US warns Turkey against new flotilla to Gaza

19 May 2011, Thursday / TODAY’S ZAMAN, İSTANBUL

Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon said last week on Wednesday during a Senate meeting that a new flotilla to Gaza would in no way be helpful.

The United States has warned Turkey against a new flotilla to the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip, saying it would not be helpful, a senior US administration official has said.

The US has been very clear with the Turkish government that a new flotilla would in no way be helpful, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency to a hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs on Wednesday.

Organizers of an international flotilla say they are planning to depart for Gaza in June to deliver humanitarian aid to Palestinians in breach of an Israeli blockade of the coastal strip. On May 31 of last year, a similar flotilla was intercepted in international waters by Israeli commandos. Eight Turks and one Turkish-American were killed on one of the ships, the Mavi Marmara, owned by the Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH), a Turkish charity.

Israel wants the Turkish government to prevent the Turkish activists from joining the flotilla. Turkey, on the other hand, has said this is a civilian initiative and that the government does not control the activities of civil society groups.

Gordon noted that Israel had eased the blockade of Gaza since last year’s incident and added that those who want to deliver aid to Gaza should try other routes approved by the Israeli government.

“In the year since the last flotilla episode, Israel has changed the humanitarian regime for Gaza, made very clear that there are alternative ways to get humanitarian assistance to Gaza. So any government or NGO that wants to send genuinely humanitarian goods to Gaza has a way of doing it that is uncontested. And we very much believe that and have been very clear with the Turkish government that that’s the case. And we have asked them to make clear to any Turkish NGOs that might want to send a ship that they should really find this other path. And we think that was already the case to a degree last year, but it’s certainly the case now,” Gordon said.

Responding to a comment from a senator during the hearing that implicit or direct support from the Turkish government for a new flotilla would not help Turkish-US ties, Gordon told the senator that he agreed.

Turkey has scaled back its relations with Israel since the May 31 tragedy and says Israel should apologize and pay compensation to families of the victims before any normalization of ties can take place.

Gordon lamented that the Mavi Marmara incident had led to a deterioration in ties between Turkey and Israel, two close US allies, and said the US was working to ensure the two countries overcome their disputes. Turkey and Israel have very different views about what happened aboard the Mavi Marmara and this is a real problem for the US, he also said.

Turkey says Israel violated international law by attacking a civilian ship in international waters and insists on an apology for the killings. Israel says its soldiers acted in self-defense.

‘Disconcerting’ outlook in Turkish views of the US

The US has not concealed its sympathy for the Israeli account of the incident. On Wednesday, Gordon said the difference in views between Turkey and the US over the May 31 incident is one of the reasons why the US is viewed unfavorably among Turks.

Commenting on recent poll findings that the US approval rate in Turkey stands at about 10 percent, he said: “It is indeed a very serious issue. We have a country of such strategic importance and historical partnership with the United States. It is disconcerting to hear that only one in 10 have a favorable opinion of the United States.”

Replying to another question from senators on a Turkish vote last year at the UN Security Council against sanctions on Iran, Gordon said the US was “very disappointed” with the Turkish vote.

He was, however, more positive about the Turkish role in Libya and Syria. “I would note on Libya, Turkey has been very helpful in standing with us and making clear that Mr. [Muammar] Gaddafi has to go, and as NATO ally is participating in the enforcement of the no-fly zone and arms embargo,” he said on Libya.

“On Syria, we think Turkey is a critical neighbor of Syria, has been sending all the right messages about the need for reform and about the unacceptability of the crackdown. And I could give many other examples of how we’re very closely cooperating with Turkey as well.”

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