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Turkish ambassador calls for engaging Hamas (updated)

Turkish ambassador calls for engaging Hamas (updated)

As the crisis over a deadly Israeli commando raid on a vessel carrying Turkish activists continued to command the attention of top officials in Washington, Jerusalem, and Istanbul, Namik Tan, the Turkish ambassador to the United States, called Friday for engaging Hamas in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But in an unfortunate turn of phrase, Tan twice said Friday that the militant Palestinian group, which the United States and Europe have designated a terrorist organization, is a necessary and important part of the "final solution" to the conflict.

"For a final solution, you cannot ignore Hamas. That’s what we are saying," said Ambassador Namik Tan. "This is not the first time that we are trying to bring this into the discussion. We have told this to the Israelis, to our American friends, to our international interlocutors, everyone. How could you imagine a final solution without Hamas?"

Tan’s choice of words aside, he was calling for Hamas to be included in final-status negotiations — a prospect many Israelis would find even more objectionable than his language. The U.S. position is that Hamas must recognize Israel’s right to exist, respect international agreements, and reject violence before it can be considered a legitimate player.

The ambassador’s comments highlighted the yawning gap between the positions of the Turkish government and that of the American and Israeli administrations, as tensions linger following this week’s Gaza flotilla incident.

Only yesterday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, "I do not think that Hamas is a terrorist organization. I said the same thing to the United States. I am still of the same opinion. They are Palestinians in resistance, fighting for their own land."

As the Obama administration continues to try to calm the situation and contain emotions following the Gaza flotilla incident, the Turkish government is doing exactly the opposite, raising the volume of its public calls for actions by both Washington and Jerusalem.

At his embassy Friday afternoon, Tan railed against Israel, made broad threats about the Turkish-Israel relationship, and professed deep disappointment with the Obama administration and its handling of the crisis.

"Israel is about to lose a friend … This is going to be a historical mistake," he said, calling on Israel to make a public apology if its wishes to keep its ties with Turkey. "The future of our relationship will be determined by Israel’s action."

Calling the Israelis "criminals," he reiterated Turkey’s call for an international investigation. "It’s all criminal … Can you imagine a criminal investigating its own wrongdoing?"

The Obama administration has made clear it supports Israel conducting its own investigation, albeit with some unspecified international participation. "Can Israel, as a vibrant democracy, with strong institutions of government, conduct a fair, credible, transparent investigation?" State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Thursday. "The answer is yes. It is fully capable of doing that."

President Obama spoke with Erdogan by phone and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a two-and-a-half hour face-to-face meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Tuesday. But while the two long interactions were helpful in getting Israel to release Turkish citizens, they didn’t produce any agreement on the overall issue, said Tan.

"There is no word of condemnation nowhere, at all levels. So we are disappointed," Tan said. "We want to encourage the United States to take certain decisions in that regard."

He also revealed that Davutoglu had been scheduled to have a meeting in Washington with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before Netanyahu canceled his visit to deal with the fallout from the flotilla incident.

Asked about the next flotilla, currently headed to Gaza, Tan said that Turkey was not discussing it with either the U.S. or Israel. In fact, he professed not to be aware of it. "Is there another flotilla? Are there even any Turkish citizens on it? I have no idea."