ANKARA, Turkey (AP) - U.S. Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry drew Turkey's ire on Tuesday after suggesting the country is ruled by Islamic terrorists and questioning its NATO membership.
Turkey's Foreign Ministry released a scathing statement saying Perry's comments were "baseless and inappropriate" and that the United States has no time to waste with candidates "who do not even know their allies."
The U.S. State Department also distanced the U.S. government from Perry's remarks late Tuesday.
"We absolutely and fundamentally disagree with that assertion," spokesman Mark Toner said.
Perry, the Texas governor whose candidacy briefly soared when he entered the race in August but whose shine faded after a series of weak debate performances, said Turkey was ruled by "what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists" and questioned the country's NATO membership.
In a debate ahead of the South Carolina primaries, he said Turkey was moving "far away from the country that I lived in back in the 1970s as a pilot in the United States Air Force that was our ally, that worked with us."
Turkey, which has assisted NATO in Afghanistan and other missions said it has been at the forefront of the fight against terrorism. It said it was "strongly condemning" Perry's words.
"Turkey joined NATO while the governor was still 2 years old," the statement said. "It is a member that has made important contributions to the trans-Atlantic alliance's conflict-full history. It is among countries that are at the front lines in the fight against terrorism."
Toner described Turkey as a stalwart U.S. ally and security partner within NATO, and said it had made a "very courageous stand" against the crackdown in Syria and was an example of "Islamic democracy in action."
Turkey has been ruled by a government led by pious Muslims since 2002. Although its ties with Israel have deteriorated, the government has maintained a close relationship with the West while seeking to represent the views of the Muslim world.
Most recently, Turkey began to host NATO's early warning radar system as part of NATO's missile defense system, which is capable of countering ballistic missile threats from Iran.
Perry also said Turkey should not receive foreign aid. While the United States recently deployed four Predator drones to Turkey from Iraq to aid Ankara in its fight against the autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels, Turkey does not receive U.S. foreign aid.
The Turkish statement said Turkey's leaders were "personalities respected not only in the United States, but in our region and in the world and whose opinions are strongly relied on."
The Turkish statement said Perry's low standings in polls were proof that the Republicans in the U.S. do not endorse his opinions.
"Figures who are candidates for positions that require responsibility, such as the U.S. presidency, should be more knowledgeable about the world and exert more care with their statement," the Turkish statement said.
The Turkish ambassador to Washington, Namik Tan, said: "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."
Perry did poorly in the first two nominating contests, the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, and needs to do well in South Carolina to keep his candidacy alive.
National polls show him far behind the front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
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