Turkey's Erdogan Blasts Syria, Israel

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been generating international attention recently with sharp criticism of three countries that have had close relations with his country: Israel, Syria and the United States.

In an interview with Morning Edition's David Greene, Erdogan said the Syrians have a right to determine their future. Instead of bringing about reforms, President Bashar Assad has been "turning guns toward his own people."

The Turkish leader has also been a repeated critic of Israel. Relations between the two states have been spiraling downward since last year, when Israeli commandos raided a Turkish aid flotilla headed for the Gaza Strip, killing nine Turkish citizens. Earlier this month, Turkey downgraded relations, and Erdogan says ties will not improve until Israel apologizes and meets other demands.

In addition, Erdogan has been a strong supporter of the Palestinians. He is currently so popular in the Palestinian territories that his photo is prominently displayed in many public places.

He sees the U.S. as standing in the way of the Palestinian people and their attempt to achieve statehood at the U.N. He says he has "no doubt" that the U.S. image in the region has been harmed by the Obama administration's opposition to the Palestinian's U.N. bid.

Highlights of the interview

On relations with Syria, where President Bashar Assad has cracked down on pro-democracy protesters

"Of course, the current developments between Syria and Turkey are not very promising right now. We needed certain reforms to be carried out, but unfortunately, under these circumstances, instead of carrying out the necessary steps forward to improve the situation, Assad wanted to keep his position and he became increasingly aggressive and violent.

"And unfortunately, until now, no steps have been taken forward to improve the situation, and he became a leader turning guns toward his own people. But, of course, the current situation in Syria, and Assad's conduct, is in full contradiction with our principles with which we approach people and humanity. That's where friendship ends."

On what it will take to mend his country's relations with Israel

"Three things: One, an apology; compensation must be paid; and the embargo upon Palestine and the Gaza Strip should be eliminated once and for all."

On whether he regrets calling Israel a "spoiled child," and its actions "state terrorism"

"Never forget that as a prime minister, as a leader of my country, I'm carrying a responsibility. I'm not only speaking about the 74 million inhabitants who are living in Turkey, who are my citizens ... but also the entire population of the Arab world that expects our reaction and our response on this issue. They will always observe whether I'm taking ownership of my citizens who have been killed on board a ship navigating in international territorial waters or not. This is a duty for me. This is an obligation for me."

On U.S. opposition to the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations

"I've said whatever I was supposed to say on this matter when I spoke personally with Mr. Obama a couple of days ago. And I reminded my dear brother, my dear friend, of the speech he has delivered only last year at the 65th General Assembly of the United Nations. I read the speech text to him. I told him that last year you had announced everybody in the audience that you were going to see Palestine emerging as a recognized state out of the General Assembly hall."

On whether the U.S. image has been damaged in the Middle East by its opposition to Palestinian statehood at the U.N.

"No doubt."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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