Spat should not affect Turkey ties, Peres says

DAVOS, Switzerland Fri Jan 30, 2009 10:02am GMT

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - Israeli President Shimon Peres said Friday he hoped relations with Turkey would not be affected by a heated exchange he had with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan at the World Economic Forum.

Erdogan stormed out of a debate in Davos Thursday at which Peres defended Israel's Gaza offensive and, with a raised voice and pointed finger, questioned what Erdogan would do if rockets were fired at Istanbul every night.

"We don't want conflict with Turkey. We are in a conflict with the Palestinians," Peres told reporters at the annual gathering of businessmen and political leaders in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.

Peres said he had spoken to Erdogan by telephone after the debate, in which United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League leader Amr Moussa also participated.

"I don't see this as a personal or national problem. The relations can remain as they are. My respect (for him) hasn't changed. It was an exchange of views and views are views," Peres said.

Peres said he hoped Turkey would continue to be a moderating force in the Middle East.

"Turkey should be an answer to Iran ... they offer a choice to the Middle East. I hope they will continue to do it," he said.

Erdogan said he had not been given enough time in Thursday's debate to respond to Peres on the Gaza offensive, in which about 1,300 Palestinians were killed. Israel says ending Palestinian rocket fire at Israeli towns was the main aim of the assault.

Peres said he had been prompted to speak in such a forceful way Thursday because of the "ugly" picture painted of Israel by other speakers on the panel.

"This was simply a misrepresentation of the nature of Israel," he said.

He said he thought Ban's account of a recent visit he made to Gaza "should have been reported in a different way."

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; editing by Ralph Boulton)