Turkey-US tension takes envoy to Foreign Ministry

Turkey-US tension takes envoy to Foreign Ministry

Turkey-US tension takes envoy to Foreign Ministry

U.S. Ambassador to Ankara Francis Ricciardone. AA photo

Already split on many key foreign policy issues, Turkey and the United States have found themselves embroiled in new tension after the U.S. envoy received a dressing down from Turkish officials yesterday in the wake of critical comments from the ambassador.

The criticisms directed toward Ambassador Francis Ricciardone came in the wake of senior American officials’ reactions to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s statements on Israel, as well as their criticisms on the undemocratic nature of the Turkish judicial system. 

Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu expressed Ankara’s discomfort with the recent events in an unprecedentedly long meeting with Ricciardone that lasted for two hours and 15 minutes. 

Although the meeting took place upon the request of the U.S. embassy to thank Turkish officials over their efforts in the aftermath of last week’s suicide bombing at the embassy, Ricciardone’s recent statements and other top issues regarding cooperation against terrorism were brought to the agenda, according to sources. 

“We have conveyed our unease with his statements. This is unacceptable, we told him. And we also expressed that this should not happen again,” a diplomatic source said after the meeting.

The two men discussed issues raised in Ricciardone’s meeting with journalists on Feb. 6, a U.S. Embassy official told the Hürriyet Daily News. “The undersecretary made clear his government’s disappointment at what he saw as interference in Turkey’s domestic affairs. The ambassador respectfully pointed out the importance to Turkey’s friends and allies of Turkey’s steady progress in strengthening the rule of law and protections of human rights, and urged a careful reading of the full text of the Feb. 5 conversation, which is available on the U.S. Embassy website.” 

In the meantime, there were reports that Ricciardone sent a letter to Hüseyin Çelik, number two of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), expressing an apology of what he said. But the U.S. embassy official denied this report, saying, “The ambassador did not provide an apology letter.”

During a recent meeting with Ankara media bureau chiefs, Ricciardone had criticized the arrests of military officers, non-violent protesters and professors on unclear charges. “You have your military leaders, who were entrusted with the protection of this country, behind bars as if they were terrorists,” he said, referring to hundreds of military officers behind bars as part of the ongoing  “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) and other court cases. 

“When a legal system produces such results and confuses people like that for terrorists, it makes it hard for American and European courts to match up. We are working to reconcile our legal processes in both countries,” he said. 

The strongest public reactions came from Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ, who advised Ricciardone to cease interfering in Turkey’s domestic issues. “It would be better and useful for his country if Ricciardone minded his own business. Those are statements that do not bode well for his assignment in Turkey,” Bozdağ said.

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç has also expressed his opinion that it is "inappropriate" for an ambassador to comment on the internal issues of the country where he is appointed. “There is a problem arising from the personality of the esteemed ambassador,” Arınç said on private broadcaster SKY Türk on Feb. 7, adding that the fact that Ricciardone had sent a letter to Çelik indicated an apology. “This means that he is conscious that what he has done is not correct. We should consider the issue closed,” he said.  

Deputy Justice and Development Party (AKP) leader Hüseyin Çelik also slammed Ricciardone yesterday and the day before, hinting that a warning would be issued to the American envoy at his meeting in the Foreign Ministry. “We are inviting Ricciardone to remain within his boundaries and limits. We are not pleased with [his remarks]; we condemn and denounce them. He should know his place,” said Çelik in televised comments on the private broadcaster Kanal A late Feb. 6.

Ricciardone only repeated Clinton’s words: U.S. State Department

Meanwhile, in her daily press briefing on Feb. 7, U.S. State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland argued that there was nothing new in Ricciardone’s comments on Turkey. 

“This is nothing new from our point of view. We have always been very clear on these issues before the public and during private meetings. Ambassador Ricciardone only repeated what [former] Secratary of State Clinton has already said, and I am sure that Secretary of State John Kerry will say the same things when he has the opportunity to speak in public on these issues,” Nuland told reporters.

Nuland added that the friends and allies of Turkey would continue to insist, with due respect, on the importance of improving human rights in Turkey. 

Responding to a question on the meeting between Ricciardone and Sinirlioğlu, Nuland said it would be more appropriate to ask this question to the Turkish Foreign Ministry. 

Çelik: Turkey and US don’t agree on Israel

Meanwhile, Çelik also noted the remarks of U.S. State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland, who said earlier this week that the “inflammatory comments” by Turkey’s premier and Foreign Minister Davutoğlu concerning an Israeli airstrike against Syria were “very troubling” to the U.S. It is known that Turkey and U.S. do not fully agree when the issue is Israel, Çelik said. He, however, noted that the U.S. was a friendly country and that the two allies did not have to agree on every issue. Those disagreements do not cast a shadow over the spirit of alliance either, he said.

According to the U.S. Embassy official, Ricciardone and Sinirlioğlu discussed the full range of issues of mutual interest since their last meeting on the day of the terrorist attack on Feb. 1. “The principal question was how to step up bilateral and multilateral cooperation against all terrorist enemies of our two countries, not only DHKP-C but also PKK and al-Qaeda. They discussed prospective high-level visits, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Israel,” the official said.