BURAK EGE BEKDIL
Wed Apr 17 2013
ANKARA - Despite a recent, partial thaw in its problematic diplomatic ties with one-time ally Israel, Turkey has declined to agree to a meeting of NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue group, which includes Israel and six Arab countries, Turkish diplomats here said.
They said Egypt also declined to convene the group for the first time in five years. A NATO official in Brussels declined to comment.
The Mediterranean Dialogue, founded in 2004, is intended to contribute to regional security. Along with Israel and Egypt, the other participating countries are Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritania, Algeria and Jordan.
Turkey nixed the meeting despite Israel's recent apology for the deaths of nine Turkish citizens three years ago aboard the Mavi Marmara, which was attempting to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza. Since then, Turkey and Israel have frozen their diplomatic relations.
Turkey previously rejected Israeli participation in a NATO summit in Chicago last May. It also rebuffed an Israeli request to have a permanent office at NATO.
Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated April 13 that Turkey will not re-establish diplomatic relations until Israel lifts its blockade on the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip. Israel has said that it has loosened restrictions and will continue to do so if this would help normalize relations with Turkey.
Erdogan said April 14 that he would visit Gaza at the end of May, days after an official visit to the United States on May 16. The trip comes after Erdogan postponed another Gaza visit set for this month at the request of the United States, which is attempting to broker a renewed relationship between Israel and Turkey.