Kerry to criticize Turkey's leader, who called Zionism 'crime against humanity'

Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryOvernight Defense: Pompeo clears Senate panel, on track for confirmation | Retired officers oppose Haspel for CIA director | Iran, Syria on agenda for Macron visit Senate must save itself by confirming Mike Pompeo Pompeo faces pivotal vote MORE will take Turkey's leader to task for recent anti-Israel comments when he meets with him Friday, the State Department said.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan earlier this week called Zionism a crime against humanity, comparing it to fascism and anti-Semitism.

"Just as with Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it has become necessary to view Islamophobia as a crime against humanity," Erdoğan said at a meeting Wednesday of the Turkey-initiated United Nations Alliance of Civilization in Vienna.

The comments are an unwelcome distraction for Kerry, who is hoping to build international support for Middle East peace efforts ahead of President Obama's trip to the region later this month. 

“I’m sure the Secretary will be very clear about how dismayed we were to hear it,” a senior State Department official traveling with Kerry told reporters Friday. 

“And I don’t want to get into speculation about the overall relationship, but just to state the obvious ... it complicates our ability to do all of the things that we want to do together when we have such a profound disagreement about such an important thing.”

Tensions between Israel and Turkey's moderate Islamist government have simmered since Israeli troops boarded ships trying to break the embargo against Gaza in 2010, killing eight Turks and one American activist. The State Department official said Erdoğan's words had a “corrosive effect” that further proved the Israeli-Turkish relationship is “frozen.”

“We want to see a normalization because — not just for the sake of the two countries, but for the sake of the region, and frankly for the symbolism of it,” the official said. “Not that long ago, you had these two countries ... demonstrating that a majority-Muslim country could have very positive and strong relations with a Jewish state. And that was a sign for the region of what was possible.”

Erdoğan's comments are the latest in a string of developments that have bedeviled Kerry during his inaugural trip as secretary of State. His highly anticipated meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Berlin on Tuesday failed to put a dent in Russia's continued support for Bashar Assad's regime, while his announcement Thursday of limited direct food and medicine aid to the rebels was met with derision inside Syria.

“This has become embarrassing and degrading,” The Wall Street Journal quoted Syrian National Council spokesman Mohammad Sarmini as saying. “The regime's escalation has rendered even our unmet pleas foolish. We used to beg for antiaircraft missiles. What do you ask for to counter Scuds?”

The council is the largest faction of the opposition coalition. Its members boycotted Thursday's meeting in Rome of foreign ministers whose countries oppose Assad.

Kerry was also scheduled to meet with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and President Abdullah Gül during his visit to Ankara.

Erdoğan's comments triggered international condemnation.

“The Secretary-General believes is it is unfortunate that such hurtful and divisive comments were uttered at a meeting being held under the theme of responsible leadership,” a spokesman for United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.
 "Religious intolerance — anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination — are all too real in too many parts of the world. We must stand united in confronting these life-and-death threats to the community fabric."