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Friday, January 30, 2009

Erdogan wants Obama to redefine terrorism in Mideast

DAVOS, Switzerland: Turkey’s prime minister had a message yesterday for US President Barack Obama: Redefine terror and terrorism in the Middle East and use it as the basis for a new American policy.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country has played a key role in trying to mediate between Israel and Syria and the Palestinians, said Obama’s new Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, will be in Turkey for talks Sunday.

“President Obama must redefine terror and terrorist organizations in the Middle East, and based on this new definition, a new American policy must be deployed in the Middle East,” Erdogan told the World Economic Forum here.

The Turkish leader appeared to be referring to the US position toward Hamas and Hezbollah, which the United States considers terrorist organizations. While both have military wings, Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 and remains in charge following the recent Israeli invasion.

Hezbollah is a major political force in Lebanon.

As a Muslim country that belongs to NATO and is seeking membership in the European Union, Turkey has served for the West as a bridge to Hamas and Hezbollah.

Alluding to Turkey’s unique position, Erdogan prefaced his message to Obama, saying that “compared to the Western countries, we speak best the language of the Middle East.” Before the Dec. 27 attack on Gaza, Erdogan said Turkey had been deeply involved in mediating between Israel and Syria and was awaiting a response from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when the bombs started falling in the Palestinian territory.

“I saw this as a lack of respect for us and also a shadow cast over peace,” Erdogan said.

Erdogan later stormed out of the discussion, which also included Israeli President Shimon Peres, threatening to never return to the forum. “During his speech (Peres) from time to time turned and addressed me directly in a manner and style that is not in the spirit of free discussion that we see in Davos,” he told reporters.

He stressed that he had not targeted Peres personally or the people of Israel. “My reaction was to the moderation and I left the meeting which was about to end,” he said, explaining that Peres had been given 25 minutes to talk while the others on the panel had less.

UN atomic watchdog chief Mohammed El-Baradei told the forum that the election of Obama had given him hope for a “saner” world for the first time. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) praised Obama’s offer of talks with Iran and, in an implicit criticism of former President George W. Bush, said isolating states was always doomed to failure. El-Baradei said: “For the first time I have started to have some hope that we will start to have a world that is safer, that is saner, that is more humane.”

He said talks between Washington and Tehran would help to resolve the deadlock on Iran’s nuclear program.

During another discussion at the forum, Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran was ready to cooperate with Obama if the United States changed its policies and practices in the region.

Britain’s The Guardian newspaper reported yesterday that officials in Obama’s administration were drafting a letter to Iran from the president aimed at unfreezing relations and opening the way for direct talks.

Source : Arab News

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