validity of the claim], with the purpose of defaming, that is immorality, worthlessness.”
Accusing Edelman and other former U.S. diplomats of expressing their personal hatred against him and his government, Erdogan repeated his statement that the opposition’s use of these claims for political purposes was shameful. He also called on the public to wait and see what the purpose was behind the leaks as the situation was still very new.
Many of the leaked cables highlighted concern among US diplomats over Turkey’s foreign policy under Erdogan, and a robust difference of views on Iran’s nuclear program. 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.
One cable describes 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.
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 US 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,” he added.