Just back from a trip to Turkey, Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Dist. 7) reiterated his call on its leaders to improve relations with Israel.
Although he said the subject of Israel did “not come up directly” in talks with Turkish President Abdullah Gul, “I made clear with those I was travelling with that I supported a strong relationship between Turkey and Israel,” Lance told NJ Jewish News in a June 13 phone interview.
“The bottom line is that Turkey should make sure that its relationship with Israel is as strong as possible,” Lance told NJJN. “To the extent that Turkey has moved away from that, it should return to that strong relationship. That should be the wave of the future.”
Between May 31 and June 8, Lance and four fellow members of the House traveled to Istanbul and the country’s capital, Ankara, as well as to Baku, the capital of the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.
Since Lance returned to Washington from his trip, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been using heavy police force against some 30,000 demonstrators protesting in the central squares of Istanbul and Ankara against commercial development of historic spaces.
While visiting those cities, Lance said he and his colleagues “did see some of the demonstrations and of course they have continued. We urged the Turkish government to deal with the situation in a peaceful manner. The people have a right to protest, which is a tradition in our country.”
As a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Lance was especially interested in his visit to Baku.
“Azerbaijan has a tremendous amount of oil and natural gas, and Azerbaijan is friendly to the United States,” he said.
“Baku has become a modernized city as a result of its natural resources. Those natural resources benefit European countries, which need to rely less heavily on sources of energy from regions of the world that are not particularly stable,” he said.
Lance also noted that “Azerbaijan has been very pro-Western.” Muslims constitute more than 90 percent of the 9.6 million people who live in the country; nearly all the Muslims are Shiites.
“I am pleased there is a Muslim country that is pro-American,” said Lance. “That is refreshing because of the tremendous challenges we have with Iran.”
In addition, Israel and Azerbaijan have maintained close military and diplomatic relations for many years, and Azerbaijan’s foreign minister, Elmar Mammadyarov, visited Israel in April.
Lance said it is a relationship he would encourage Turkey to emulate.
“I am a believer that Turkey should be modern and recognize the religious diversity that exists there. Israel is part of the larger whole,” he said. “I recognize the strains that have existed recently, but I believe and hope Turkey can continue to recognize the importance of Israel.”
Some of those strains surfaced during a White House meeting between Erdogan and President Barack Obama on May 18.
Erdogan defied Obama’s request that he not visit Hamas-ruled Gaza later this month.
“I certainly agree with President Obama’s wish that Erdogan not do that,” said Lance.
The Turkish leader also rejected the European Parliament’s condemnation of his use of force, and according to The Times of Israel of June 13, he suggested that Israel was “delighted” with the protest against his leadership.