Kerry to ask Ankara to join Middle East peace

Kerry to ask Ankara to join Middle East peace

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Kerry to ask Ankara to join Middle East peace

John Kerry’s talks in Turkey are expected to focus on restoring bilateral Turkish- Israeli relations and how Turkey can contribute to Mideast peace. Daily News Photo / Selahattin Sönmez

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will stage his second visit to Turkey in two months this weekend amid improving bilateral relations and expectations that he will offer Ankara a role to play in the Mideast peace process thanks to its influence with Hamas.

“Turkey has significant influence with the Palestinians. It has the ability to encourage Palestinians of all stripes to accept Quartet principles and move forward on that basis,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington on April 4.

The quartet is composed of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to the Middle East revived hopes for peace talks amid ongoing efforts to reunify divided Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah under a single roof.

Kerry is expected to arrive in Istanbul late April 6 and to hold meetings with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu prior to meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials next week. Arriving after the Israeli apology to Turkey over the Mavi Marmara incident, Kerry’s visit will provide the first opportunity for a face-to-face meeting with his Turkish counterparts.

The core of the Istanbul talks is expected to focus on restoring bilateral Turkish-Israeli relations and how Turkey could do more to contribute to the Middle East peace process if Israelis and Palestinians agree to start a new round of negotiations for a two-state solution.

Only a few days after Kerry’s visit to Turkey and Israel, delegations from the two countries will meet in Ankara to sort out the issue of compensation for the Mavi Marmara raid, Turkey’s second condition for reconciling with the Israeli government. Kerry is expected to continue to proffer advice to both sides to carry out what they have started after the apology with the ultimate purpose of normalizing ties within a certain time frame.

On Turkey’s role in the potential Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Turkey has been continuously advised to pursue a more balanced policy between the key actors of the process, especially Hamas, which is designated as a terror organization by the U.S.

To this end, Erdoğan’s plans to visit Gaza in April are seen as a factor that could complicate the international community’s efforts and potential Turkish role if the talks are resumed. Both U.S. and Israeli officials have emphasized that they would not object to such a visit to Gaza, while adding that it could spark potential difficulties.

Hamas-centered policy would nix Turkish role

The first and foremost difficulty could be in Turkey’s potential regional role. “Turkey cannot play a global role in the Middle East peace process if it chooses to visit only Gaza and meet Hamas,” a diplomatic source said, adding that it was up to Turkey and its leadership to play a constructive role by keeping a well-balanced policy between Hamas and Fatah, as well as Israel.

A visit to Palestine should include both the Gaza and the West Bank, the source said, adding that crossing into Ramallah also required a trip to Israel. Although Erdoğan has voiced his intention to visit Gaza, Turkish officials say no such visit has been confirmed.

Nuland did not rule out the possibility that Erdoğan’s prospective visit to Gaza would be on Kerry’s agenda but refrained from making an overt statement.

“I do expect that the whole complex of issues surrounding the Middle East peace will come up,” she said.

“They have in the past talked about appropriate reconciliation, if you will, among Palestinians and our insistence that Quartet principles need to be abided by if this is going to serve the cause of peace,” Nuland said. “We have in the past in our conversations with senior Turkish officials urged that any contact with Hamas be in service of the greater issue of stability and peace and that the fundamental underlying tenets of the Quartet principles be reiterated as the necessary precondition.”