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Erdogan meets with Jewish leaders

(JTA) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Jewish leaders in Washington, D.C., reportedly to smooth ties as Turkey and Israel seek to reconcile. Jewish groups in attendance included the Anti-Defamation League, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, B’nai B’rith International, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “Erdogan and the guests reiterated their willingness to strengthen cooperation and communication despite differences,” said a report March 30 in Turkey’s Daily Sabah newspaper, citing “presidential sources.” Daily Sabah said the participants, who included top Turkish officials, discussed “recent terror attacks in Turkey and Belgium, the war against terror, Turkey’s relations with Jews, the relations between the U.S., Israel and Turkey, the situation in Palestine, the refugee crisis, antisemitism and Islamophobia.”

Jewish organizational participants said the meeting was off the record, and declined to comment, even after the meeting was reported in the Turkish press.

In recent months Erdogan has expressed an interest in renewing ties with Israel, stemming from a joint interest in tamping down the violence in Syria, which neighbors both countries; the discovery of natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, which Israel already is exploring with Cyprus and Greece, and Erdogan’s desire to isolate his main rival in the region, Russia. After the March 19 terrorist attack in Istanbul in which three Israelis were among five dead and many Israelis were injured, Erdogan phoned his Israeli counterpart, Reuven Rivlin, and said the two countries should cooperate in battling terrorism.

Relations between Turkey and the United States are tense because of differences over Turkey’s attacks on Kurdish militias. Turkey sees them as a threat, while the United States sees them as critical to restoring calm in Syria’s devastating civil war. Erdogan is in Washington for a nuclear summit, but President Barack Obama refused to meet with him formally, although they had an informal chat.

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