Turkey: Reconciliation deal with Israel to be finalized ‘very soon’
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Turkey: Reconciliation deal with Israel to be finalized ‘very soon’

After talks in London, Ankara reports ‘progress,’ says agreement to restore ties to be signed at next meeting; Israel does not confirm

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during the Presidential Culture and Arts Grand Awards ceremony at the presidential palace in Ankara, December 9, 2015. (AFP/Adem Altan)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during the Presidential Culture and Arts Grand Awards ceremony at the presidential palace in Ankara, December 9, 2015. (AFP/Adem Altan)

Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday said “progress” had been made in the reconciliation talks with Israel and maintained that a deal to restore diplomatic relations between the two countries would be finalized “very soon.”

Turkey and Israel held a fresh round of talks Thursday in London in an effort to normalize ties after relations were partially frozen five years ago.

“The teams made progress towards finalizing the agreement and closing the gaps, and agreed that the deal will be finalized in the next meeting which will be convened very soon,” the Turkish ministry said in a statement. The ministry also revealed that the negotiations had been held in London.

There was no confirmation of the ostensible progress from Israel.

NATO member Turkey was a key regional ally of Israel until the two countries fell out over Israel’s policy on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and the deaths of Turkish nationals in an IDF raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla of ships in 2010.

After several years of acrimonious accusations, the two sides met in December in secret talks to seek a rapprochement, with another round of high-level talks taking place in February in Geneva.

An Israeli official confirmed the meeting was taking place, but its location was not initially made public. Previous meetings are believed to have been conducted in Geneva.

In February, Turkey said the two former allies were “close to concluding a deal.”

But the two sides have yet to agree on all of Turkey’s conditions, with the main hurdle appearing to be the lifting of Israel’s blockade on Gaza.

Turkey already got an apology for the flotilla incident, and talks have advanced on the subject of compensation for the victims.

Analysts have suggested that Turkey’s desire for a rapprochement has been accelerated by the drastic worsening in ties with Moscow since the shooting down of a Russian warplane wrecked several joint projects.

Ankara relies on Russia for more than half its natural gas imports and Turkey now has its eyes on Israeli gas reserves.

Batu Aksoy, the CEO of Turkish energy firm Turcas Petrol, told local media that at least 15 energy companies wanted to be part of a planned consortium to carry Israel gas to Europe, and that the first Israeli gas may reach Turkey in the next five years.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also raised hackles in Israel with his sometimes inflammatory rhetoric toward the Jewish state.

But in a highly symbolic encounter, Erdogan last week met representatives of Jewish organizations in the US to discuss the fight against terrorism and racism.

Another sign of a thaw came when President Reuven Rivlin phoned Erdogan to thank him for his compassion after a suicide bombing in Istanbul last month left three Israelis dead.

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