The US will not participate in the annual joint air force exercise with Turkey in October if Israel is not invited as well, reported Turkish newspaper Hurriyet on Wednesday.
Anonymous sources reported to the newspaper that Washington sent a message to the Turkish military that its aircraft will only partake in the maneuver held annually between the US, Israel, and Turkey if Israel Air Force is also asked to join. The US embassy in Ankara declined comment.
Turkey cancelled Israel's participation in the air force drill in 2009 in criticism of the Jewish state's actions in Operation Cast Lead. The US cancelled its participation then, too, as a show of solidarity with Israel.
The Israel Navy's raid of a Gaza-bound flotilla in May further strained relations between the countries, even prompting the recall of the Turkish ambassador from Tel Aviv. Turkey has demanded an apology from Israel and compensation to the families of the nine Turkish nationals killed in the incident.
Tensions have also been intensified between Washington and Ankara over Turkey's vote against increased international sanctions against Iran over the latter's nuclear program. In addition, Turkey has revoked Israel's access to its air space for military drills, sending Israel into the arms of Greece.
The US is particularly irked by Turkey's stance on Iran's nuclear program and its warm relations with Hamas and Syria. About two weeks ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with senior officials from her department to reassess US policy towards Ankara, considered a key player in NATO. Administration officials noted that this is the first in a series of meetings on the matter.
The US Senate is also displeased with Turkey. Republican senators are currently obstructing the appointment of ambassador-designate to Turkey Francis Joseph Ricciardone due to his moderate positions. Both Congress and the Senate are demanding an ambassador who will adopt a more firm stance towards Ankara.
On the backdrop of these tensions, a diplomatic delegation left Turkey for a round of meetings in Washington. Turkish officials told Turkish newspaper Zaman that the delegation promised the US that Ankara will maintain friendly relations with Israel despite the flotilla incident. Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu led the delegation.
In the meantime, the White House has denied reports published in the Financial Times that US President Barack Obama threatened Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with the cancellation of the arms deal between Washington and Ankara over Turkey's problematic relations with Israel. Turkey also denied the report, claiming that US-Turkish relations are "at their peak."
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