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Perry ‘Cooks’ Turkey in Latest Republican Debate

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Texas governor Rick Perry invited controversy when he identified Turkey’s leaders as “Islamic terrorists” in a debate held in South Carolina Monday night. The primary is scheduled for this Saturday.In the latest Republican debate held in South Carolina on Monday night, nominee Rick Perry invited controversy when he identified Turkey’s leaders as “Islamic terrorists.” The contest was sponsored by the Fox News Channel and moderated by Bret Baier; the exchange between the journalist and nominee went as follows, according to a Fox News transcript:

BAIER: Governor Perry, since the Islamist-oriented party took over in Turkey, the murder rate of women has increased 1,400 percent there. Press freedom has declined to the level of Russia. The prime minister of Turkey has embraced Hamas and Turkey has threatened military force against both Israel and Cyprus. Given Turkey’s turn, do you believe Turkey still belongs in NATO?

PERRY: Well, obviously when you have a country that is being ruled by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists, when you start seeing that type of activity against their own citizens, then yes. Not only is it time for us to have a conversation about whether or not they belong to be in NATO, but it’s time for the United States, when we look at their foreign aid, to go to zero with it.

Though Perry’s response elicited applause from his audience, his retort was not as well received by the Turkish government.

“Turkey became a member of NATO when the governor was 2 years old,” acknowledged Turkey’s Foreign Ministry in a statement. “Turkey has also been among the front line countries in the fight against terrorism.” The governmental arm cited the “baseless and inappropriate” nature of Perry’s comments, and cautioned American voters to hesitate prior to nominating officials “who do not even know their allies.”

Turkish media reacted in kind. According to Israel’s ArutzSheva news source, the country’s newspapers presented Perry as having flatly stated that “Turkey is being governed by Islamic terrorists.” This distortion was encapsulated in a headline that appeared in the National Turk, in which Perry was labeled as a “redneck ignorant.”

Victoria Coates, an art historian and Rick Perry’s foreign advisor, defended his remarks. “The governor was responding to the questioner’s references to violence against women and to association with Hamas, I think both of which are things that many people do associate, as he said, with Islamic terrorists,” she said. “He was referring to those things, and while he would welcome the opportunity to work with Turkey on regional issues like Syria or Iraq, this kind of behavior on the part of that country is disturbing and I think we should concerned about it.”

Perry reaffirmed his position in Tuesday interview, according to CNN. On “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer,” the governor of Texas reiterated that Turkey has strayed from its democratic origins. “This is a country that’s got some explaining to do to the United States,” he said. Perry noted the “honor killings” that have grown increasingly prevalent, where ashamed relatives are killed by family members, and the dissolution of the Israeli-Turkish relationship.  “The idea that [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s regime has somehow or other earned our respect is not correct,” he added.

According to some, such a comment has come at a time when the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey is improving. While the Flotilla incident had exacerbated relations in 2010 as Turkey distanced itself from Israel and grew closer to Iran, the country’s recent political moves have shifted the relationship in a positive direction.

Turkey supported democratic efforts during the Arab Spring, and allowed NATO to house a missile-defense system designed by the U.S. on its territory. The strategic importance Turkey offers to the West was underscored recently, when the foreign ministries of Iran and Turkey agreed that Ankara should broker talks of Iran’s nuclear program with the West. These factors have served to renew American support for Turkey and repair the once-strained relationship. “Ankara and Washington are now walking in lockstep… The essence of the new relationship is one where Turkey is more empowered, and more crucial to the U.S. because of its leverage,” said Atilla Yesilada of Istanbul Analytics, an educational organization based in Istanbul.

Having been dealt a blow by his fellow Texans when Evangelical Christians consolidated their support around Rick Santorum this past weekend, Rick Perry is now working to salvage his campaign in the upcoming South Carolina primary. The Iowa Caucuses spelled the end of Michelle Bachmann’s bid for the presidency, and this week has seen the field further narrowed by Jon Huntsman’s departure from the race. With the moderates uniting behind Romney’s leadership, and the Christian vote recently leaning in Santorum’s direction, Perry may be fighting his final battle on Saturday. Whether his comments about Turkey will serve to better or worsen his public image remains to be seen.

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