Washington strongly objects to Turkish President Erdoğan hosting two Hamas leaders in Istanbul on August 22, the U.S. State Department said in a press release on Tuesday.
“Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S and EU and both officials hosted by President Erdogan are Specially Designated Global Terrorists,’’ said the press release by the Department’s spokesperson Morgan Ortagus.
Erdoğan on Saturday hosted a large delegation of leaders from Islamist Palestinian group Hamas in Istanbul, including the group’s political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh and the group’s number two figure Saleh al-Arouri, who was designated as a terrorist by Washington and Brussels and has a $5 million bounty on his head.
“The U.S. Rewards for Justice Program is seeking information about one of the individuals for his involvement in multiple terrorist attacks, hijackings, and kidnappings,” the press release added, in an apparent reference to al-Arouri.
Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MİT) head Hakan Fidan, Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun and presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın were also present during the meeting, which arrived at a time of escalated cross-border tensions between Israel and Hamas.
Erdoğan and his top officials are known to periodically meet with the group’s leaders.
The U.S. warned that Erdoğan’s “continued outreach to this terrorist organization only serves to isolate Turkey from the international community,’’ while harming the interests of the Palestinian people and undercutting global efforts to prevent terrorist attacks launched from Gaza.
The statement also said Washington would continue “to raise concerns about the Turkish government’s relationship with Hamas at the highest levels.”
The release ended by saying that the meeting “is the second time President Erdoğan has welcomed Hamas leadership to Turkey this year with the first meeting occurring February 1.”
Turkish Foreign Ministry, in a statement released later on Tuesday said Ankara “rejects” Washington’s remarks “crossed the line,” while rejecting them in “in their entirety”.
What is more, it said, Washington has no right to speak about the subject while it “openly supports the PKK, hosts the ringleader of the FETÖ,” referring the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Gülen movement.
One of the most severe difficulties between Ankara and Washington revolves around U.S. support for Syrian Kurdish militias, including the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) and its political wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which aided the international coalition to defeat the Islamic State. Ankara views both groups as terrorist organisations due to their links to the PKK.
Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) blames the Gülen movement for a coup attempt in July 2016. In Turkey, the group is commonly referred to as the Fetullahist Terrorist Organisation, or FETO, after its leader, Fethullah Gülen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.
Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy, in the statement said that the United States recently closed down the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington and declared Hamas as a terrorist organisation.
Therefore, “it has cut all of its ties with the Palestinian people and isolated itself from the realities of our region,” he said.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry called on Washington not to use its power and influence in the region for the interests of Israel, but to pursue balanced policies to find a sincere solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine on a fair an legitimate ground.
Jonathan Schanzer, senior Vice President at a Washington think tank and former U.S. Treasury official, called the U.S. statement as “an important shift in policy from State Department”
Ankara-Washington relations are strained over a string of issues, however ties between Trump and Erdoğan are described as close.
Relations between the two leaders warmed particularly following the release of U.S pastor Andrew Brunson from a Turkish jail in late 2018.
Most recently, Trump praised Erdoğan on Monday, during an event at the Republican National Convention, where he met with prisoners and hostages freed during his term in office.
“I have to say that, to me, President Erdoğan was very good,” Trump told Brunson