Tough Talk From Turkey's Erdogan

Steve Inskeep talks to Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group about NPR's interview with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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DAVID GREENE, Host:

And, Steve, the prime minister did sound to me pretty convinced that the U.S. image in the Arab world is in trouble.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Well, let's talk a little bit more about that then with Rob Malley, who's in the studios this morning. He's Middle East expert at the International Crisis Group.

Welcome back to the program.

ROB MALLEY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Reading President Obama's own speech back to him. What does that say about what's happen to the U.S. image in the Arab world the last few years?

MALLEY: I think it says what the prime minister just mentioned, which is that it has suffered. And the speech that the president gave at the U.N. just a few days ago really went over very, very poorly among Palestinians and among Arabs. One of the ironies is that a lot of the U.S. effort was precisely aimed to avoid a degradation of their reputation, avoid a veto of the Palestinian resolution.

At some level, you could say that the speech did more harm than any veto could have done.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about those two different speeches - a very pro-Israel speech last week at the United Nations. You could characterize it that way; lots of strong language supporting Israel and disappointing then to the Arab side. But then there was that other speech, and that was the one that Erdogan was reading back to him, if I'm not mistaken.

MALLEY: Right.

INSKEEP: And does this suggest - the fact that Erdogan can quote Obama's own words back to him, disapprovingly, suggests that the president of the United States has had to change course in the last couple of years in his approach to the Middle East, and his efforts for peace?

MALLEY: Well, he has changed course to some extent. I think he would argue, the administration would argue, that a year ago they said that they hoped to see the establishment of the admission of a Palestinian state born from negotiations. What the Palestinians were trying to do was to get acceptance of membership without negotiations. So there's not absolute inconsistency.

I think the tone was different; certainly the reception in the hall was very different. And the fact is that right now it appears that everything the administration is signaling is it's not particularly interested in or convinced that it could make - it could achieve a breakthrough between Israelis and Palestinians.

It appears to be giving up, which may be surrendering to reality, because it really doesn't seem to be much hope. But it's not going over very well in Ramallah or in the rest of the Arab world.

INSKEEP: U.S. doesn't seem to be able to get anybody in that part of the world to do what the United States would like them to do.

MALLEY: I think if you listen to what the Prime Minister Erdogan just said, and if you want to know where the Arab world is going, look at where Turkey is heading because Turkey always wants to be a step ahead, or at most a step behind where the Arab world is right now.

And three things come out: number one, greater impatience with Syria; number two, greater hostility towards Israel; and number three, greater skepticism towards the United States.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, is Turkey really that much more hostile to Israel? I know the rhetoric has been bad but there's still a lot of trade going on between those two countries.

MALLEY: Well, everything seems to be suffering right now. I don't think we're going to get to the stage of an escalation, a military exclamation; neither side wants it. But the rhetoric is escalating and what Prime Minister Erdogan laid today as conditions for normalization are simply not going to be met.

INSKEEP: Mr. Malley, thanks very much.

MALLEY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Robert Malley is with the International Crisis Group.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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