Monday, February 08, 2010

Carry On Apologizing

An interesting statement via the Saudi Press Agency from veteran Saudi politician Prince Turki Al-Faisal, currently the Chairman of King Faisal Center for Islamic Research and Studies, and once mistakenly reported by an incompetent blogger (this one) as possibly being dead.

Anyway, there's a chain of events that goes at least back to the Israeli invasion of the Gaza strip at the end of 2008. Whatever its military objectives, it has taken Israel a long time to come to the terms with the ensuing diplomatic disasters, not least the breakdown in its relationship with Turkey.

Fast forward now to the media stunt of a few weeks ago where Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon decided to humiliate the Turkish ambassador Ahmet Oguz Celikkol in front of the cameras in a row over a TV show that aired on Turkish television.

Now we're up to the weekend at the annual Munich Security Conference which seems to be a venue for a lot of Republican and quasi-Republican US Senators to feel self-important. Prince Turki takes us forward --

... Israeli Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Danny Ayalon indirectly pointed to me saying, ' An envoy of a country possessing a lot of oil refused to sit with me in the same session', adding, 'Saudi Arabia with all its wealth has not given a penny to the Palestinian Authority'.

In reply, Prince Turki Al-Faisal said, 'I had objected to sit with him in the same session, not because he is the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel, but because of his rude behavior towards Turkish Ambassador to Israel Ahmet Oguz Celikkol. I had also rejected his claim on my country's support for the Palestinian Authority and reminded him that the Kingdom has provided more than $ 500 million in the last five years to the Palestinian Authority so that it can work. '

'Then Mr. Ayalon had asked me to come to the podium for shaking hands to show that there are no ill-feelings. I had pointed to him to come down from the podium to me. When we stood face to face, he had apologized for what he had said and I replied that I accepted his apology not only for me, but also for the Turkish ambassador,' Prince Turki Al-Faisal disclosed.

'Ayalon was with U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman in the session and at first he objected my refusal to sit down with Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, but after hearing my words, he expressed his regret for misunderstanding what I had done and he commended my immediate clarification of the situation,' Prince Turki Al-Faisal said.

A couple of things to note. First, was Ayalon trying to replicate his constructed height advantage over the Turkish ambassador with his supposed conciliatory handshake with Prince Turki? By asking him to come down from the podium, the Prince may have suspected that was the case. And second, what business was the whole thing of Joe Lieberman's? By the end it's not clear who has apologized for what, but Prince Turki sounds like he has extracted an apology on behalf of Turkey and for a couple of incorrect statements by Ayalon -- so was Joe also a party to these apologies? Was Connecticut? Was the USA? [scroll down to the last picture to see Joe's seating arrangements]. There's a point at which having Senators run their own foreign policies might get to be a problem.

UPDATE: Marc Lynch has an unsourced photo of the handshake.

FINAL UPDATE 17 FEB: While Danny Ayalon has all the time in the world to tag team with Joe Lieberman in opposition to Saudi Arabia, he has no time to meet in Israel with Rep. William Delahunt of Massachusetts. Maybe he's writing letters to the UK and Ireland about those dodgy passports.

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