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Turkey

Kerry calls Erdogan's Zionism remark 'objectionable'

US Secretary of State John Kerry's trip to Turkey has been overshadowed by a controversial comment from the Turkish premier equating Zionism to a "crime against humanity." Kerry said he found the remarks "objectionable."

Kerry said Friday the United States objected to the comment made on Wednesday by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. "We not only disagree with it, we found it objectionable," he told a news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (pictured above) on Friday in Ankara.

"I raised the speech with the foreign minister and I will raise it with the prime minister," Kerry said.

The Secretary of State is on his first trip to the Muslim country since taking office, and is meeting with Turkish leaders to discuss the ongoing civil war in neighboring Syria and bilateral interests ranging from energy security to counterterrorism.

Their discussions come a day after the US announced it would provide direct aid to Syrian rebels for the first time. Washington plans to send food and medical supplies as well as $60 million (45.75 million euros) in extra assistance to the political opposition.

Overshadowed by controversy

Kerry's arrival in Ankara was overshadowed by the remarks made by Erdogan in Vienna on Wednesday. During a speech at a UN Alliance of Civilizations conference, the Turkish prime minister complained of prejudices against Muslims.

"As is the case for Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it is inevitable that Islamophobia be considered a crime against humanity," Erdogan said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also responded to Erdogan's remark, saying he believed "it is unfortunate that such hurtful and divisive comments were uttered at a meeting being held under the theme of responsible leadership."

Some of the sharpest criticism came from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called Erdogan's comment a "dark and mendacious statement, the likes of which we thought had passed from the world."

Kerry urges tolerance

At his news conference with Davutoglu Friday, Kerry stressed "the urgent need to promote a spirit of tolerance, and that includes all of the public statements made by all leaders."

Kerry added that despite the comment he was hopeful Israel and Turkey could restore their once close relationship, which has deteriorated sharply since Israeli soldiers raided a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza in 2010, killing nine pro-Palestinian activists.

Kerry is in NATO ally Turkey on the fourth leg of a nine-country tour of Europe and the Middle East. He has spent the bulk of his trip – which has thus far taken him to Britain, Germany and Italy – focusing on the conflict in Syria.

After Turkey, Kerry will travel to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar before returning to the US in the middle of next week.

dr/ipj (AP, Reuters, AFP)