Kerry, shuttling between Israel and Egypt as he tries to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, has been speaking numerous times by phone in recent days with his Turkish and Qatari counterparts, according to department spokeswoman Marie Harf.
On Thursday alone, he spoke three times to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and twice with Qatar’s Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah, she told a daily press briefing.
Harf confirmed that Kerry had raised concerns with Davutoglu about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s harsh public condemnation of Israel, but said that Turkey does have “a role” to play in the diplomatic effort.
“We’ve said those comments made it harder for them to play a role, but they do have a role to play and they have a relationship with Hamas,” she said. “I mean, they can have conversations that we can’t. So obviously, the Turkish foreign minister is a key player in the region and has some leverage he can bring to bear on the situation. Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive.”
Erdogan, who has long been an outspoken supporter of Hamas and critic of Israel, last week equated Israel’s offensive against the terrorist group in Gaza to the conduct of the Nazis.
Despite subsequent reprimands from Washington, he doubled down on Thursday, telling CNN he stood by his comments and repeating the comparison.
“You can see that what Israel does to Palestine, to Gaza right now, has surpassed what Hitler did to them,” Erdogan said through an interpreter. He added that while he does not approve of Hitler’s treatment of the Jews, neither does he approve of “this genocide by Israel.”
Six million Jews – two thirds of Europe’s prewar Jewish population – were killed in the Nazi Holocaust.
Hamas has been designated by the U.S. government as a “foreign terrorist organization” since 1997. Its founding charter calls for Jews to be killed and says all Muslims are duty-bound to join a jihad to destroy Israel.
Hamas has ruled Gaza since seizing control in 2007 after routing forces loyal to the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Erdogan has been meeting with Hamas leaders since at least 2005.
‘World’s largest funder of terror’
Qatar, like Turkey, is a strong supporter of Hamas – and in its case a major funder as well, a fact highlighted by a senior U.S. Treasury Department official in a speech last March which also expressed concern about the Gulf state’s support for jihadists in Syria.
Qatar’s public stance on the Gaza conflict, while less belligerent than Turkey’s, has been distinctly one-sided.
An official Qatar news agency report Thursday on phone conversations between al-Attiyah, Davutoglu and Kerry said the conversations had dealt with “ways to stop the aggression against the Palestinian people.”
On Wednesday, his last day in office after a decades-long political career, outgoing Israeli President Shimon Peres was quoted as telling U.N. secretary-general Ben Ki-Moon in Jerusalem that Qatar has become “the world’s largest funder of terror” because of its support for Hamas.
“Their funding of terror must stop,” he said. “If they want to build then they should, but they must not be allowed to destroy.”
Egypt’s current government lacks the leverage with Hamas enjoyed by its Muslim Brotherhood predecessor – Hamas was established in 1987 as a Palestinian arm of the Brotherhood – and not coincidentally both Turkey and Qatar were strong supporters of the ousted government of Mohamed Morsi.
Last week Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri accused Qatar and Turkey of conspiring with Hamas to defeat Cairo’s ceasefire initiative.
(Possibly reflecting one of Qatar’s objections to the Egyptian proposal, the deputy editor-in-chief of one of Doha’s most influential pro-government papers wrote this week that its goal had been “to save the Zionist entity from sinking into the swamp of Gaza.”)
Asked Thursday whether the Qataris were playing a constructive role, Harf replied, “They certainly are a key player here. The secretary, as I said, talked twice today with the Foreign Minister al-Attiyah, and they do have a key role to play and they have been playing one.”
“We want all of the regional partners to come together and help get a ceasefire here, so those conversations will continue, yes,” she added.
Harf declined to comment on the relationship between Qatar and Hamas and said she had not seen Peres’ allegations.
“But look, what we’re focused on now is other countries in the region who can push Hamas to accept a ceasefire. Qatar’s obviously one of them. It’s important to get to a ceasefire, so we will continue working with them.”
In his interview with CNN, Erdogan defended Qatar in the face of Peres’ accusations, saying that Israel was “a terror state” and that both Qatar and Turkey were “on the side of the persecuted.”