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Turkish, Bulgarian ministers trade barbs over Israel

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News | 9/8/2011 12:00:00 AM |

Bulgarian FM Mladenov says ‘no Bulgarian citizen has ever tried to challenge a blockade,’ upon which EU Minister Bağış reminds that the Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara flotilla took place in international waters

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov and Turkey’s EU Minister Egemen Bağış have traded pointed remarks over Israel after the visiting official deplored Ankara’s expulsion of the Israeli ambassador.

“I do not think that sending away the [Israeli] ambassador is a good idea as it limits the opportunities for dialogue” to resolve bilateral tensions, Mladenov, on a two-day visit to Ankara, told reporters Thursday ahead of a meeting with Bağış.

Mladenov said that countries continued to keep ambassadors even in Syria to ensure that communication channels remained open despite the increasingly oppressive nature of the Damascus regime.

He said Turkey and Israel shared a deep-rooted partnership and expressed hope that the two countries would adopt “an attitude that will benefit the security of the whole region.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone said Turkish-Israeli ties were “of critical importance” in the region and voiced expectation for speedy normalization. “The door of diplomacy must definitely remain open,” he told reporters.

Bağış responded to Mladenov and said Bulgaria would have considered similar sanctions if its nationals had been killed in international waters with no apology forthcoming after more than a year.

Mladenov then remarked that “no Bulgarian citizen has ever tried to challenge a blockade,” prompting Bağış and his aides to remind him that the Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara ferry took place in international waters.

A senior aide of Bağış said Mladenov’s assertive tone was apparently because of his reportedly Jewish background, but played down the incident, saying that it did not overshadow the working lunch that the two ministers had afterward.

“The atmosphere at the lunch was very sincere, even cheerful. If we are to be offended each time by such remarks, we wouldn’t be able to carry out any negotiations,” the official told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Mladenov emphasized that he was a friend of both Turkey and Israel, and said he worried that the crisis between the two countries might have an adverse impact on the region at a time of already simmering tensions in Arab countries. k HDN

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