ANKARA, Turkey — Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on Wednesday reacted furiously to claims in a leaked U.S. State Department memo that he has money in Swiss bank accounts and said U.S. diplomats should be punished for allegations he branded as lies and gossip.
The angry outburst broke from Turkey's initial position of downplaying the significance of the leaks and saying that the documents would not affect Turkish and U.S. ties.
The classified cable, released this week by WikiLeaks, is dated Dec. 30, 2004 from then-U.S. Ambassador Eric Edelman, who was assessing Erdogan's second year in power.
It says: "We have heard from two contacts that Erdogan has eight accounts in Swiss banks; his explanations that his wealth comes from the wedding presents guests gave his son and that a Turkish businessman is paying the educational expenses of all four Erdogan children in the U.S. purely altruistically are lame."
Erdogan said on live television he was prepared to resign if opposition parties can prove that he has any money in a Swiss account.
"The United States is responsible for those diplomats' false claims and their smears. The United States should ensure that the diplomats are held to account," Erdogan said on live television. "To accept as true the lies and slanders that emanate from the personal hatred of one or two former ambassadors and to accuse the government is a great wrong."
Turkey's main opposition party this week called on Erdogan to explain the Swiss bank accounts claim and said it had formed a committee to investigate the allegation."
Another U.S. diplomatic cable, dated Feb. 27, 2009, claimed that Erdogan's friends were benefiting from Turkey's business deals with Iran. One friend from his days at a religious school was head of a Turkish company that had entered a joint venture with Iran to develop gas and build pipelines, the memo said.
Edelman served in Turkey at a time of when ties between the United States and its close NATO ally grew tense following the Turkish parliament's refusal to allow U.S. troops to use Turkey's territory for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Erdogan suggested Turkey might seek legal action against the diplomats, saying Turkey was determined to "pursue" the allegations at home and abroad.
"We have talked about these with the U.S. government. They have already made an apology, but we do not find this sufficient. They have to take every step necessary with those diplomats."