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Rick Perry doubles down on Turkey terrorism charge

After Turkey’s Foreign Ministry lashed out at GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry for saying that Turkey is led by "Islamic terrorists," the Perry campaign doubled down on those remarks and told The Cable the incident shows why Perry is bolder than President Barack Obama and GOP rival Mitt Romney on foreign policy. "Governor Perry will ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

After Turkey's Foreign Ministry lashed out at GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry for saying that Turkey is led by "Islamic terrorists," the Perry campaign doubled down on those remarks and told The Cable the incident shows why Perry is bolder than President Barack Obama and GOP rival Mitt Romney on foreign policy.

"Governor Perry will not apologize because he doesn't think the comments merit an apology. He will not back down from the comments," Perry's top foreign policy advisor Victoria Coates told The Cable on Tuesday.

Coates was reacting to the Turkey's statement that it "strongly condemned" Perry's comments at Monday's GOP presidential debate, when Perry said Turkey was ruled by "what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists." He continued by saying, "Not only is it time for us to have a conversation about whether or not they belong to be in NATO, but it's time for the United States, when we look at their foreign aid, to go to zero with it."

After Turkey’s Foreign Ministry lashed out at GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry for saying that Turkey is led by "Islamic terrorists," the Perry campaign doubled down on those remarks and told The Cable the incident shows why Perry is bolder than President Barack Obama and GOP rival Mitt Romney on foreign policy.

"Governor Perry will not apologize because he doesn’t think the comments merit an apology. He will not back down from the comments," Perry’s top foreign policy advisor Victoria Coates told The Cable on Tuesday.

Coates was reacting to the Turkey’s statement that it "strongly condemned" Perry’s comments at Monday’s GOP presidential debate, when Perry said Turkey was ruled by "what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists." He continued by saying, "Not only is it time for us to have a conversation about whether or not they belong to be in NATO, but it’s time for the United States, when we look at their foreign aid, to go to zero with it."

"Turkey joined NATO while the governor was still 2 years old," the Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said. "It is a member that has made important contributions to the trans-Atlantic alliance’s conflict-full history. It is among countries that are at the front lines in the fight against terrorism."

Perry himself defended the comments Tuesday afternoon. "This is a country that’s got some explaining to do to the United States," Perry told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, "The idea that [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan‘s regime has somehow or other earned our respect is not correct."

Coates pointed to the question by Fox News Channel’s Bret Baier, which referred to the increased murder rate of women in Turkey, the lack of press freedom, and Turkey’s support for the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

"The key to the whole business is to look at the question and the way it was asked," she said. "It’s an important distinction that what [Perry is] saying is that the Turkish leadership is engaging in behavior that many people would associate with Islamic terrorists."

She added that Perry, who lived in Turkey as an Air Force pilot decades ago, would prefer to have a good relationship with Ankara, but "the governor’s point is that [Turkish bad behavior] is not going to get better if we ignore it."

So would Perry, if elected president, put Turkey on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, along with Hamas supporters Iran and Syria? Not exactly.

"No, we would not list Turkey as a state sponsor of terrorism. We don’t have any evidence of them engaging in international terrorist acts," Coates explained. "I think we know they are extremely supportive of Hamas, but these things go in stages."

But what about the new U.S. missile defense installation in Turkey and the Obama administration’s efforts to encourage Turkey to push for positive change in Syria?

"We need to be very mindful of how much responsibility we hand over for something as important as the missile defense sites," said Coates. "And up until recent days, Turkey has been quite close to Syria."

Coates then called out the Romney campaign for not yet weighing in on the issue.

"It is not untypical for Gov. Perry to be more forthright about situations like this than Gov. Romney. He has less concern for niceties and is more concerned with the national security of our country," she said.

The Obama administration is ultimately responsible for "appeasing unfortunate Turkish behavior" — part of its larger foreign-policy flaw of pursuing engagement at all costs, according to the Perry campaign.

"It is a pattern of the Obama administration that [Gov. Perry] finds deeply concerning, that outreach and engagement is the goal, whereas Gov. Perry feels that furthering American interests is the goal."

State Department spokesman Mark Toner defended Turkey at Tuesday’s press briefing and said Turkey is not run by Islamic terrorists.

"We absolutely and fundamentally disagree with that assertion," Toner said. "Turkey, as I said, is a strong partner in the region. We’ve seen it make a very courageous stand against what’s going on in Syria, for example. It continues to play a very positive and constructive role in the region.  And it is, as often cited, an example of so-called Islamic democracy in action."

The Romney campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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