Facing Biden, Erdogan extends olive branch to EU

Facing Biden, Erdogan extends olive branch to EU
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting in Istanbul onJan. 15, 2021. (Turkish Presidency via AP, Pool)
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Updated 17 January 2021

Facing Biden, Erdogan extends olive branch to EU

Facing Biden, Erdogan extends olive branch to EU
  • While Erdogan speaks of turning “a new page,” the list of European grievances is long
  • His direct military interventions in the Syrian and Libyan conflicts raised hackles in Europe

ANKARA: Facing a potentially hostile US administration, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trying to break his isolation by mending EU relations, torn by what the bloc views as his bellicose foreign policy.
Ties between Ankara and Brussels have plunged to a nadir not seen since Turkey formally opened talks to join the bloc in 2005, a process which is now frozen.
And while Erdogan speaks of turning “a new page,” the list of European grievances is long.
Most recently, Brussels began drawing up a list of sanctions over Turkey’s hunt for natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean, which triggered a naval standoff with Greece last year.
But older suspicions simmer.
Erdogan’s direct military interventions in the Syrian and Libyan conflicts raised hackles in Europe, while his vocal backing of Azerbaijan in the six-week Nagorno-Karabakh war upset Armenia’s allies across the West.
Erdogan’s threats to send millions of Syrian and other refugees Turkey is hosting to Europe if the bloc fails to provide more funding are a constant menace.
And he has made the animosity personal by attacking French President Emmanuel Macron’s treatment of Muslims, which Europe counters by pointing to Turkey’s grim record on human rights.
Some believe this standoff is unsustainable for Erdogan.
“Ankara cannot afford an escalation with both the US and Europe, especially with an economy this fragile,” a European diplomat told AFP.

'Looking for friends anywhere'
Turkey’s heavy dependence on Europe is borne out by the numbers.
EU member states accounted for 67.2 percent of foreign direct investments in Turkey between 2002-2018, according to official data.
With foreign sentiment dented, the Turkish lira lost a fifth of its value against the dollar last year, forcing the central bank to burn through most of its reserves trying to prop up the currency.
Then Erdogan parted ways with his powerful son-in-law, who served as finance minister and bore the blame for Turkey’s economic woes.
A few days later, Erdogan first mentioned reforms and “turning a new page” in relations with Europe.
“Erdogan is looking for friends anywhere and everywhere,” said Ilke Toygur, an analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, and Elcano Royal Institute.
To this end, Erdogan held a meeting on Tuesday with EU ambassadors — described as “positive” by some of those who took part — while Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will visit Brussels on Thursday.
Macron and Erdogan have also exchanged letters that Cavusoglu said could help reboot their relations, leading to a possible video conference call.

Mounting domestic pressure
US President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump, who once called the Turkish leader a “good friend,” appears to be at least partially responsible for Erdogan’s shift in tone.
“Biden’s victory has reshuffled the cards. Turkey expects the next US administration will be less inclined to let it off the hook,” the European diplomat said.
Certain appointments by Biden are likely to raise hairs in Ankara, none more so than Brett McGurk’s naming to the National Security Council, where he will oversee the Middle East and Africa.
McGurk has been an outspoken critic of Turkey’s policy on Syria, where the US supports a Kurdish militia that Ankara blames for attacks on its soil, and will play an important role in shaping Washington’s relations with Erdogan.
“This seeming call for a rapprochement with the EU can be interpreted as preparation” for Biden, said Sinem Adar, an associate at the Center for Applied Turkey Studies in Berlin.
Erdogan was once part of a select group of leaders who could dial up Trump directly on the phone, but Adar said the loss of this privilege with Biden is not the only factor behind the attempted rapprochement.
He faces “mounting domestic pressure due to economic woes accentuated by Covid-19” and a “decreasing vote share” for his ruling party and its nationalist junior partners, Adar said.

Demonstration of goodwill sought
Erdogan could demonstrate his goodwill by easing the pressure on his political opponents, some of whom are facing high-profile trials.
“For any signal from Ankara to mend relations with the EU to be perceived credible by the union, Ankara is expected to shift gears” on the rule of law and human rights as well as Turkey’s confrontational foreign policy, Adar told AFP.
Analyst Toygur said she did not think any specific action could provide a “demonstration of goodwill” from Erodgan.
But she said the sides could find points of contact on managing illegal migration, since it is “an issue of utmost importance for the stability of the EU.”
Ankara is also hoping to update the sides’ Customs Union, although Toygur said the bloc was likely to be “more demanding” on this front.
But while Europe wants to avoid further strains with Turkey, Western diplomats point to a low appetite for a rapprochement in some EU corners.
“Turkey’s charm offensive has left many European countries skeptical,” the European diplomat said.


Turkey, Iran at odds over operations on Iraqi soil

Turkey, Iran at odds over operations on Iraqi soil
Turkey has deployed several military outposts deep inside Iraqi territories for decades. (Reuters/File)
Updated 29 min 42 sec ago

Turkey, Iran at odds over operations on Iraqi soil

Turkey, Iran at odds over operations on Iraqi soil
  • Rhetorical tensions will escalate, but direct or proxy conflict highly unlikely: Oxford academic

ANKARA: The diplomatic crisis between Ankara and Tehran has escalated following the latest statement from Iran’s Ambassador to Baghdad Iraj Masjedi, who reiterated an opposition to Turkish military intervention in Iraq, a new move that highlights a broader rivalry between the two countries in the region.

“Turkish forces should not pose a threat or violate Iraqi soil,” Masjedi said on Sunday.
“We do not accept at all, be it Turkey or any other country, to intervene in Iraq militarily or advance or have a military presence in Iraq,” he said, calling on Ankara to withdraw its troops from Iraq and respect international borders.
“The security of the Iraqi area should be maintained by Iraqi forces and (Kurdistan) region forces in their area,” he said.
Turkey has deployed several military outposts deep inside Iraqi territories for decades to eradicate the presence of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Its forces conduct aerial and ground cross-border operations, which have increased in recent years.
These operations have recently drawn anger from Baghdad over territorial violations of Turkish forces and aircraft. But Ankara has continued airstrikes in the Kurdistan region of Iraq to kill senior members of the PKK.
The latest Turkish operation on Feb. 19 to free 13 nationals held captive by the PKK for many years failed in the Gara mountains in northern Iraq.
While Ankara accused the PKK of killing the prisoners during the operation, the PKK asserted that Turkey fortuitously bombed the cave where the captives were held.
The Iran-backed Iraqi militia, the Popular Mobilization Units also known as Hashd Al-Shabi, has deployed three brigades to Sinjar along the Syrian border to counter Turkish moves in the region.
Ankara summoned the Iranian envoy on Sunday following his remarks on Iraq operations. “Ankara expects Iran to support, not oppose, Turkey’s fight against terrorism,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry reportedly told the ambassador.
“The Ambassador of Iran would be the last person to lecture Turkey about respecting the borders of Iraq,” said the Turkish Ambassador to Iraq Fatih Yildiz.
Turkey recently arrested an Iranian official Mohammad Reza Naserzadeh over the killing of an Iranian dissident, Masoud Molavi Vardanjani, who was murdered in Istanbul in November 2019. This move further strained ties between Turkey and Iran.
“Turkish-Iranian relations are set to become more turbulent,” Galip Dalay, an associate fellow at Chatham House in London, told Arab News.
“Iraq still stands as the most important Middle Eastern country for Iran. The increased military presence and political leverage of Turkey in northern Iraq increasingly disturbs Iran, while the Iraqi central government would not welcome any Turkish operation into Sinjar,” Dalay added.
According to Samuel Ramani, an academic and analyst at Oxford University, Turkey-Iran relations are volatile, as phases of escalated competition and cooperation quickly follow each other.
Ramani told Arab News: “Right now, we are entering a phase of heightened competition, as Turkey sees a rising security threat from the PKK in Iraq, while Iran’s relationship with Iraqi Kurdistan has a positive moment following Iran’s most-senior commander Qassem Soleimani’s death last year.”
He added that Turkey’s expanded bilateral engagement with Iraq threatens Iran’s aspirations for hegemony, and that Iran is trying to capitalize on latent discontent in Baghdad with expansive Turkish military operations that violate Iraqi sovereignty.
“There is a broader context of tension between Turkey and Iran. Russia-Iran relations are growing in the Caspian region to counter Turkey, Ankara has arrested alleged Iranian spies and both countries are disagreeing over the situation in northern Syria, especially Ayn Issa,” he said.
Given the broader state of tensions, Ramani expects Turkey and Iran to continue having a rhetorical war of words about the legitimacy of Ankara’s anti-PKK operations and of Iran’s interference in Iraq, but direct conflict between Iranian and Turkish forces or local allies is unlikely.
But Dalay expects that a US-supported Turkish operation into Sinjar is highly likely. He said that if the ongoing crisis between Hashd Al-Shabi and Ankara escalates, Iran is likely to be drawn into this regional equation.
“Hashd Al-Shabi provides a cover to the PKK in the region, while the presence of Shingal Resistance Units, a Yazidi militia that collaborates with Hashd Al-Shabi, could trigger an international awareness about the Yazidi religious minority,” he said.


Syria reports Israeli missile attack near capital, Damascus

Syria reports Israeli missile attack near capital, Damascus
Updated 01 March 2021

Syria reports Israeli missile attack near capital, Damascus

Syria reports Israeli missile attack near capital, Damascus
  • Israel has launched hundreds of strikes against Iran-linked military targets in Syria over the years, but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations
  • Israel views Iranian entrenchment on its northern frontier as a red line

DAMASCUS: Syrian air defenses were activated in the capital Damascus and its southern suburbs Sunday night to repel an Israeli missile attack, state media reported. There was no word on casualties.
State TV quoted an unnamed military official as saying that most of the Israeli missiles were shot down before reaching their targets near Damascus.
Israel has launched hundreds of strikes against Iran-linked military targets in Syria over the years, but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations.
Israel views Iranian entrenchment on its northern frontier as a red line, and it has repeatedly struck Iran-linked facilities and weapons convoys destined for Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group.
The attack comes after the United States launched airstrikes in Syria on Thursday, targeting facilities near the Iraqi border used by Iranian-backed militia groups.
The Pentagon said the strikes were retaliation for a rocket attack in Iraq earlier this month that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a US service member and other coalition troops.


UN calls for children in Syria camps to be allowed home

UN calls for children in Syria camps to be allowed home
Updated 28 February 2021

UN calls for children in Syria camps to be allowed home

UN calls for children in Syria camps to be allowed home
  • UNICEF made its plea a day after three children died in a fire at Al-Hol camp
  • Syria’s Kurds hold thousands of alleged militants in jails and tens of thousands of their family members in camps in northeast Syria

BEIRUT: The UN children’s agency called Sunday for all minors held in displacement camps or jails in northeast Syria to be allowed home.
UNICEF made its plea a day after three children died in a fire at the overcrowded camp of Al-Hol, for people displaced in the fight against Daesh.
After years of leading the US-backed fight against Daesh, Syria’s Kurds hold thousands of alleged militants in jails and tens of thousands of their family members in camps in northeast Syria.
They hail from Syria, neighboring Iraq and dozens of other foreign countries.
Many are children.
“In the northeast of Syria, there are more than 22,000 foreign children from at least 60 nationalities who languish in camps and prisons, in addition to many thousands of Syrian children,” UNICEF regional director Ted Chaiban said in a statement, without giving a number of children held in jails.
He urged authorities in the northeast of Syria and UN member states to “do everything possible to bring children currently in the northeast of Syria back home.”
They should do this “through integrating Syrian children in their local communities and the repatriation of foreign children,” he added.
The Kurdish authorities have started sending thousands of displaced Syrians home from the camps.
But repeated calls for Western countries to repatriate their nationals have largely fallen on deaf ears, with just a handful of children and even fewer women being brought home.
Three children and a woman died on Saturday after a stove exploded in the Al-Hol camp, starting a fire, a Kurdish official said.
The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said at least 26 were injured.
Al-Hol is home to more than 62,000 people, displaced family members and relatives of alleged IS fighters, more than half of them children, it says.
A spate of killings, including decapitations, has rocked the camp since the start of the year, and humanitarian actors have repeatedly deplored living conditions there.
On February 1, the Save the Children charity also urged Iraq and Western countries to repatriate children from northeast Syria faster.
Daesh overran large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014.
Kurdish-led forces backed air strikes by a US-led coalition expelled Daesh from their last patch of territory in Syria in March 2019, in a battle that displaced tens of thousands.


Egypt opens online registration for COVID-19 vaccination

Egypt opens online registration for COVID-19 vaccination
Updated 28 February 2021

Egypt opens online registration for COVID-19 vaccination

Egypt opens online registration for COVID-19 vaccination
  • Text messages will be sent to prompt all those eligible to register for the vaccine as part of the Egyptian president’s initiative to eliminate waiting lists and facilitate the vaccination process

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Health and Population Hala Zayed announced on Sunday the start of online registration to obtain the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination for eligible citizens.

Khaled Mujahid, the ministry’s spokesman, said that registration has begun for eligible groups, including persons with tumors and kidney failure; those who have undergone operations, including open-heart surgery, and kidney and liver operations; and those with cerebral or peripheral catheters.

Text messages will be sent to prompt all those eligible to register for the vaccine as part of the Egyptian president’s initiative to eliminate waiting lists and facilitate the vaccination process.

Mujahid said that offices have been allocated in health units and hospitals across Egypt to register those who are unable to do so online. The spokesman pointed out that the site informs citizens of all details concerning the vaccine and allows them to register their data so that priority is automatically given according to age and chronic disease.

Mujahid said that the categories of people eligible to register on the website are divided into three groups in line with universally recognized priorities. These groups include health workers, those with chronic diseases and the elderly.

He explained that those registering online will have to enter identifying data, including name, ID number and contact information, such as phone number, where a verification code will be sent. Following this, the governorate and nearest health unit where the citizen may be vaccinated are determined.


US disappointed by Iran move on nuclear talks, remains ready to engage

US disappointed by Iran move on nuclear talks, remains ready to engage
Updated 01 March 2021

US disappointed by Iran move on nuclear talks, remains ready to engage

US disappointed by Iran move on nuclear talks, remains ready to engage
  • US would consult P5+1 partners on the best way forward
  • Iran says US must lift all its unilateral sanctions first

WASHINGTON/TEHRAN: The United States on Sunday said it was disappointed that Iran had ruled out an informal meeting to discuss ways to revive its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, but said it remained ready to reengage in meaningful diplomacy on the issue.
“While we are disappointed at Iran’s response, we remain ready to reengage in meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance with JCPOA commitments,” a White House spokeswoman said, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or Iran nuclear deal.
She said Washington would be consulting with its P5+1 partners, the four other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — China, France, Russia, United Kingdom — plus Germany on the best way forward.
Iran dismissed Europe’s offer for an informal meeting, saying the time is not “suitable” as Washington has failed to lift sanctions.
The European Union’s political director earlier this month proposed the informal meeting involving all parties of the Vienna deal, a proposition accepted by US President Joe Biden’s administration.
Following Biden’s election, Washington, the European parties to the deal and Tehran have been trying to salvage the accord, which granted Iran international sanctions relief in return for restrictions on its nuclear program.
The accord has been nearing collapse since former president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran.
“Considering the recent positions and actions of the United States and the three European countries, (Iran) does not consider the time suitable to hold the informal meeting proposed by the European coordinator,” foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement.
“There has still been no change in the US positions and behavior yet,” he added, saying the Biden administration has continued “Trump’s failed policy of maximum pressure.”
Biden has signalled readiness to revive the deal, but insists Iran first return to all its nuclear commitments, most of which it suspended in response to the sanctions, while Tehran demands Washington take the first step by scrapping the sanctions.
The foreign ministry statement comes ahead of a quarterly meeting Monday of the United Nations nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors, which is likely to discuss Iran’s recent restrictions of some nuclear inspections.
“Remember: Trump failed to meet because of his ill-advised ‘Max Failure’,” Khatibzadeh wrote on Twitter shortly after his statement.
Tehran’s position is unchanged “with sanctions in place... Censuring is NOT diplomacy. It doesn’t work with Iran,” he added.
The US “has not even announced its commitment to fulfilling its responsibilities” under the deal and the UN Security Council resolution that enshrined it, the spokesman said in the statement.
“America must end its illegal and unilateral sanctions and return to its (deal) commitments. This needs neither negotiations nor resolutions,” he added.
Iran “will answer action with action, and just as it will return to (deal) commitments in accordance with the lifting of sanctions, it will respond to hostile actions and behaviors in the same way.”
Khatibzadeh said Tehran would continue to consult with other parties to the nuclear agreement, and European Union Foreign Minister Josep Borrell “in his capacity as the (deal) coordinator, both bilaterally and multilaterally.”
Iran last Tuesday started to restrict some site inspections by the IAEA, in continuation of suspended nuclear commitments in response to the US failure to lift its sanctions.
London, Paris and Berlin said they “deeply regret” the move and that they were “united in underlining the dangerous nature of this decision.”
IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said last week an interim three-month deal agreed during a visit to Tehran was “far from an ideal situation,” but will allow the body to continue monitoring “all the key activities.”
It will facilitate “time for the indispensable diplomacy that will be deployed,” he added.
Under the temporary agreement, data on Iran’s nuclear program “will be stored and not handed over to the IAEA,” according to Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The Iranian Atomic Energy Organization has said that if US sanctions are still not lifted after three months, it will start erasing the recordings.
(With Reuters and AFP)