Ankara shifting towards EU amid sanction fears

Ankara shifting towards EU amid sanction fears
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks virtually to ruling party members from his Vahdettin Pavilion, in Istanbul, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 24 November 2020

Ankara shifting towards EU amid sanction fears

Ankara shifting towards EU amid sanction fears
  • Experts say looming threat is motivating Erdogan into ‘mending’ ties with West

ANKARA: Turkey is attempting to mend its fragile relationship with Brussels as the threat of imminent EU sanctions looms over the country, experts have said.

Ankara’s shift started when Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin met EU officials in Brussels on Friday, days after EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said no “positive signals” were coming from Turkey over the Mediterranean dispute.

It took one day for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said earlier that “Turkey’s place is in Europe,” to call on the EU to keep its promises on Turkey’s EU membership process and the refugee issue.

In recent weeks, Erdogan drafted a democratic reform agenda in order to win the hearts and minds of those in Brussels.

However, experts have warned that “Ankara’s actions matter more than words.”

Sinem Adar, an associate at the Center for Applied Turkey Studies in the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said there are four simultaneous factors motivating the recent statements by the Turkish government.

“The first has to do with the domestic situation. Here, it is necessary to think of Finance Minister Berat Albayrak’s resignation and the ensuing emphasis on upcoming reforms, mainly in economy and law, together with the conflict within the ruling alliance that appears to be over the limits of potential reforms, but in reality, is about political power,” she told Arab News.

Adar said that Erdogan’s space to maneuver is narrowing as the influence of MHP leader Devlet Bahceli becomes more pronounced within the ruling alliance.

“Secondly, these calls are definitely connected to the incoming Biden administration, during which resolving issues through personal relations between the two leaders will not be as easy as it was under the Trump administration,” she said.

Thirdly, Adar added, Ankara is trying to prevent possible sanctions by the US and EU. US sanctions will likely come in the form of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) and Halkbank trial on evasion of US sanctions on Iran.

Karol Wasilewski, an analyst with the Polish Institute of International Affairs, said there are two interconnected motives behind Turkey’s recent moves, the first being related to protecting the Turkish economy and the second about changing US leadership.

“With Trump gone and Biden in, the Turks are aware that the ‘free ride’ period — where Turkey’s actions were not met with proper consequences — is over,” he told Arab News.

“Biden will not be as willing to shield Turkey from CAATSA sanctions or the fallout from the Halkbank issue by obstructing the US judiciary as Trump supposedly was, and these two issues could sink Turkey’s economy, while also having a negative impact on Erdogan’s power,” Wasilewski added.

He added that the sudden Turkish “U-turn” is an attempt to “buy some more time” and convince Western partners that Turkey is “ready for a reset.”

Meanwhile, Turkey sent its seismic research vessel Oruc Reis back into EU waters on Nov. 21 for another eight days ahead of the EU leaders’ summit on Dec. 10 and 11, where the possibility of further sanctions against Turkey over its Mediterranean activities will be discussed.

“Given the depth of the economic crisis today in Turkey, sanctions would make an already bad situation worse. These signals both to the US and the EU also have to do with the poor balancing act that Ankara has been trying to play for a while now between Russia and the transatlantic alliance,” Adar said.

From that perspective, Adar added, it is no coincidence that Turkish messages to the US propose that Ankara “could be a partner” with the US in containing Russia.

“On the one hand, Turkey is signaling its willingness to restore relations with the US and EU, and, at the same, it keeps emphasizing the autonomy of Turkish foreign policy and seems to expect understanding from the US on its efforts to pull itself up by its bootstraps,” Adar said.

Wasilewski said that re-energizing the accession process is not possible as it would require a “deep democratization of Turkey,” including rebuilding institutions, modifying the presidential system and reintroducing a free media and judicial independence.

“And this runs counter to the basic interest of the Erdogan regime, which is survival,” he added.

“The furthest the EU and Turkey can go in the these circumstances is to find a new formula of relations, like modernizing the customs union. But even this would be uneasy, as it would require changes in Turkey’s foreign and domestic policies.”

Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation

Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation
A military vehicle is stationed on the tarmac of Yemen’s Aden airport. Yemen says the Stockholm Agreement has failed to bring peace to the country. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 January 2021

Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation

Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation
  • International community urged not to surrender to ‘blackmailing and intimidation’ 
  • Stockholm Agreement has failed to bring peace, Yemen PM said

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s prime minister has vowed to address any impact on humanitarian assistance or the remittances of citizens abroad following the US move to designate the Iran-backed Houthis as a terrorist organization.

Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed also urged the international community not to surrender to “Houthi blackmailing” and intimidation.
Saeed defended his government’s strong support of the designation during a virtual interview with foreign journalists sponsored by the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies.
He said that his government had formed a committee to handle any effects on the delivery of humanitarian assistance inside Houthi-controlled areas and the remittances of Yemenis abroad.
“We are determined to prevent any impact of the decision on the Yemenis. We have formed a committee to mitigate effects of the decision,” he said.
When the US announced its intention to designate the Houthi movement as a terrorist organization last week, Yemen’s government quickly urged the US administration to put the decision in place, predicting it would stop Houthi crimes and their looting of humanitarian assistance, and would smoothe the way for peace.
Referring to the impact of the US designation on peace talks between the Yemeni government and the Houthis, Saeed said that the decision would not undermine peace efforts. He said that the Houthis would be accepted as part of the Yemeni political and social spectrum when they abandoned hard-line ideologies and embraced equality and justice.

The Yemeni government agreed to go to Stockholm for reaching a solution to stop fighting and saving the city. This model has failed.

Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed, Yemen’s prime minister

“This is an important pressure card on them and a real definition of them,” he said, adding that the Yemenis would not allow the Houthi movement to rule them.
“Yemen would not be ruled by a racist and terrorist group,” he said.
Formed under the Riyadh Agreement, Yemen’s new government’s ministers narrowly escaped death on Dec. 30 when three precision-guided missiles ripped through Aden airport shortly after their plane touched down.
The government accused the Houthis of staging the attack, saying that missile fragments collected from the airport showed that they were similar to missiles that targeted Marib city in the past.
The prime minister said that the Yemeni government had offered many concessions to reach an agreement to end the war. It had agreed to engage in direct talks with the Houthis in Stockholm in 2018 despite the fact that the Yemeni government forces were about to seize control of the Red Sea city of Hodeidah. However, the Stockholm Agreement had failed to bring peace to Yemen, he said.
“The government forces were about to capture the city within five days maximum. The Yemeni government agreed to go to Stockholm for reaching a solution to stop fighting and saving the city. This model has failed,” Saeed said.
In Riyadh, Yemen’s president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi on Friday appointed Ahmed Obeid bin Daghar, a former prime minister and a senior adviser to the president, as president of the Shoura Council.
Hadi also appointed Ahmed Ahmed Al-Mousai as the country’s new attorney general.
Fighting continues
Heavy fighting between Yemeni government forces and the Houthis broke out on Sunday for the third consecutive day in contested areas in the districts of Hays and Durihimi in the western province of Hodeidah. Official media said that dozens of Houthi rebels and several government troops were killed in the fighting and loyalists pushed back three assaults by Houthis in Durihimi district.
In neighboring Hays, the Joint Forces media said on Sunday that the Houthis hit government forces with heavy weapons before launching a ground attack in an attempt to seize control of new areas in the district.
The Houthis failed to make any gains and lost dozens of fighters along with several military vehicles that were burnt in the fighting, the same media outlets said. Heavy artillery shelling and land mines planted by the Houthis have killed more than 500 civilians since late 2018, local rights groups said.