Kerry seeks speedy fix for Turkish-Israeli ties



Istanbul: US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Turkish leaders on Saturday to speedily restore full diplomatic relations with Israel, two American allies the US sees as anchors of stability in a Middle East wracked by Syria's civil war, Arab Spring political upheavals and the potential threat posed by Iran's nuclear programme.

Turkey, however, demanded that Israel end all "embargoes" against the Palestinians first.

In Istanbul on the first leg of a 10-day overseas trip, Kerry met with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu with the aim of firming up the rapprochement between Turkey and Israel that President Barack Obama kick-started during a visit to the Jewish state last month.

Kerry meets later today with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan before traveling on to Israel.

"We would like to see this relationship that is important to stability in the Middle East and critical to the peace process ... Get back on track in its full measure," Kerry told reporters at a joint news conference with Davutoglu. He said that meant promises of "compensation be fulfilled, ambassadors be returned and full relations be embraced."

The two nations were once close partners, but the relationship plummeted in 2010 after an Israeli raid on a flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip. Eight Turks and a Turkish-American died.

Before leaving Israel two weeks ago, Obama arranged a telephone conversation between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Erdogan.

Netanyahu apologised for the incident, and compensation talks are expected to begin this week.

But Davutoglu suggested that full normalization of ties would probably take some time.

"There is an offense that has been committed and there needs to be accountability," Davutoglu said. He signaled that Turkey would pursue a "careful" advance toward a complete restoration of relations, with compensation and an end to Israeli trade restrictions on the Gaza Strip as the stumbling blocks.

"All of the embargos should be eliminated once and for all," he said, speaking through an interpreter.

Fixing the Turkish-Israeli relationship has been a long-sought goal of the Obama administration, and the US desperately wants significant progress by the time Erdogan visits the White House in mid-May.

The Turks have reveled somewhat in what they view as a diplomatic victory, with billboards in Ankara celebrating Netanyahu's apology and praising Erdogan for bringing pride to his country.

Perhaps seeking to buffer his leverage further, Erdogan signaled shortly after the call that he was in no hurry to finalize the deal and pledged to visit the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory soon.

From a US strategic sense, cooperation between the American allies has only become more important as Syria's two-year conflict has grown ever deadlier.

PTI