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U.S. official: Turkey's delay of military exercise is political

  • Story Highlights
  • Source: U.S. officials uncomfortable about excluding Israel from exercise
  • U.S. military units were to to have participated as well in military exercise
  • Exercises were to have started Monday and run through Friday
  • Turkey says decision doesn't indicate a deep crisis with Israel
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Turkey's decision this week to postpone a NATO war exercise appears to have been a political decision intended to exclude the Israelis, a senior U.S. military official told CNN on Tuesday.

Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, right, meets with Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem Tuesday.

Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, right, meets with Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem Tuesday.

The official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, said U.S. officials were uncomfortable about excluding Israel and so welcomed postponing the maneuvers, in which U.S. military units were to to have participated as well. The exercises were to have started Monday and run through October 23.

About Turkey's announcement, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Tuesday, "We think it's inappropriate for any nation to be removed from an exercise like this at the last minute."

On Monday, Turkey tried to play down diplomatic tensions with Israel over the move.

"It is wrong to derive a political meaning or conclusion from the postponing of the international part of the exercise," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Israel said Sunday that the Anatolian Eagle air force exercises, which also were to have included Italy, were being postponed because Turkey was excluding Israel.

Turkey is Israel's strongest Muslim ally in the Middle East. The two countries have enjoyed close military and economic ties for more than a decade, but relations grew frosty after Israel's Gaza offensive in December and January.

Turkey's foreign minister gave a cryptic answer when asked whether the decision to exclude Israel from the military exercise was linked to Turkish anger over Israel's incursion into Gaza.

In an exclusive interview with CNN on Sunday, Ahmet Davutoglu said what had been planned as an international exercise had been changed to Turkish-only maneuvers.

He said there had been "consultations with all the parties involved," but continued: "And we hope that the situation in Gaza will be improved. The situation will be back to the diplomatic track. And that will create a new atmosphere in Turkish-Israeli relations as well.

"But in the existing situation, of course, we are criticizing this ... Israeli approach. But it doesn't mean our relations have deep crisis in the sense of a problem between two countries."

On Sunday, a spokesman for the Israeli military announced that Anatolian Eagle had been postponed several days before it was to have begun "as a result of Turkey's decision to change the list of participating countries, thus excluding Israel."

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said: "It is not possible to accept the evaluations and comments in the press attributed to Israeli officials. We invite Israeli officials to (use) common sense in their statements and attitudes."

Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday that "relations between Israel and Turkey are strategic and have been ongoing for tens of years. Despite all the ups and downs, Turkey continues to be a central factor in our area. It is inappropriate to be dragged into criticizing it."

Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, stormed off stage during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in January in Davos, Switzerland, after telling Israeli President Shimon Peres "you know well how to kill people."

CNN's Shira Medding in Jerusalem, Barbara Starr in Washington and Ivan Watson in Istanbul, Turkey, contributed to this report.

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