Kerry chastises leader of Turkey over remark

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, enters a news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at Ankara Palace in Ankara, Turkey, on Friday, March 1, 2013. Ankara is the fifth leg of Kerry's first official overseas trip, a nine-day dash through Europe and the Middle East. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, enters a news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at Ankara Palace in Ankara, Turkey, on Friday, March 1, 2013. Ankara is the fifth leg of Kerry's first official overseas trip, a nine-day dash through Europe and the Middle East. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool) (Jacquelyn Martin)
Posted: March 03, 2013

ANKARA, Turkey - Secretary of State John Kerry scolded Turkey's leader Friday for likening Zionism to a "crime against humanity," saying such remarks complicate efforts to forge Mideast peace.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's comment widened his country's rift with Israel, with which the moderate Muslim-majority nation once had cordial relations.

It also forced Kerry to publicly chastise an important ally straddling the Middle East and Europe.

"Obviously, we not only disagree," Kerry told reporters, "we found it objectionable."

Mourning the death last month of a Turkish security guard in an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Kerry said the guard's sacrifice serves as a reminder that it is important to "promote a spirit of tolerance."

"And that includes all of the public statements made by all leaders," Kerry said. He said he would raise the matter directly with Erdogan.

"I believe there is a way forward," for tolerance and the pursuit of peace, "but it obviously gets more complicated in the aftermath of a speech such as the one we heard."

Reuters news agency quoted Erdogan as telling the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations meeting in Vienna on Wednesday: "Just as with Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it has become necessary to view Islamophobia as a crime against humanity."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the remark Thursday, calling it a "dark and mendacious statement, the likes of which we thought had passed from the world."

Turkey is the first Muslim country Kerry has visited as secretary. His first foreign trip has been dominated by the growing crisis in Syria, which borders Turkey.

The flap was the second sour note in as many days for Kerry. On Thursday, the U.S.-backed Syrian opposition leader angrily demanded more help than Kerry had offered.

The evening meeting between Kerry and Erdogan began awkwardly, with the sometimes irascible Turkish leader noting coldly that Kerry was late. Kerry apologized, and added that he had just finished a productive meeting with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

"You must have spoken about everything so there is nothing left for us to talk about," Erdogan replied through a translator.

He did not smile when Kerry tried to lighten the mood.

Erdogan is a vocal Islamist, a departure from Turkey's history of firmly secular democratic rule.

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