(CNSNews.com) – Hours after the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government co-chaired a meeting Friday of the Obama administration’s flagship international counter-terrorism initiative, he had a phone conversation with a top leader of Hamas, a group designated by the U.S. as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO).
Among heads of government, the Islamist-leaning Erdogan is arguably Hamas’ most influential supporter – and one of Israel’s most vocal critics – and the phone call underlined again the contradictions inherent in the administration’s choice of Turkey as co-chair of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF).
Turkey’s Anadolu state news agency reported that Erdogan spoke with Hamas’ Khaled Mashaal, who thanked the Turkish leader for his efforts during the recent Israeli military operation against Hamas and invited him to visit the Gaza Strip.
Last week Mashaal – who is based abroad – visited Gaza to mark Hamas’ 25th anniversary, and told supporters Hamas will never recognize Israel.
“Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land,” he said. “From the river to the sea” refers to the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean – an area that encompasses all of Israel.
“Jihad is the way to liberation, along with all types of national and diplomatic struggle,” he said, and reiterated Hamas’ rejection of the “two-state” solution with the U.S. and others support as the formula for ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Hours before the Erdogan-Mashaal phone call on Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns co-hosted a GCTF ministerial meeting in Abu Dhabi. (Burns stood in for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is unwell.)
“Turkey, as a beacon of dynamic stability in a volatile region, has a sense of responsibility that drives her foreign policy,” Davutoglu told the meeting.
“We spare no efforts to consolidate security and stability in our region and beyond. Our efforts in countering terrorism are part and parcel of our strategy in this regard,” he said. “As a country that has and unfortunately continues to be victimized by terrorism, our longstanding struggle against this menace puts us at the forefront of the global counterterrorism efforts. It is with this understanding that we take active part in GCTF as co-chair.”
One focus of Turkey’s public remarks at GCTF meetings thus far has been the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a U.S.-designated FTO that is fighting to establish Kurdish autonomy in southeast Turkey and northern Iraq. Its violent 28-year campaign has cost the lives of almost 40,000 people, three-quarters of them PKK members.
Ankara’s views on Palestinian terror, however, are much more ambivalent, and Erdogan has stated numerous times that he does not accept the notion that Hamas is a terrorist group.
Israel was not invited to join the GCTF when Clinton launched the initiative in September 2011, a decision that drew Republican criticism but has not been reversed. Eleven of the forum’s 29 members are Islamic states, most of which do not have relations with Israel.
The administration has pledged to talk to forum members about ways in which non-members including Israel can be involved, short of membership.
‘Terrorism not linked to particular religion’
Friday’s meeting in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) marked the launch of a new center for countering violent extremism, an independent but GCTF-affiliated body aimed at preventing people from becoming radicalized and turning violent.
“There is widespread agreement on the need to prevent individuals from starting down the path toward radicalization, the embrace of violence, and support for terrorism, as well as to divert those already on that path before they are fully committed and mobilized,” a GCTF fact sheet states.
It says the center will focus on training in programs and policies to counter violent extremism; facilitating dialogue; and conducting “research to gain a deeper understanding of the drivers of violent extremism, and which approaches are effective in countering it.”
Subject areas for workshop and curricula include media, security, capacity-building, empowering local actors and educators, empowering victims of terror, the role of cultural and sports diplomacy, and the role of “non-traditional” actors and initiatives.
Nowhere in the four-page fact sheet do the words “religion,” “religious,” “Islam,” “mosque,” “cleric” or similar appear. It does include a quote from Clinton that refers to “extremist ideology,” but without elaboration.
In his address to the Abu Dhabi meeting, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan declared that the phenomenon of terrorism “is not linked to particular people or a particular religion.”
“Extremism is the opposite of tolerance which is embraced by the UAE as one of its key values,” the Emirates’ official WAM news agency quoted him as saying. “It is an honor for the UAE to coordinate efforts with the international community to eliminate terrorist and extremist threats in the world. We believe that this forum is instrumental in achieving achieve that goal.”
In his comments, Burns said the U.S. government considers the GCTF “to be the central mechanism for innovative, civilian-led counterterrorism cooperation.”