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Terror listing for İHH Turkey 'counterproductive,' US think tank says

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News | 8/2/2010 12:00:00 AM | FULYA ÖZERKAN

A call by 87 US senators to designate a Turkish nongovernmental organization as a foreign terrorist group is counterproductive to US efforts to recognize and respond to terrorist threats, a Washington-based think tank says in a recent report. Investigating the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or İHH, which has links with Turkey's ruling party, could worsen relations between Ankara and Washington, one of the report's authors says

Efforts by a group of U.S. senators to place a Turkish nongovernmental organization on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist groups are “counterproductive,” a Washington, D.C.-based think tank has said.

The 87 U.S. senators recently signed a letter calling on President Barack Obama’s administration to consider whether the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or İHH, should be put on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. Known in department parlance as FTOs, the list includes many groups engaged in violent acts.

The letter noted that the İHH, which organized a ill-fated flotilla of aid ships to the Gaza Strip in late May, has questionable links to the Islamist Palestinian group Hamas, which the United States has designated a terrorist organization.

The senators’ call is counterproductive to U.S. efforts to recognize and respond to terrorist threats, the Center for American Progress wrote in its late July report “The İHH Riddle.”

If the U.S. puts the İHH on its foreign terrorist organizations list, “relations with Turkey would probably suffer given the links between the İHH and the AKP [Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party] and the political hay the Turkish government made out of the flotilla incident,” Michael Werz, a senior fellow at the center and one of the authors of the report, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in an interview.

He added, however, that the extent of the damage would depend on how Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan “would react and how he prioritizes his domestic constituency compared to Turkey’s relationship to the United States.”

Israeli commandos raided the Gaza-bound flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid, killing eight Turks and one American of Turkish descent.

According to the July report, the İHH plays a role in Turkish domestic politics and is part of the broad and diverse coalition – ranging from political Islamists with palpable hostility toward Israel to centrist businessmen to a new generation of progressive intellectuals without a political home – that brought the AKP to power.

“It is not in the United States’ interest to lump these different constituencies together or suggest that the current government of an important U.S. ally is guilty by association, whatever its self-defeating rhetorical excesses,” the report said.

Despite the pressure from the senators, Werz said, “the White House has been quiet on the issue and the State Department has publicly noted that it has no plans to designate the group [as an FTO].”

[HH] Bush’s list

The State Department is responsible for the United States’ formal FTO list, which is limited – by practice, if not by law – to groups that actually engage, plan to engage or have engaged in the past in violent terrorist attacks. That list includes such groups as al-Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah. The Center for American Progress report said including the İHH on this list without stronger evidence would only serve to lower the political and moral standards for such designations.

Yet the report added that enough questions remain about the İHH’s alleged links with terrorist organizations that a thorough investigation should be conducted to determine whether other measures, such as labeling the group a terrorist organization under Executive Order 13224, should apply. Issued by former U.S. President George W. Bush shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the list designated under the executive order is much broader than the State Department’s list and includes groups that assist, sponsor or provide support for terrorist organizations.

“The İHH can actually be included in both of the lists, but determining whether or not it belongs on the FTO list [as opposed to the executive order list] would likely require additional classified intelligence,” said Werz.

But he said it is more likely that the İHH could end up on the Executive Order list due to its financial associations with Hamas-controlled entities. “If the İHH was included under this list, then there would be immediate financial repercussions through the restriction of financial flows between the group and the U.S.,” said Werz.

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