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Turkey's envoy to the United States expressed disappointment and concern over comments made by Texas governor Rick Perry in Monday's GOP debate. The candidate described Turkey's moderate Islamic leadership as "Islamic terrorists." A Turkish American group called on the candidate to apologize for his "appalling" and "uneducated" comments, which have been greeted with disbelief, ridicule and anger by Turkey's press corps.
Turkey is "a country that is being ruled by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists," Perry said, in response to a question about whether Turkey, a top American ally, should remain a member of the NATO alliance.
The NATO ally had moved "far away" from the strict secular tenets that governed it when he served there in the 1970s as a U.S. Air Force pilot.
"Rick Perry: what an idiot," was the reaction from top Turkish Hurriyet Daily News columnist Mustafa Akyol on Twitter, according to CNN's Ivan Watson and Yesim Comert.
Turkey's main state broadcast news channel TRT added, "The debate that the Republican candidate Rick Perry attended on American Fox TV turned into a scandal that contained very ugly statements about Turkey," also according to CNN.
"I am disappointed and concerned that Turkey and its time-tested ties of alliance, partnership and friendship with the United States became the object of misplaced and ill-advised criticism during last night's Republican candidates' debate," Turkey's ambassador to the United States Namik Tan said in a statement sent to Yahoo News Tuesday. "Needless to say, the Turkey described in the debate simply does not exist."
"Turkey is a secular democracy that has for decades been an essential and trusted partner of the U.S.," Amb. Tan wrote. "Whether in the fight against terrorism or violent extremism, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria or against the proliferation of WMD, we stand side by side to tackle the many common threats and challenges of our times."
"While it was unfortunate, we do hope this episode in last night's debate leads to a better informed foreign policy discussion among the Republican Party candidates," Tan concluded.
The Turkish Coalition of America, a Washington group that promotes Turkey-U.S. ties, condemned Perry's comments as "appalling," "uneducated" and "uninformed," and called on the candidate to apologize for offense he caused to the U.S. NATO ally.
"The level of ignorance shown by the governor of such an important state as Texas is appalling," Turkish Coalition of America president G. Lincoln McCurdy said in a statement sent to Yahoo News Tuesday. "How can we expect to have friends in the international world if our leaders show this level of ignorance and narrow mindedness in trying to score political points? Gov. Perry's state, party and country are all poorly served by his comments."
His group "is happy to help educate Gov. Perry about the true value of U.S.-Turkey relations ... but respectfully requests that Gov. Perry apologize for his divisive and uneducated remarks," McCurdy continued.
"Turkey is one of the largest contributors of support to U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, including providing the second-largest NATO army on the ground, leading the NATO troops in Afghanistan three times, and providing over 70 percent of the international logistics support to U.S. troops in Iraq," he said.
In addition, McCurdy noted, Texas has increased its exports to Turkey by over 215 percent in the last four years, while "Texas is home to a thriving Turkish American community."
Perry's communications director Ray Sullivan issued a statement Tuesday afternoon noting the governor's remarks were made in response to a question from the debate host, Fox News, "about the increased Islamist influence in Turkey, violence against civilian women in Turkey, and association with Hamas."
"Turkey can be a valuable ally, but the actions of the current government undermine that country's role in an organization like NATO," Sullivan's statement, emailed to Yahoo News, said. "We need to send the message to Turkey that internal violence, association with terrorist groups and radical Islamist influence are inconsistent with being a NATO ally and positive player in world affairs."
Gov. Perry's foreign policy adviser Victoria Coates acknowledged after the South Carolina debate Monday that Turkey is a "hinge point between east and west," ABC News' Arlette Saenz reported.
But Coates defended Perry's controversial description, explaining that Turkey under its Justice and Peace Party leadership has in recent years moved to express sympathy for Hamas-controlled Gaza and cooled its once warm relationship with Israel. She also noted a 2009 Gaza aid flotilla that departed from a Turkish port and clashed with Israeli commandos; eight Turks and one Turkish-American were killed.
Echoing the moderator's question from Monday night's debate, the adviser also described Turkey as tolerating violence against women—without citing any evidence to back up the highly controversial contention.
"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," Coates said in the post-debate spin room, according to Saenz. "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."
"What he said was that many people associate that kind of behavior with that of Islamic terrorists," Coates said. "I think also their support for the flotilla against Israel this fall. It's deeply concerning, and I think it's something any future American president needs to be aware of."
The White House and American diplomats have been huddling closely with Turkey's diplomats in recent weeks over the Iran nuclear issue, Yahoo News reported last week. President Barack Obama called Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Friday to discuss Iran and other issues, the White House said in a readout of the call.
This post was updated Tuesday afternoon with Perry's communication director's comments.
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