NATO leaders ramp up pressure on Turkey over S-400 missile system

France's President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel pose with NATO leaders including US President Donald Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the family photo at the NATO summit in London. (AFP)
Updated 05 December 2019

NATO leaders ramp up pressure on Turkey over S-400 missile system

  • Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says Turkey's S-400 system incompatible with NATO
  • Trump said imposing sanctions on Turkey over the Russian supplied missile system

LONDON: A missile defense system bought by Turkey from Russia is “in no way compatible” with NATO’s defense, the alliance said after a fractious meeting near London came to an end on Wednesday.

Ankara’s purchase of the S-400 system and recent testing on US-made jets has strained relations with Washington and other NATO members.

The 70th anniversary meeting was also overshadowed by Turkey’s military offensive into northern Syria and an agreement with one of Libya’s warring administrations over maritime borders in the Mediterranean.

Turkey has in the past been seen as an important regional NATO member, offering a base for US military planes and nuclear payloads. But some experts say Turkey’s actions are making it increasingly incompatible with other NATO countries.

Speaking after the meeting, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, made clear that the purchase of the missile defense system from Russia was in no way compatible with the alliance.

“That’s a national Turkish decision. Many allies have expressed concerns, I have also expressed my concerns about the consequences of that decision,” Stoltenberg said.

“A Russian air defense system, S-400, will never be integrated into NATO. It will never be part of the NATO integrated air and missile defense system.”

The US has repeatedly expressed its displeasure at the purchase, especially after Turkey started to test them against American supplied F-16 jets last month. The US has already punished Turkey by kicking it out of the F-35 joint strike fighter program. Trump said on Tuesday he was looking at imposing sanctions on Turkey over the missile system.

“The acquisition of these weapons is inconsistent with Turkey's obligations to NATO and President Trump was clear when he met with Erdogan last month and told him that this was unacceptable and inconsistent with Turkey's obligations,” Christiaan James, director of the Media Hub at the US Embassy in London said.

Turkey’s operation, launched in October against Kurdish militants in northern Syria, was also under scrutiny during the meeting at a hotel in Watford, just outside of London. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had wanted NATO to recognize the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) as terrorists, saying he would block an update to defense plans for the Baltic states and Poland if the alliance did not back him.

But after meetings between Erdogan, Trump and others, Turkey backed down and dropped its objections.

French President Emmanuel Macron has been particularly vocal in his criticism of Turkish policy in Syria. 

On Wednesday, those differences appeared unresolved by the meeting, with Macron saying they would have to "agree to disagree" over Turkey’s branding of Kurdish militias in Syria as “terrorist groups.”

“I don't see any possible consensus,” Macron said.

James said the US also expressed its concern about the incursion into northern Syria.

“We are cooperating and talking with the Turks about it, but there are differences in vision between Turkey and the United States, and this is a natural matter,” he added.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, painted a more positive picture of the summit, which, despite some awkward exchanges in the build-up between Macron and Trump and the US president’s anger at a conversation between some leader’s mocking him, appeared to have been more successful than the disastrous event in 2018.

“The issue of defense planning for the Baltic states and Poland was also accepted by Turkey,” she said. “That was an important step. Before the meeting began, there was still disagreement.”

She said she had discussed with Macron, Erdogan and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson a proposal put forward for a UN Security Zone in northern Syria that could allow refugees to return to the area from Turkey.

“We talked about the need for the United Nations, in particular the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to play a role in this process. After all, we can not accept that refugees go to an area that does not conform to the standards that the UN accepts,” she said.

Merkel added that Turkey was in discussions with the UNHCR, but said she “believes there can be no return at present to areas controlled by Syrian forces.”


Religious freedom: Italian govt, Muslim representatives sign memorandum

Muslims hold congregational prayer, as Italy eases some of the lockdown measures put in place during the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Rome. (Reuters/File)
Updated 24 min 43 sec ago

Religious freedom: Italian govt, Muslim representatives sign memorandum

  • New agreement allows for imams to offer spiritual assistance to Muslim inmates in Italian prisons

ROME: An agreement between the Italian government and the Union of Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy (Italian: Unione delle Comunità e Organizzazioni Islamiche in Italia, UCOII) will allow imams to offer spiritual assistance to Muslim inmates detained in Italian prisons.

The memorandum of understanding follows an agreement signed last month between Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and representatives from Islamic communities in Italy on the reopening of mosques and prayer rooms as part of the country’s ‘Phase 2’ response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis. The agreement is considered by Muslim representatives as a step toward official recognition of Islam as a religion in Italy.

According to the Italian Ministry of Justice, nearly 10,000 of the 60,000 inmates detained in Italian prisons are foreigners, most of whom are from Morocco, Tunisia and Romania. Latest official figures show that 7,200 inmates are observant Muslims, with 97 considered imams as they guide prayers within jails and 44 saying they converted to Islam during their detention.

In only few Italian jails, however, are Muslim inmates provided with spaces dedicated for prayer, which are not sufficient to meet the demand. By contrast, every prison has a Roman Catholic chapel where religious services are regularly held by priests, most of whom are paid by the Italian state.

The memorandum was signed by Department of Penitentiary Administration Chief Judge Bernardo Petralia and UCOII President Yassine Lafram.

“It implements the principle of religious freedom for all citizens established in the Constitution of the Italian Republic, which guarantees prisoners the right to profess their religious faith also while they are in detention. Considering the increasing multiethnicity of the Italian prison population, it is necessary to allow every religion to be professed in a proper way,” a statement from the Italian Ministry of Justice says.

According to the protocol, UCOII will provide prison administration with a list of people who “perform the functions of imam in Italy” and who are “interested in guiding prayers and worship within prisons nationwide.” The list will also specify at which mosque or prayer room each Imam normally performs his worship. Imams will have to indicate their preference for three provinces where they would be willing to lead prayers for inmates.

As no official agreement or law yet regulates in full the relationship between the Italian state and the Islamic communities in the country, the names of Imams on the list will have to be submitted to the Ministry of the Interior so that they may receive official authorization to perform their duties inside prisons.

Lafram said that he was “extremely satisfied” with this agreement with the Italian State.

“With this new protocol, it will be possible to have imams lead prayers in every prison in Italy. This is a sign of the excellent result obtained thus far for a pilot project we have carried out in the past five years in eight Italian prisons,” Lafram said.

Since 2015, some rooms have been made available to Muslim inmates for prayer, but the congregation had nobody to lead prayers or to preach, except during extraordinary times of the year like Ramadan. Due to the COVID-19 emergency, no one from outside was allowed access to prisons in order to prevent the spread infection. As a consequence, no spiritual assistance was available to Muslim inmates even within the few prisons that had a space for prayer and meditation.

“Spiritual assistance to prisoners is necessarily part of the process of reintegration into civil society, as stated in the Constitution of the Italian Republic,” Lafram told Italian news agency ANSA.

"With this agreement, we aim to promote social rehabilitation of the inmate, but also to…avoid any phenomenon of radicalization, which may be triggered by a condition of general resentment towards society," he added.

Lafram expressed his wish that greater attentiveness to the needs of Islamic communities across Italy would eventually lead to formal recognition of the religion in the country. He thanked Minister of Justice Alfonso Bonafede for “showing no prejudices toward the Islamic communities in Italy."

"This is an important step in the context of an ever-greater collaboration between our religious community and the Italian State in the general interest of the country’s welfare,” he said.