Erdogan heads to France seeking EU thaw

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Kayhan Ozer/Pool Photo via AP)
Updated 03 January 2018
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Erdogan heads to France seeking EU thaw

Ankara: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday visits Paris for talks with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, seeking to start the New Year by warming relations with the European Union after a torrid 2017.
Macron will host Erdogan at the Elysee Palace with talks expected to range from Syria to trade ties, and the French side is also expected to sound concern over the human rights situation in Turkey.
But high on the agenda will be Turkey’s relations with the EU, which Ankara has sought to join for the last 50 years in an epic membership saga that appeared to hit the buffers amid bitter rows in 2017.
“By getting closer to France, Turkey is seeking to give a new boost to its EU membership bid,” said Jana Jabbour, professor of Political Science at Sciences Po university in Paris and the author of a book on Turkish foreign policy.
She told AFP this need was especially acute at a time of diplomatic tensions with the United States following Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.


The Turkish leader has been a frequent visitor to Russia, the Gulf and Africa over the last year but has been rarely sighted in Europe since the July 15, 2016 coup bid aimed at removing him from power.
The visit to France will be his first since the botched putsch. Over the last year — discounting G20 and NATO summits — Erdogan’s only trips to EU member states have been to Poland and Greece.
Still absent from the presidential itinerary is a visit to Germany. Ankara endured its bitterest crisis in 2017 with Berlin, which was roundly critical of the crackdown that followed the failed coup and has left some 55,000 jailed.
While German Chancellor Angela Merkel has often talked tough on Turkey, Macron has however made clear the need to “avoid ruptures” with a country that is an “essential partner.”
Samim Akgonul, lecturer at Strasbourg University, said Turkey and the EU had “to start somewhere” in finding an improvement in relations and the only two countries who could do this were Germany and France.
But he expressed doubt there could be any radical change for the better in 2018. “I don’t think that relations can advance structurally.”


Erdogan last week appeared to hold out an olive branch to the EU, saying “we must reduce the number of enemies and increase the number of friends.”
He praised Macron — as well as the German leadership — for support over the Jerusalem issue, saying the EU and Ankara were on the same page.
The shared opposition of both Brussels and Ankara to Trump’s move could itself stimulate better relations.
“They (Paris) did not leave us by ourselves on this issue (Jerusalem),” Erdogan said.
Ahead of the visit, Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin described France as a “leading ally” and expressed hope that the visit would further boost their alliance.
The Elysee said that as well as Syria and the Palestinian issue, “the issue of human rights” would be discussed. Trade is also important with both sides looking to lift a current trade volume that stands at $13.38 billion.
Meanwhile hosting Erdogan in Paris gives Macron — who since his election in May last year has sought a new prominence for France on the European and world stages — another high-profile and potentially sensitive guest.
Macron has already hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin at the former royal palace of Versailles near Paris and took Trump for dinner at the Eiffel Tower.
Jabbour said that Ankara welcomed Macron’s accession to power, seeing him as a leader with a pragmatic foreign policy while the French president wanted a new relationship with Turkey based on mutual interests.
“Macron will not totally sacrifice French-Turkish relations on the altar of human rights,” she said.


Kurds split on next Iraqi president and throw government formation into further turmoil

Updated 26 September 2018
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Kurds split on next Iraqi president and throw government formation into further turmoil

  • The failure of the Kurds to agree on a single candidate will threaten the stability of the Kurdish region
  • A close ally of KDP leader Massoud Barzani has been backed as a presidential nomination

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s main Kurdish political forces have failed to agree on a candidate for the post of president, highlighting the depth of the rift  between them and redrawing their map of influence in Baghdad, negotiators told Arab News.

Electing the president is the second step in the process of forming a government. According to the political power sharing agreement adopted by Iraqi political parties since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, the post is allocated to the Kurds.

By the end of Monday, the last day for nominations, more than 30 candidates, including a woman, had declared their nominations for the post but the absence of consensus between the Kurdish parties on a single candidate, meant the vote was delayed until Thursday.

The president in the Iraqi constitution does not have wide executive powers, but could play a pivotal role in resolving disputes between Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region, and between the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish powers in Baghdad. 

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the largest Kurdish parties in Iraq control more than 50 seats in parliament. The two parties have shared the federal posts allocated to the Kurds for the last 15 years. Voting for the PUK’s presidential candidate had become a tradition, but the insistence of the KDP to compete for the post this time has confused Iraq’s parties and forced them to renegotiate.

“It is time to get this position back to the larger Kurdish bloc,” Irdlan Noor Al-Deen, a KDP leader and MP said. “We are insisting to compete for the post ... and we will not discuss the option of stepping down.”

The failure of the Kurds to agree on a single candidate will threaten the stability of the Kurdish region and deepen the disagreement between the two Kurdish parties that arose in October last year when Kurdish forces associated with the PUK refused to fight Iraqi security forces after they launched a campaign to regain central government control over the disputed areas between Baghdad and Erbil. The offensive was in response to the independence  referendum held a month earlier.

The two parties are squaring up in elections scheduled for next week for the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Azad Warti, a PUK leader, said that if the political “fire” from the KDP continued after the elections “we will review our relationship with them.”

“There are a lot of joints areas between us ... and continuing with this approach means that we may not continue with them in the same front,” he said.

Last week, the PUK’s leadership nominated the Kurdish veteran politician Barham Salih, while the KDP nominated Fuad Hussein, the head of the Kurdistan Regional Presidency Office and personal secretary of Massoud Barzani, the most prominent Kurdish leader and former president of the Kurdish region.

It is not clear why Barzani, who headed the KDP, suddenly insisted on the presidential candidacy. Some observers see this step as an attempt to seek revenge against the Kurdish and Shiite forces that rejected the independence referendum and supported Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi when he imposed a series of financial and administrative sanctions on Kurdistan.

“Barzani is looking to get revenge from the leaders of the PUK because he believes that they let him down in his battle with Baghdad when he held the referendum,” Abdulwahid Tuama, a political analyst told Arab News.

“Also, getting the post for the KDP candidate will reinforce the divisions between the PUK and its Kurdish allies in Baghdad, and this will provide the KDP with a great opportunity to be the touchstone in the ongoing negotiations to form a government in Baghdad.”

The major Shiite blocs, which initially declared their support for Barham Salih, have now said they do not mind if the KDP takes over the president, but stipulated the replacement of the party's official candidate.

“Fouad Hussein was rejected by all Shiite political forces. We told Barzani that we have no objection to voting for his candidate, but he has to nominate someone else,” A key Shiite negotiator told Arab News.

“Hussein is the private secretary of Barzani and if he is elected as president of Iraq, it means that the president will be Barzani’s secretary.

“This is an insult to the country and to all, and we will never accept it.”

Iran and the United States have been the most prominent international players in Iraq since 2003. Both are deeply involved in the ongoing negotiations between Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni parties. 

Brett McGurk, the US envoy to Iraq and Syria, has played a key role in naming Barham Salih as a candidate for the PUK, while Gen. Qassim Sulaimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, flew to Erbil on Sunday evening to meet Barzani and “persuade him to abandon his stubbornness and accept a compromise that excludes both candidates (Salih and Hussein),” two Shiite negotiators told Arab News. 

“Sulaimani went last night to Erbil to smooth the tension and try to find a solution that would be accepted by all the related parties,” a key Shiite negotiator told Arab News.

“He will suggest to provide a new candidate who should be accepted by all Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni parties. 

The negotiator said parliament may vote to reelect Fuad Massum, the outgoing Iraqi president, as he is accepted by all.