Turkey-US rift widens with sanctions against ministers

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shakes hands with Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu as he arrives at Anitkabir in Ankara on Thursday. (Reuters)
Updated 02 August 2018
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Turkey-US rift widens with sanctions against ministers

  • Turkey will refuse to make any concessions on judicial independence in the face of the Trump administration’s threats
  • The longer the Brunson situation remains unresolved the more likely that US-Turkish relations will remain strained and further deteriorate

ANKARA: Washington and Ankara are heading into increasingly turbulent waters as the NATO allies take unprecedented steps against each other.

On Wednesday, the US Treasury issued sanctions against Turkish officials, including Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, in retaliation for Turkey’s detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was held for almost for two years before recently being placed under house arrest.
The US Treasury views Brunson’s arrest as a serious human rights abuse.
Assets and properties of the two Turkish officials under US jurisdiction will be blocked and US citizens will be forbidden from engaging in financial transactions with them.
The US has prepared a list of Turkish entities and individuals to target if Ankara refuses to release the pastor. The sanctions are based on the Global Magnitsky Act of 2016, which allows Washington to target individuals, companies or other entities involved in human rights abuses around the world.
On the same day, the US Senate overwhelmingly approved a defense policy bill which includes a halt to the sale of F-35 jets to Turkey until the Pentagon issues a report within three months. Ankara has been engaged in the F-35 program since 1999, while the Turkish defense industry has played an active role in the production of the aircraft.
However, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey will refuse to make any concessions on judicial independence in the face of the Trump administration’s threats.
As well as Brunson, NASA scientist Serkan Golge and three Turkish employees from the US mission in Turkey have also been detained over alleged links to terror organizations.
The US economic assaults are expected to continue with a hefty fine on state-run Turkish Halkbank for its role in evading US sanctions against Iran. The sanctions will severely damage the Turkish banking sector, according to some experts.
Following the announcement, Turkey’s lira already hit a record low of five against the dollar.
Experts believe that Ankara is likely to take counter-measures against Washington, possibly even seizing the assets of the US president and government leaders in Turkey, including Trump Tower in Istanbul.
As a second option, another attempt to contain the crisis through high-level meetings may also be on table.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to meet his Turkish counterpart shortly.
“We all know that there are serious flaws in Turkish justice system and its independence must be improved. We in Turkey work hard toward that goal and will be pleased to see constructive support in this regard,” Mehmet Ogutcu, a former Turkish diplomat and chairman of the Bosphorus Energy Club, told Arab News.
However, for Ogutcu, such an intervention from the US side is counterproductive and will harden Turkey’s resolve to guard its sovereign rights and national pride.
“Turkey, a powerful NATO ally, an OECD member and EU partner, cannot be treated like North Korea, Iran or Russia. The relations will benefit from a comprehensive overhaul of diplomatic, security and economic ties, as well as positive engagement rather than such treats and sanctions,” he said.
Jonathan Katz, a senior fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said that the detention of the pastor is merely one symptom of a deepening rift.
“If the Brunson case was an isolated one it would be significant, but given historic distrust between Washington and Ankara it is magnified tenfold,” he said.
“There is a strong belief across the political spectrum in Washington, not only in the Trump administration, that Brunson is being unfairly used as a pawn to achieve certain objectives of Erdogan.”
According to Katz, this feeds into a widely accepted narrative in Washington and the West that Turkey under Erdogan leadership has drifted toward authoritarianism, away from the West and NATO, and discarded democracy, human rights and rule of law.
“The longer the Brunson situation remains unresolved the more likely that US-Turkish relations will remain strained and further deteriorate. It will also make it more difficult to collectively address other challenges in the bilateral relationship, including policy toward Syria, Turkey’s relations with Russia and its purchase of S-400 missile system,” he said.
Experts also caution about a potential tit-for-tat response on sanctions between the two countries, which would further strain relations.
“Ankara could immediately deescalate this situation, including reversing US application of sanctions, by releasing Brunson and canceling its purchase of the Russian S-400 system,” Katz said.
A more comprehensive strategy was needed to rebuild trust and break the current impasse, he said.


Sudan’s military council, opposition coalition agree political accord

Updated 17 July 2019
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Sudan’s military council, opposition coalition agree political accord

  • The constitutional declaration is expected to be signed on Friday
  • The deal aims to help the political transition in Sudan

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s ruling military council and an opposition alliance signed a political accord on Wednesday as part of a power-sharing deal aimed at leading the country to democracy following three decades of autocratic rule.

The agreement, which ended days of speculation about whether a deal announced earlier this month would hold, was initialed in Khartoum in the presence of African mediators following a night of talks to iron out some details of the agreement.

Sudan’s stability is crucial for the security of a volatile region stretching from the Horn of Africa to Libya that is riven by conflict and power struggles.

The deal is meant to pave the way to a political transition after military leaders ousted former President Omar Al-Bashir in April following weeks of protests against his rule.

At least 128 people were killed during a crackdown that began when security forces dispersed a protest camp outside the Defense Ministry in central Khartoum in June, according to medics linked to the opposition. The Health Ministry had put the death toll at 61.

A political standoff between Sudan’s military rulers and protesters threatened to drag the country of 40 million toward further violence before African mediators managed to bridge the gap between the two sides.

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the deputy head of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council, hailed the agreement as the start of a new partnership between the armed forces, including the paramilitary forces he leads, and the opposition coalition of Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC).

Ibrahim Al-Amin, an FFC leader, said the accord signaled a new era of self-reliance for Sudan’s people.

“We want a stable homeland, because we have suffered a great deal,” Amin said in a speech after the ceremony.

Ethiopian mediator Mahmud Dirir said Sudan, long under international isolation over the policies of Bashir’s Islamist administration, needed to overcome poverty and called for the country to be taken of a US list of states that support terrorism.

The sides are still working on a constitutional declaration, which is expected to be signed on Friday.

Power-sharing deal

Under the power-sharing deal reached earlier this month, the two sides agreed to share power in a sovereign council during a transitional period of just over three years.

They also agreed to form an independent government of technocrats to run the country and to launch a transparent, independent investigation into the violence.

The power-sharing agreement reached earlier this month called for a sovereign council comprised of 11 members — five officers selected by the military council, five civilians chosen by the FFC and another civilian to be agreed upon by both sides.

The constitutional declaration will now decide the duties and responsibilities of the sovereign council.

The military was to head the council during the first 21 months of the transitional period while a civilian would head the council during the remaining 18 months.

But the agreement was thrown into doubt when new disputes surfaced last week over the military council’s demand for immunity for council members against prosecution.

The military council also demanded that the sovereign council would retain ultimate decision-making powers rather than the government.