US rejects Turkey’s offer to release pastor

Defiant Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan whipped up nationalism at a party rally in Ankara. (AFP)
Updated 21 August 2018
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US rejects Turkey’s offer to release pastor

  • The assailants fired six bullets at an embassy security gate from a passing white vehicle around 5.30 a.m. local time (0230 GMT)
  • The lira has tumbled some 40 percent this year, hit by worries about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s influence over monetary policy

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump’s administration has rejected Turkey’s offer to condition the release of an American pastor on clearing a top Turkish bank of billions of dollars in US fines, media reported on Monday.
Washington and Ankara are locked in a bitter feud over the nearly two-year jailing of Andrew Brunson over disputed terror charges, which has triggered a trade row and sent the lira into a tailspin.
In exchange for Brunson’s release, and that of other US citizens as well as three Turkish nationals working for the US government, Turkey asked Washington to drop a probe into Halkbank, which is facing possible fines for helping Iran evade US sanctions.
But the US said that discussions regarding the fines and other areas of dispute between the two countries were off the table until Brunson was released, a White House official told the Wall Street Journal.
“A real NATO ally wouldn’t have arrested Brunson in the first place,” the unnamed official said.
Trump has said he had doubled the tariffs on aluminum and steel tariffs from Turkey, prompting Ankara to sharply hike tariffs on several US products.

Court blow
A court has rejected another appeal to free Brunson and Turkey has threatened to respond in kind if Washington imposed further sanctions.
The lira has tumbled some 40 percent this year, hit by worries about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s influence over monetary policy and a worsening diplomatic rift with the US. The sell-off has spread to other emerging market currencies and global stocks in recent weeks.
Responding to the recent currency sell-off in stark religious and nationalist terms, Erdogan said an attack on Turkey’s economy was no different from a strike against its flag or the Islamic call to prayer.
In a pre-recorded address to mark the four-day Eid Al-Adha festival, a defiant Erdogan said the aim of the currency crisis was to bring “Turkey and its people to their knees.”
“The attack on our economy has absolutely no difference from attacks on our call to prayer and our flag. The goal is the same. The goal is to bring Turkey and the Turkish people to their knees — to take it prisoner,” Erdogan said in the televised address.
“Those who think they can make Turkey give in with the exchange rate will soon see that they are mistaken.”
Erdogan stopped short of directly naming any countries or institutions, but he has, in the past, blamed a shadowy “interest rate lobby,” Western ratings agencies and financiers.
Meanwhile, Turkish authorities detained two men suspected of shooting at the US Embassy in Ankara.
Nobody was hurt in Monday’s attack, which President Erdogan’s spokesman condemned as an attempt “to create chaos.”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said it had increased security for the embassy and other US missions and employees in Turkey.
The assailants fired six bullets at an embassy security gate from a passing white vehicle around 5.30 a.m. local time (0230 GMT), three bullets hitting an iron door and a window, the Ankara governor’s office said.
The office issued another statement on Monday evening saying two men in their late 30s had been detained and a vehicle and pistol seized and that the men had confessed to the shooting.
It said both suspects had criminal records and their links were being investigated.
Video footage from broadcaster Haberturk showed police teams inspecting one of the entrances to the embassy and apparent damage caused by a gunshot could be seen in one window. It said empty cartridges were found at the scene.


Sabotage of oil tankers stirs concerns over Gulf shipping

Updated 22 May 2019
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Sabotage of oil tankers stirs concerns over Gulf shipping

  • The acts of sabotage near the UAE coast highlight new threat to maritime traffic and global oil supplies
  • Experts say increased threat to navigation and global oil supplies not limited regionally but has global dimension

DUBAI: Amid rising tensions between the US and Iran, sabotage attacks on four commercial vessels off the coast of the UAE’s Fujairah port have raised serious questions about maritime security in the Gulf.

The incidents, which included attacks on two Saudi oil tankers, were revealed by the UAE government on May 12, drawing strong condemnation from governments in the Middle East and around the world as well as the Arab League.

Now experts have warned that the sabotage attacks highlight a new threat to maritime traffic and global oil supplies.

A Saudi government source said: “This criminal act constitutes a serious threat to the security and safety of maritime navigation, and adversely affects regional and international peace and security.”

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said the incidents threatened international maritime traffic.

While crimes on the high seas, including piracy, have tapered off in recent years, the attacks on the ships, three of which are registered to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have called into question common assumptions about the Gulf’s stability.

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Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser at Gulf State Analytics in Washington D.C., said governments of the Gulf region are mandated to watch over oceans and waterways. “On top of this requirement is the need for a new regime of maritime coordination to prevent attacks on shipping because of the repercussions for logistical chains, corporate strategies and insurance rates,” he told Arab News.

The sabotage attacks took place east of Fujairah port, outside the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway through which most Gulf oil exports pass and which Iran has threatened to block in the event of a military confrontation with the US.

Johan Obdola, president of the International Organization for Security and Intelligence, said the recent attacks underscore the need for closer intelligence-coordinated capabilities among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, including satellite communication and maritime or vessel security technology.

“The threats to oil tankers are not limited to the Gulf, but have a global dimension,” he said.

According to Obdola: “A coordinated joint task force integrating oil, intelligence security and military forces should be (established) to project and prepare (for potential future attacks). This is a time to be as united as ever.”

GCC countries have intensified security in international waters, the US navy said. Additionally, two US guided-missile destroyers entered the Gulf on May 16 in response to what the US called signs of possible Iranian aggression.

“The attack has brought (the region) a bit closer to a possible military confrontation amid the escalation in tensions between the US and Iran,” Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a former chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences, told Arab News.

He said Iran is purposely dragging Saudi Arabia, the UAE and possibly other Gulf countries into its fight with the US. “The credibility of the US is at stake and Trump has said he will meet any aggression with unrelenting force. If Iran continues on this path, we might see some kind of a military showdown on a limited scale.”

Given the importance of the region’s oil supplies to the US, Abdulla said “it’s not just the responsibility of Arab Gulf states but an international responsibility” to keep the shipping lanes safe.