Skip to main content

Kerry calls Turkish prime minister's remark about Zionism 'objectionable'

By Joe Sterling and Jill Dougherty, CNN
updated 5:10 PM EST, Fri March 1, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The U.S. secretary of state addresses reporters in Ankara, Turkey
  • NEW: He talks about the crisis in Syria and ties that Turkey and Israel share with the U.S.
  • "We want to see them work together to go beyond rhetoric," Kerry says of Israel and Turkey
  • Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the remark at a United Nations conference

(CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry waded into the thicket of Mideast politics Friday, chiding the Turkish prime minister for a slam on Zionism while touting the ties the United States has with Turkey and Israel -- two once friendly nations now mired in antipathy.

Kerry said he and the Obama administration disagreed with Recep Tayyip Erdogan's remark equating Zionism with crimes against humanity, and he called it "objectionable."

He appeared to be making a reference to the remark in his praise of Mustafa Akarsu, the Turkish guard at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara who died in a February 1 suicide attack.

"Mustafa's tragic death reminds all of us of the common bond we share," Kerry told reporters in a joint news conference in Ankara with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. It "underscores the urgent need to promote a spirit of tolerance that includes all of the public statements made by all leaders."

Kerry said he mentioned Erdogan's speech to the foreign minister and plans to broach it with Erdogan.

"That said, Turkey and Israel are both vital allies," Kerry said. "We want to see them work together to go beyond rhetoric and take concrete steps to change their relationship. I believe it's possible."

The remarks overshadowed the key crisis in the region: the Syrian civil war. Kerry said the United States and Turkey share opposition to the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

He said that Turkey and the United States believe in a political solution in Syria and that both countries have worked to bring about tough sanctions to reduce money flowing to the Assad government. He cited the Patriot missiles placed on Turkey's border with Syria for security and the country's hosting of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees.

"Minister Davutoglu and I believe there is no legitimacy in a regime that creates atrocities against its own people," Kerry said.

Kerry attended a memorial service for the security guard killed at the embassy last month and described him as a "courageous Turk." The United States, he said, "stands strongly with Turkey, our NATO ally in the fight against terrorism."

The embassy was attacked last month by a man Turkish authorities say belonged to the Marxist Leninist organization known as the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party, or DHKP-C, which the U.S. government and others label a terrorist organization.

As for Erdogan's remarks, a senior State Department official earlier said the comment was "particularly offensive" and "complicates our ability to do all the things we want to do together when we have such a profound disagreement about such an important thing,"

Erdogan appeared at the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations, which works to defuse tensions and promote cooperation between the Muslim and Western worlds.

"It is necessary that we must consider -- just like Zionism, or anti-Semitism, or fascism -- Islamophobia as a crime against humanity," the Turkish prime minister said.

Zionism is the Jewish national liberation movement that led to Israel's founding and is the nation's underpinning. Erdogan's remarks drew a quick rebuke from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But many in the Muslim world harbor notions like Erdogan's about the movement.

"This is a dark and mendacious statement, the likes of which we thought had passed from the world," Netanyahu said.

Israel and Turkey are major U.S. allies in the Middle East. But the once extensive cooperation between Turkey and Israel on trade, tourism and military issues has broken down.

Turkey, a NATO member, has been affected by one of the world's most volatile conflicts -- the Syrian civil war -- and has been a staunch opponent of the Assad regime. Israel has been a longtime friend of the United States and is seen as a pro-U.S. bulwark in the region.

The falling out between Turkey and Israel was hastened by the Israeli commando attack on a ship in a Gaza-bound flotilla three years ago. Turkey has called for an apology for the incident, which resulted in the deaths of eight Turks and one American of Turkish origin.

Kerry: Diplomacy is cheaper than no diplomacy

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:43 PM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Three Americans detained in North Korea spoke out about their conditions and pleaded for U.S. help in interviews with CNN.
Hundreds of jihadis in Syria are from abroad -- which countries have the biggest problem?
updated 5:13 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Libyan militia members have apparently turned the abandoned U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, into a water park.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Obama's remarks that he didn't yet have a strategy for ISIS in Syria is widely criticized.
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
A few miles south of the town of Starobeshevo in eastern Ukraine, a group of men in uniform is slumped under a tree.
updated 8:08 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Beijing says only candidates approved by a nominating committee can run for Hong Kong's chief executive, prompting criticism.
updated 4:23 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
He should be toddling around a playground. Instead, his tiny hands grip an AK-47.
updated 8:23 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wilson Raj Perumal tells CNN how he rigged World Cup games: "I was giving orders to the coach."
updated 5:46 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
We asked you what you would like to know about Ebola. Experts answer some of your most common questions and concerns.
updated 6:20 PM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
In a major breach of privacy, a hacker leaked a series of pictures allegedly showing Jennifer Lawrence and other female celebrities in the nude.
Instead of weaving garments sold in the West, children should be in school
According to the International Labour Organization, there are 168 million child laborers around the world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT