NEW: Turkey is "Islamic democracy in action," State Dept. spokesman says
Perry suggested that Turkey's rulers are perceived by some as Islamic terrorists
Turkey's foreign ministry says Perry made "baseless" claims
The relationship between Ankara and Washington has improved recently
Turkey’s foreign ministry condemned Texas Gov. Rick Perry Tuesday for saying that Turkey was a “country that is being ruled by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists.”
Perry made the statement during a spirited debated between Republican presidential candidates in South Carolina Monday night.
Most of Turkey was fast asleep during the live broadcast, and Turkish newspapers had already gone to print by the time Perry declared that Turkey had moved “far away from the country I lived in back in the 1970s United States Air Force. That was our ally that worked with us, but today we don’t see that.”
The Texas governor also argued that it was time for Washington to cut foreign aid to Ankara.
A spokesman for Turkey’s foreign ministry fired back Tuesday, accusing Perry of making “baseless and improper claims.”
In a statement e-mailed to CNN, Selcuk Unal said presidential candidates should “be more informed about the world and be more careful their statements.”
“The unfortunate views of Perry are not shared in any case by Republican party supporters, considering the weak support he has received in public polls and primary elections,” Unal concluded.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the State Department “absolutely and fundamentally” disagrees with Perry’s statements.
Turkey is “Islamic democracy in action,” Toner added, calling Ankara a “stalwart ally” with which the United States has a “strong partnership.”
“I am disappointed and concerned that Turkey and its time-tested ties of alliance, partnership and friendship with the United States became the object of misplaced and ill-advised criticism during last night’s Republican candidates’ debate. Needless to say, the Turkey described in the debate simply does not exist,” Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, Namik Tan, said in a statement Tuesday.
He also rejected the idea that Turkey receives significant sums of foreign aid from the United States.
“Indeed, Turkey is a strong and growing trading partner with the U.S. in general, and with Texas in particular, creating thousands of jobs throughout that state,” Tan added.
Top Turkish government officials were unavailable for comment Tuesday, with many of them in Northern Cyprus for the funeral of veteran Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktas, but the country’s largely-tabloid press wasted no time in responding to the comments on websites early Tuesday morning.
“The debate that the Republican candidate Rick Perry attended on American Fox TV turned into a scandal that contained very ugly statements about Turkey,” announced TRT state television.
“Rick Perry: what an idiot,” tweeted Mustafa Akyol, a columnist with the English-language Hurriyet Daily news. The Hurriyet newspaper also posted a video on its website of Perry drawing a blank in the middle of a prior debate, forgetting in mid-sentence which was the third of three government departments he would cut if elected president.
Perry’s remarks came on the same day a Turkish foreign ministry spokesman announced that a new NATO radar station, manned by Turkish and American military personnel, went online this month in the Turkish province of Malatya. The radar station is part of a controversial U.S.-led missile defense shield that both Russia and Iran have publicly opposed.
For more than 50 years, Turkey has been the only Muslim member of the NATO military alliance.
Ankara’s relationship with Washington has been turbulent over the last decade, with sharp divisions emerging after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
But that relationship has improved dramatically over the last several years. Turkey has commanded the NATO mission in Afghanistan four times over the last decade, and the United States shares real-time intelligence from aerial drones for the Turkish military’s ongoing war with rebels from the Kurdistan Workers Party, who operate along the mountainous border between Turkey and Iraq.