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Kerry: Turkish Comments Complicate Mideast Process

By: Suzan Fraser and Matthew Lee / Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that comments by the Turkish prime minister equating Zionism to a crime against humanity complicate the efforts to find peace in the Middle East.

Speaking at a news conference in Ankara with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Kerry stressed the “urgent need to promote a spirit of tolerance, and that includes all of the public statements made by all leaders.” 

Kerry said he had raised the comments “very directly” with Davutoglu and would do the same when he saw Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan later on Friday.

Addressing the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations conference in Vienna this week, Erdogan complained of prejudices against Muslims. He said Islamophobia should be considered a crime against humanity “just like Zionism, like anti-Semitism and like fascism.”

Kerry said the on the U.S. side, “we not only disagree with it, we found it objectionable.”

He added: “I believe there is a way forward, but it obviously gets more complicated in the aftermath of a speech such as the one we heard in Vienna.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also sharply condemned the remark late Thursday, calling it a “dark and mendacious statement, the likes of which we thought had passed from the world.” The United Nations joined the criticism.

Davutoglu at the news conference with Kerry denied that Turkish officials were uttering hostile or offensive language. He repeatedly referred to the deaths of nine civilians at the hands of Israeli commandos aboard a Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship in 2010.

He added: “If Israel wants to hear positive statements from Turkey, it needs to review its attitude. It needs to review its attitude toward us, and it needs to review its attitude toward the people in the region and especially the West Bank settlements issue.”

Kerry said that despite the comments, he was hopeful Turkey and Israel could eventually find a way to restore their previously close relations.

The uproar has overshadowed Kerry’s previously planned visit to the Turkish capital, where he had hoped to spend much of his time discussing the crisis in neighboring Syria and coordinating plans with the Turks to assist the Syrian opposition, which is fighting to oust President Bashar Assad.

The deterioration of Turkish-Israel relations has been a matter of deep worry for the U.S., which has unsuccessfully sought to push the two countries to get back on friendly terms.

Turkey and Israel were once important allies, but relations deteriorated sharply after the 2010 raid.

Turkey is a co-sponsor, along with Spain, of the U.N. initiative to promote tolerance and understanding between various religions.

A U.N. statement said: “If the comment about Zionism was interpreted correctly, then it was not only wrong but contradicts the very principles on which the Alliance of Civilizations is based.”

The statement said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon “believes it is unfortunate that such hurtful and divisive comments were uttered at a meeting being held under the theme of responsible leadership.”

Turkey’s state-run news agency, Anadolu, reported Erdogan’s remarks on Wednesday but removed the reference to “Zionism” in a correction sent out an hour later. It said the correction was “made by the source” but gave no other explanation.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says comments by the Turkish prime minister equating Zionism to a crime against humanity complicate the efforts to find peace in the Middle East.

Speaking at a news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Kerry stressed the “the urgent need to promote a spirit of tolerance, and that includes all of the public statements made by all leaders.”

Kerry says he had raised the comments “very directly” with Davutoglu and would do the same when he saw Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan later on Friday.

He says despite the comments, he was hopeful that Turkey and Israel could eventually find a way to restore their previously close relations.

*Read the original story at ABC News here.