State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Friday that the administration has “succeeded and agreed with our partners” in the Global Counterterrorism Forum to include the issue as a formal item on the agenda for a GCTF ministerial meeting in the United Arab Emirates.
But then he acknowledged that its proposed agenda item relates to getting non-members involved in GCTF activities, not expanding its current 29-strong membership.
Moreover, the agenda item does not refer to Israel specifically, but rather “that the GCTF needs to develop more concrete policies on the involvement of non-members.”
Toner stressed that that would apply to Israel as well.
“We think that the forum should focus on bringing those countries – which definitely includes Israel –with the relevant experience and the best and the brightest experts to the table for each activity. And that’s what we continue to work towards in our conversations,” he said. “So it is on the agenda as a formal agenda item.”
“But it’s not an agenda item to have Israel included as a member, is it?” a reporter asked.
“My understanding is it’s an agenda item on developing policies about the involvement of non-members,” Toner replied.
“With an eye towards them becoming members or just– ?”
“No. On how to get them involved,” Toner continued. “As I talked about, this is about mobilizing the best and the brightest strategists from around the world.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be participating in the GCTF ministerial meeting in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. The administration launched the forum with fanfare in September 2011, describing it as the centerpiece of its “smart power approach to counterterrorism.”
But it quickly prompted criticism for excluding Israel, while including some countries – Switzerland and New Zealand for instance – that have significantly less experience in dealing with terrorism.
The forum’s 29 member states include 11 Islamic nations, few of which have diplomatic relations with Israel. It is co-chaired by Turkey’s Islamist government, one of Israel’s most vocal international critics.
After coming under Republican criticism last summer for excluding Israel, the State Department issued a statement saying, “We have discussed the GCTF and ways to involve Israel in its activities on a number of occasions, and are committed to making this happen.”
The 11 GCTF members that are also members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) – the bloc of mostly Muslim-majority states – are Algeria, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
The others are the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada, China, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa, Spain and Switzerland. The European Union is also included.
OIC member states are signatories to documents that exclude from its accepted definition of terrorism violent actions taken by those under “occupation,” an exception connected to the bloc’s support for the Palestinian cause.
“Peoples’ struggle including armed struggle against foreign occupation, aggression, colonialism, and hegemony, aimed at liberation and self-determination in accordance with the principles of international law shall not be considered a terrorist crime,” says the OIC’s Convention on Combating Terrorism.