Turkey Wants Obama To Condemn Israeli Raid

The Israeli raid on an aid flotilla heading for Gaza couldn't have come at a worse time for the Obama administration. The U.S. had finally gotten indirect peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians off the ground when the raid set off a firestorm of criticism. Turkey's foreign minister is demanding an apology and compensation for the activists who were killed — many of them Turks. He and others are putting pressure on the White House to take a tougher line on Israel.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

We are reporting throughout this morning on the aftermath of an encounter at sea. Israel seized several ships bound for Gaza. And in a moment, we'll hear from a former U.S. diplomat who was on board.

MONTAGNE: We begin with the diplomatic headache now faced by the Obama administration. Two U.S. allies, Turkey and Israel, are confronting each other over the episode. Many of the activists killed and wounded in the Israeli raid were Turkish and Turkey's foreign minister was in Washington, D.C. yesterday calling on the U.S. to take a tougher stance with Israel.

Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Turkey's foreign minister made no secret that he was disappointed the Obama administration wouldnt come right out and condemn Israel for attacking ships carrying humanitarian supplies to Gaza. Ahmet Davutoglu met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday to drive home his point.

Mr. AHMET DAVUTOGLU (Turkish Foreign Minister): As allies, we have to be honest and sincere to each other. And, of course, we expect full solidarity with us. It should not be seen like a choice between Turkey and Israel. No, it should be a choice between right and wrong - between legal and illegal.

KELEMEN: Davutoglu told reporters, over breakfast, that the blockade on Gaza is illegal as was the Israeli action against activists who were in international waters. And he says there will be clear implications for the Obama administration's peace efforts. For instance, he was due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington to talk about whether Turkey can revive a bid to negotiate peace between Israel and Syria. Netanyahu cancelled his trip here though, and Davutoglu says it will be hard to convince Syria now that Israel wants peace.

Mr. DAVUTOGLU: We want to see, now, concrete action from Israeli side. If they show this we are ready to do everything for the future of our regional peace.

KELEMEN: A spokesman for Israel's prime minister says that enforcing the naval blockade of Gaza is a matter of life and death for Israel because it's aimed at keeping Hamas from rearming and using Gaza to launch missiles at Israel.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton carefully avoided calling for an end to the blockade, though she did say the U.S. wants to see humanitarian goods flow more easily to Palestinians living there.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): The situation in Gaza is unsustainable and unacceptable. Israel's legitimate security needs must be met, just as the Palestinians legitimate needs for sustained humanitarian assistance and regular access for reconstruction materials must also be assured.

KELEMEN: Easing the blockade is important in the short-term, says Martin Indyk of the Brookings Institution, but he says the Obama administration is in an awkward place, having to keep the beginnings of the peace process on track and manage Israeli-Turkish relations.

Mr. MARTIN INDYK (Vice president foreign policy, Brookings Institution): There's a real need for some kind of triage here, in order to stop the hemorrhaging and try to get back to focus on negotiations.

KELEMEN: Eventually, Indyk says, the U.S., Israel and others need to rethink Gaza policy.

Mr. INDYK: Over time, the policy of putting Gaza under effective siege has not worked. It's been a disaster for Israel's international reputation.

KELEMEN: Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group agrees, saying it's time to abandon the idea.

Mr. ROBERT MALLEY (Program director, Middle East and North Africa, International Crisis Group): That means finding and arrangement whereby Gaza will be open to outside world, for both imports and exports; that a mechanism is in place so that you minimize any risk of arms smuggling; and so that you reduce the incentive that Hamas has, that the Gazans have, to try to disrupt and to spoil whatever else the U.S. and others are trying to do.

KELEMEN: The administration Malley adds, should know by now that it can't simply keep an eye on one ball, the negotiating process, with so many other balls on the field.

Mr. MALLEY: Gaza will intrude as long as it remains a festering sore.

KELEMEN: Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

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