Zionism row during Kerry’s Turkey visit deepens regional rift

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held talks with Turkey’s leaders on the Syria crisis Friday amid a row over comments by the Turkish premier branding Zionism a “crime against humanity.”

“Obviously we disagree with that, we find it objectionable,” Kerry said at a joint press conference in Ankara, referring to a speech delivered by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that likened Zionism to fascism and anti-Semitism.

Kerry said he would raise the issue “very directly” with Erdogan and express Washington’s hopes to see the two “vital allies” work together.

He met later Friday with Erdogan and had a “respectful but frank discussion of the prime minister’s speech in Vienna,” a senior State Department official said.

“The Secretary made U.S. concerns very clear. The U.S. and Turkish side agreed to stay in very close touch about the whole range of related issues, including their shared commitment to Middle East peace,” the official said..

The top U.S. diplomat’s visit to Turkey came a day after Washington announced that it would for the first time provide direct aid to Syrian rebels in the form of food and medical supplies as well as $60 million in extra assistance to the political opposition.

But the comment by Erdogan at a U.N. meeting in Vienna this week, condemned by his Israeli counterpart, the White House and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, has clouded his visit.

“As is the case for Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it is inevitable that Islamophobia be considered a crime against humanity,” Erdogan said on Wednesday.

Kerry said Turkey and Israel were both key U.S. allies and urged them to restore closer ties.

“Given the many challenges that the neighborhood faces, it is essential that both Turkey and Israel find a way to take steps ... to rekindle their historic cooperation,” Kerry said.

“I think that’s possible but obviously we have to get beyond the kind of rhetoric that we’ve just seen recently.”

After Kerry and Erdogan met, a senior U.S. State Department official said that the secretary of state “had a respectful but frank discussion of the (prime minister’s) speech in Vienna, andhow to move forward. The Secretary made U.S. concerns very clear.”

The official said the two sides also discussed Middle East peace, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Gulf security and how to deepen their economic relations.