FLORENCE, S.C. – Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he stands by his assessment of the leaders of Turkey as “Islamic terrorists,” after that country's ambassador criticized him for a 1970s view of its politics.
“When you see the number of actions against your citizens that we would consider to be terrorist acts, I stand by my statement,” Perry told reporters in a press conference today, after he criticized Turkey in a candidates’ debate on Monday night. Perry pointed to the increased rate of attacks on women, and concluded, “I respect his sovereign right to say that, but I respect my sovereign right to be critical of countries that treat their citizens that way.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, released a statement expressing “disappointment” with Perry’s remarks during the debate.
“Turkey is obviously not the same country that Governor Perry visited in the 1970s,” he said. “As an accession country to the European Union and a founding member of the Council of Europe, Turkey has been continuously reviewing and enhancing the rights of all its citizens irrespective of their ethnic or religious background.
“While it was unfortunate, we do hope this episode in last night’s debate leads to a better-informed foreign-policy discussion among the Republican Party candidates, one where long-standing allies are treated with respect not disdain.”
State Department spokesman Mark Toner on Tuesday also took issue with the governor's remark.
"We absolutely and fundamentally disagree with that assertion ... Turkey, as I said, is a strong partner in the region," Toner told reporters. "We've seen it make a very courageous stand against what's going on in Syria, for example. It continues to play a very positive and constructive role in the region. And it is, as often cited, an example of so-called Islamic democracy in action."
Also at the briefing, Perry challenged rival Rick Santorum on his conservative credentials, saying, “Rick Santorum is a good man, he is a good father, he’s a good Catholic. But he hasn’t always been a good conservative. I make exceptions with his vote for Sonia Sotomayor.”
He called the Supreme Court justice a “pro-abortion” and “liberal jurist” and said that Santorum’s vote in favor of her appointment to the Appellate Court helped pave the way for her later rise to the highest court.
Perry’s decision to specifically mention that Santorum is a Catholic may be a way of appealing to South Carolina's many evangelical voters. Only 10 percent of South Carolinians are Catholic, according to the Gallup polling firm, but 74 percent identify as Protestant or non-Catholic Christian. Perry is an evangelical Christian who was raised as a Methodist.
Perry was coy about his political future should he finish at the back of the pack, as recent polls predict he might. “I’m pretty focused on South Carolina, so not Disney World,” he told a reporter when asked about his next destination. “We’re headed to South Carolina, South Carolina, and South Carolina. Then we’ll go to Disney World.”