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Jewish leaders: Erdogan is intent on thaw with Israel

Turkish president moves toward detente as he speaks ‘in a positive way’ about ongoing negotiations

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) meets with a delegation of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, led by Stephen M. Greenberg (right) and Malcolm Hoenlein (center), in Ankara, February 9, 2016. (Courtesy)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) meets with a delegation of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, led by Stephen M. Greenberg (right) and Malcolm Hoenlein (center), in Ankara, February 9, 2016. (Courtesy)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told US Jewish leaders he intends to improve ties with Israel and confirmed that talks on the subject were taking place in Geneva.

Erdogan met representatives of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Ankara on Tuesday, top officials from the group said Sunday.

“He talked about the fact that there is currently a thaw in the relationship between Turkey and Israel, and his hope is that that thaw will continue to get warmer and the relationship will get closer,” Stephen Greenberg, chairman of the Jewish group, told reporters before a conference in Jerusalem.

Israeli officials have declined to comment, and the Turkish foreign ministry has said it would neither confirm nor deny the new talks in Geneva that were taking place last week.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at an official ceremony in the Presidential Complex in Ankara, on December 24, 2015. (AFP/Adem Altan)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at an official ceremony in the Presidential Complex in Ankara, on December 24, 2015 (AFP/Adem Altan)

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Jewish group who also attended the meeting with Erdogan, said the Turkish leader spoke with them about the talks with Israel.

“He certainly talked in a positive way about the negotiations, and he said some of the issues are for the negotiators in Geneva,” Hoenlein said.

NATO member Turkey was a key regional ally of Israel until the two countries fell out in 2010 over the deadly storming by Israeli commandos of a Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship, the Mavi Marmara.

Erdogan further raised hackles in Israel with his sometimes inflammatory rhetoric towards the Jewish state.

The atmosphere was improved following the revelation in December that the two sides had met that month in secret talks to seek a rapprochement.

Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, at The Times of Israel's Jerusalem offices on February 2, 2016 (Amanda Borschel-Dan/The Times of Israel)
Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, at The Times of Israel’s Jerusalem offices on February 2, 2016 (Amanda Borschel-Dan/The Times of Israel)

The Geneva talks reportedly began on Wednesday and were thought to be the first since the December meeting. It is unclear if they are still ongoing.

Turkey has repeatedly made clear three conditions for a normalization of relations: the lifting of the Gaza blockade, compensation for the Mavi Marmara victims and an apology for the incident.

Israel has already apologized and negotiations appear to have made progress on compensation, leaving the blockade on the Islamist Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip (designed by Israel to prevent the terror group from importing weaponry) as the main hurdle.

The Jewish leaders also met Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi last week and spoke of cooperation with Israel, particularly on security.

Leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo on February 11, 2016 (Courtesy)
Leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo on February 11, 2016 (Courtesy)

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