Turkish diplomat stresses Israel ties

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

Ugur Kenan Ipek, Midwest consul general of Turkey, during a visit to St. Louis last week, stressed Turkey’s “strong, lasting and positive relations” with the State of Israel, the United States and with Jews in his own country, America and in all of the cities in his large jurisdiction.

Ipek, 48, a veteran Turkish diplomat who joined the Ministery of Foreign Affairs in 1984, and who is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Science of Ankara University, was appointed to serve as consul general of the Chicago-based Midwest Consulate in March 2007. While in St. Louis, he met with board members and staff of the St. Louis Chapter of the American Jewish Committee, after which he sat for an exclusive interview with the St. Louis Jewish Light in the Clayton office of the AJCommittee.

“Needless to say, Turks and Jews are old and dear friends with deep historic roots,” Ipek told the Jewish Light. “In Turkey, our Jewish population is respected and esteemed. Turkey has a majority Muslim population, but strong secular traditions, and it is not unusual to see a synagogue, a mosque and a church in the very same neighborhood. We also have excellent ties with the Chicago Chapter of the American Jewish Committee, which helped set up our meetings with its St. Louis chapter.”

Taking note of Israel’s 60th anniversary of independence and its celebration by the Jewish community of St. Louis, Ipek said, “Let me extend official and very warm congratulations and good wishes to the St. Louis Jewish community and Jewish communities everywhere on the occasion of Israel’s 60th anniversary.”

Ipek, whose area of service includes 12 states in the Midwest, said, “Turkey and Israel are very close in many ways. Turkey and Israel share several things in common: democratic governments; free market economies; the supremacy of the rule of law and a desire to bring peace to the entire Middle East region. We are working very hard, because of our good relations with both Israel and the Arab states to help bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and to play a constructive role in ending violence in Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere in the region.”

Ipek pointed out that Turkey was the first Muslim-majority nation to give full recognition to the State of Israel, with full diplomatic relations starting in 1949. “We have a solid, special relationship with the State of Israel, which was recently the subject of remarks by Congressman Steven Cohen of Tennessee, who praised the relationship.”

Cohen, in remarks on the floor of the House of Representatives, said, “I take this opportunity to recognize the longstanding friendship between the State of Israel and the Republic of Turkey.”

He added, “In recent years, more than 60 agreements have been enacted between Israel and Turkey in the economic and military fields…Since Turkey and Israel are the only two countries in the region that have embraced the principles of democracy and liberal market economy, it is easier to develop both the form and content and the depth of the bilateral relations in a multitude of different fronts.”

The Turkish diplomat pointed out “there are many strong business and industrial ties between Turkey and Israel. The Turkish Construction Co. is one of the ten most active such companies in Israel. There is also substantial cooperation in the delivery of energy and infrastructure, including plans for a corridor of submerged pipelines to carry water, natural gas and other energy.

“Turkey is also actively involved in the search for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians,” Ipek said, noting that Turkey was represented in the multi-nation peace talks in Annapolis early this year. “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the core issue. Turkey is eager to help push the process forward. Turkey has been a bridge nation for thousands of years and we seek to spread understanding, tolerance and peace throughout the region.”

Ipek said that Turkey also has strong ties to the United States and its Western allies.

“Turkey was a founding member of NATO, and we have been involved in every peace-keeping force since the l950s, including in the Korean conflict and those in the Balkans, Afghanistan, the Middle East and Africa. We have the largest contingent of soldiers in UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, which tries to monitor the cease-fire after the war in Lebanon two years ago.”

Ipek said, of the threat of international terrorism, “The United States, Israel and the West are under a threat of common enemies. We can only defeat the forces of terrorism, instability and war through determination, solidarity and close cooperation. You can be sure that we will always work together for peace and stability in the region and throughout the world.”

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