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ANKARA - US special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell said yesterday Turkey will play a "key role" in President Barack Obama's efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East.
Mitchell, in Turkey as part of a regional tour that will also take him to Israel and the West Bank, said Ankara's close ties with Israel and Arab countries was an asset for Obama's promise to make Arab-Israeli peace a foreign policy priority.
"Turkey is a crucial ally of the US and an important force for peace and security in the Middle East," Mitchell said after meeting Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
Nato member Turkey, a predominantly Muslim but officially secular country, has played a major role as a Middle East mediator in the past, in particular in bringing Israel and Syria to indirect negotiations. Those talks collapsed after Israel's offensive in Gaza.
Turkey's fierce criticism of Israel's campaign in the Gaza Strip has soured ties between the two Middle East allies, but diplomats and analysts have said damage should be short-term.
Ankara has also been active in bridging a Palestinian rift between the Western-backed Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas, which controls the occupied West Bank, and the Islamist militant group Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip.
Erdogan told Mitchell that Hamas should not be excluded from any lasting peace agreement, a Turkish government official said.
Erdogan's government has regular contact with the Islamist group, to Israel's dismay. - Reuters