Kremlin: Putin has no plans so far to attend Syria peace congress

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov visit the Gorbunov Aviation factory in Kazan, Russia, on Thursday. (Reuters)
Updated 27 January 2018
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Kremlin: Putin has no plans so far to attend Syria peace congress

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin currently has no plans to attend a Syria peace congress in the Russian city of Sochi, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday.
Peskov said the congress, which Russia will host on Monday and Tuesday, will be important but will not find a definitive political solution to the Syria crisis.
Putin also discussed the situation in Syria’s Afrin with the national security council on Friday, Interfax news agency cited Peskov as saying.
Peskov said Putin spoke about Afrin in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday.
The Syrian opposition was expected to decide on Friday whether to attend the congress, a spokesman said in Vienna as the UN held separate talks on finding a way out of conflict.
The UN-brokered talks — of which this is the ninth round — have made little progress so far.
Having regained the upper hand on the battlefield after nearly seven years of conflict, President Bashar Assad appears unwilling to negotiate with his enemies at all, let alone step down as part of any peaceful solution as opposition groups have demanded.
Arriving at the UN offices in Vienna on Friday, the talks’ host, UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, told reporters he expected “a long meeting.”
With a breakthrough unlikely, a question at the center of Friday’s discussions was whether the opposition will attend a Syria peace conference next week in the Russian Black Sea resort town of Sochi, which Moscow announced after the last round of UN talks in December.
Western powers and some Arab states believe Sochi is an attempt to create a parallel political track that would undermine the UN and lay groundwork for a solution more suitable to the Damascus regime and its allies.
The warring sides have not spoken face to face — a Syrian regime delegation was due to meet De Mistura in the afternoon. De Mistura was expected to make a statement at the end of the talks.
Previous rounds have taken place sporadically in Geneva, with a mandate to discuss new elections, reformed governance, a new constitution and the fight against terrorism.
At the last round in December, the Syrian regime delegation objected to the opposition’s tough line on the future of Assad, and those talks achieved nothing.
Syrian regime forces are pursuing offensives against two remaining opposition pockets, Idlib in the northwest and Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.
Speaking in Abu Dhabi, US House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Thursday that he did not envision a “strategic alliance” with Russia in Syria as Washington looks to end Daesh and curb Iran.
“I don’t see strategic alliance — perhaps tactical symmetry for a convenient moment, but not a strategic alliance,” the high-ranking Republican said during a public debate on a visit to Abu Dhabi.
“What matters most to us in Syria is defeating ISIS (Daesh) and preventing Iran from having a land bridge and Hezbollah a foothold,” he said. “Question remains is that something Russia would embrace?”

Military base
Danny Danon, Israel’s UN ambassador, accused Iran of attempting to turn Syria into “the largest military base in the world” to destabilize the region, threaten Israel and “terrorize the entire free world.”
Danon told the UN Security Council that classified information he was releasing showed that 82,000 fighters are currently under Iranian authority in Syria.
He said the fighters include 60,000 Syrians, 9,000 members of Hezbollah, 3,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guard members and “10,000 members of violent militias recruited from across the Middle East, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Danon said the Iranians “speak about 100,000 troops under their control in Syria.”
In addition, he said, Iran is investing “hundreds of millions of dollars” in Syria including on land and factories.


Turkey seeks to soothe markets over tensions with US

Updated 16 August 2018
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Turkey seeks to soothe markets over tensions with US

  • The Turkish currency is being pummeled as a result of a diplomatic standoff with its NATO ally the US
  • Turkey has also in recent days shown appetite to repair ties with Europe after a crisis sparked by Ankara’s crackdown on alleged plotters of the 2016 failed coup

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s finance minister Berat Albayrak will on Thursday seek to soothe the markets over the lira’s dramatic fall in the wake of escalating tensions with the US.
Some 3,000 investors from the US, Europe and Asia registered to join a conference call with Albayrak at 1300 GMT, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
Albayrak, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law, was appointed last month and faces a tough task in getting the economy in order.
He will be hoping to make a stronger impression than last Friday when he made a long-planned presentation on Turkey’s growth strategy at the very moment the lira was in freefall.
“This is Albayrak’s last chance to prove three things: that he understands what is happening, that he can react accordingly and that he has influence over Erdogan,” a European diplomatic source said on condition of anonymity.
The Turkish currency is being pummeled as a result of a diplomatic standoff with its NATO ally the US — over the detention by Ankara of an American pastor — which has snowballed into one of the worst crisis in bilateral ties in years.
The lira was being traded at 5.7 against the dollar and 6.5 against euro — after it lost nearly a quarter of its value on Friday and Monday.
The slight rebound comes after the Turkish central bank took a raft of measures to keep financial stability and ensure Turkish banks have sufficient liquidity.
However, analysts say such measures are far from satisfactory and call for a sharp hike in interest rates — strongly opposed by Erdogan’s government which sees economic growth as its top priority.
“So far, Turkey does not seem to be changing its policies fast enough,” Berenberg economist Holger Schmieding commented.
“As a result, the risk is mounting that the Turkish economy may contract for a while in the absence of a credible policy change fast.”
Tensions between Ankara and Washington have risen after Turkey refused to free US pastor Andrew Brunson detained in October 2016 on charges of terror and espionage and who is currently under house arrest.
US President Donald Trump tweeted last Friday that Washington was doubling aluminum and steel tariffs for Ankara, a move that sent the lira into a tailspin.
In response, Erdogan has called for a boycott of US electronic goods such as the iPhone and Ankara has sharply hiked tariffs on some US products, in a move called “regrettable” by the White House.
Erdogan has shown no little willingness to compromise with the US and vowed to emerge victorious from the “economic attack” while slamming the lira crash as a “political plot.”
He has also warned Ankara could start looking for new allies, new markets after its partnership with Washington may be in jeopardy.
Qatar, backed by Erdogan during the Saudi-led embargoes on the emirate in 2017, on Wednesday pledged to channel $15 billion direct investment into Turkey, a sign of burgeoning ties between the two countries.
Turkey has also in recent days shown appetite to repair ties with Europe after a crisis sparked by Ankara’s crackdown on alleged plotters of the 2016 failed coup.
Erdogan is due to hold a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday a day after speaking with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
An Istanbul court ordered the release of Amnesty International’s Turkey chair Taner Kilic Wednesday who has spent more than a year in jail over alleged links to the 2016 coup bid.