US President Barack Obama could hardly avoid talking to Turkish Prime Minster Recep Erdogan in Toronto last week. Both were co-participants at the G-20 summit. But he treated their meeting of June 26 like a dose of unwanted medicine.
The Turkish delegation was not told about the venue until the last minute and Erdogan was then kept cooling his heels for an hour and 20 minutes after the appointed time. Then came the Turkish leader's turn for "the Netanyahu treatment" – White House parlance for presidential humiliations of out-of-favor foreign visitors (a taste of which was meted out to the Israeli prime minister on March 23). The meeting had the character of a back-door encounter with none of the communiqués, joint press conferences or photo ops normally attending talks between world leaders.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Washington report that the tone of the conversation was frigid, starting with the president confronting the prime minister with tough demands for explanations on four points:
Why did Turkey vote against the majority when the UN Security Council imposed new sanctions against Iran?
Is Turkey still an American ally, or has it joined the new "Northern Muslim" Middle East bloc along with Iran, Syria, Hizballah and Hamas?
How does Ankara envision the continuation of its military and intelligence polices as a member of NATO while at the same time strengthening its ties with "Northern Muslim" bloc members?
Does Erdogan propose to persist in his hostile campaign against Israel – or even intensify it?
Erdogan changes the subject, offers Turkish troops for Iraq
The Turkish leader tried offering the answer he has given international media for some weeks now that his government, rather than distancing itself from the West, aspires to the role of bridge between the West and the Muslim East.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Washington add that to warm the atmosphere of the talks and divert Obama's attention from the four thorny issues, he offered to send Turkish troops to Iraq to help stabilize its central government and boost security in the country after the US troop pull-out at the end of the year.
This was a diametric reversal of the stand Erdogan took in 2003 when he brusquely spurned the Bush administration's request to allow US troops to transit Turkey and open a second front against Saddam Hussein from the north.
However, it drew no response. The US president could not fail to perceive that this "gesture" was designed more to place Turkey in a position of influence for recruiting Iraq to the new extremist bloc than promoting American interests in post-evacuation Iraq.
When Obama continued to press for answers to his four questions, Erdogan again tried to change the subject: He asked for Washington to replace the military aid and advanced military and intelligence technologies provided by Israel before Ankara had cut the relationship short. He would also welcome US help in gathering intelligence on the Kurdish PKK rebels fighting Turkey from bases in northern Iraq.
The US president rejected those requests outright. He made it clear that any US assistance would be predicated on Turkey refraining from challenging US interests in the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia and abandoning its hostile treatment of Israel.
The Turks were not given the chance to airbrush the negative outcome of the Obama-Erdogan meeting.
Obama's snub does not deflect Turkish prime minister from extremist, anti-Israel course
Later the same day, a US official delivered an exceptionally harsh judgment of their policies: The Erdogan government was "alienating US supporters and needs to demonstrate its commitment to partnership with the West," said Philip Gordon, the Obama administration's top diplomat on European affairs.
Making it clear that it was now up to Turkey to prove its loyalty to NATO, he said: "We think Turkey remains committed to NATO, Europe and the United States, but that needs to be demonstrated. There are people asking questions about it in a way that is new, and that in itself is a bad thing that makes it harder for the United States to support some of the things that Turkey would like to see us support."
The US official stressed that people in the United States cannot understand Turkey's UN vote against the expansion of sanctions on Iran.
On Monday, June 28, as he left Toronto to return to Ankara, Erdogan tried to shrug off his dustup with Obama but made a point of insisting that, despite the president's warnings, he would not let up on his attacks on Israel.
Talking to Turkish reporters in his party, he presented his proposal to station Turkish troops in Iraq as a request to set up a Turkish-Iraqi-US counterterrorism mechanism that would include functions other than intelligence-sharing. Asked how Obama responded to this proposal, he said: "This is being negotiated within the trilateral mechanism. I think that the steps to be taken in this regard will be implemented."
Before he left Toronto, the Turkish prime minister pushed back at Obama on another front. In an interview with the PBS television's Charlie Rose, he demanded that Washington like Ankara take up the cudgels against Israel because, he explained, one of the nine Turkish activists killed by Israeli raiders aboard the Mavi Marmara on May 31 was the 19-year old American-Turkish dual citizen Furkan Dogan.
This tactic was seen as a rearguard action to divert attention from the failure of his encounter with the US president on all fronts.
At the same time, Erdogan returned home resolved more than ever not to capitulate to the US president and to continue his relentless pursuit of ways to harm Israel.
To his great surprise, he found that Israel had not lined up against his tactics. For more about the Israeli position, see the next article.