US’ top foreign policy diplomat hints at continued hardline approach to Turkey

US’ top foreign policy diplomat hints at continued hardline approach to Turkey
Antony J. Blinken, of New York, during his confirmation hearing to be Secretary of State before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, US Capitol, Washington, D.C., U.S., Jan. 19, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 20 January 2021

US’ top foreign policy diplomat hints at continued hardline approach to Turkey

US’ top foreign policy diplomat hints at continued hardline approach to Turkey
  • With American-Turkish bilateral relations already strained, Antony Blinken, Biden’s choice for secretary of state, accused Ankara of failing to act like an ally
  • Top diplomat said Washington would consider whether further sanctions on Turkey would be implemented over its controversial purchase of Russian S-400 air defense system

ANKARA: Joe Biden’s new US administration has hinted at pursuing a hardline foreign policy approach to dealing with NATO member Turkey.

With American-Turkish bilateral relations already strained, Antony Blinken, Biden’s choice for secretary of state, on Tuesday accused Ankara of failing to act like an ally.

And the top diplomat said Washington would consider whether further sanctions on Turkey would be implemented over its controversial purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system.

Addressing legislators during his Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing, Blinken said: “The idea that a strategic — so-called strategic — partner of ours would actually be in line with one of our biggest strategic competitors in Russia is not acceptable.”

Aaron Stein, director of research at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute think tank, told Arab News: “The S-400 issue won’t magically disappear, so sanctions are likely to continue.”

He said the ball was now in Turkey’s court. “If Ankara accepts that a mechanism for verification of non-deployment is needed to re-establish trust, perhaps we can get to a better place.”

But, he added, if Turkey insisted that the terms of a reset were to simply accept everything it was doing, that would not work.

Blinken is known to be familiar with Turkey’s domestic security concerns and was the first US diplomat to visit Ankara soon after the 2016 failed coup attempt.

“The Biden administration will likely take a cautious approach to Turkey given the regional security challenges, including ongoing threats from Russia, Iran, Syria, and terrorism,” Jonathan Katz, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the US, told Arab News.

However, he said there remained deep bipartisan concerns and issues of trust related to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, not only on the S-400 situation but also over democratic backsliding and corruption, and these matters would impact on how the new administration and US Congress managed America’s sensitive relationship with Turkey.

“If I were Erdogan, I would not expect an early deviation in Washington from the CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) sanctions in place or on restrictions impacting Turkey’s participation in the F-35 (US stealth fighter jet) program,” Katz added.

Ali Cinar, a foreign policy expert on US-Turkey relations, told Arab News that Biden would probably adopt an approach in line with former US President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, and it would not be an easy relationship.

“The Biden administration has many concerns on Turkey such as the S-400s, Syria, human rights, and freedom of speech. Some new problems will be added to the current issues, but the ties will not break completely,” he said.

Cinar expected there to be more negotiations, compromises, and intense diplomacy traffic between Ankara and Washington under the Biden administration.

The appointment of Blinken followed Brett McGurk’s assignment as National Security Council senior director for Washington’s policy in the Middle East and North Africa.

His appointment was also expected to set alarm bells ringing in Ankara as Turkish leaders have previously blamed McGurk for being the mastermind behind arming the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) that Turkey considers a terror group.

The US recently imposed sanctions on the Turkish defense industry with the bipartisan support of the US Congress, the first time that Washington had used the CAATSA against a NATO ally.

Caroline Rose, senior analyst and head of the strategic vacuums program at the Center for Global Policy in Washington, said the fact that Blinken had referred to Turkey not necessarily as a NATO ally but as a “strategic partner” was a sign of the nadir in US-Turkish relations.

“But I think this time the US will try and interweave its Turkey policy with partners in Europe to take a more multilateral approach,” she told Arab News.

Rose added that Blinken, a trans-Atlanticist at heart, would likely focus on curbing Turkish behavior in its periphery — primarily in the Eastern Mediterranean — with greater cooperation with the EU and East Mediterranean Gas Forum.

Katz also pointed out the interactions between Turkish domestic politics and the US administration’s foreign policy moves.

“There is also a keen understanding in Washington regarding Turkey’s domestic politics that will also be a factor impacting policymakers, including the possibility of snap elections and potential new leadership in Ankara,” he said.


Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people

Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people
Updated 14 April 2021

Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people

Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people
  • The decisions can either be relaxed or toughened, depending on the pandemic situation

DUBAI: Oman has imposed a night-time ban on all commercial activities and movement of people throughout the holy month of Ramadan.

All types of gatherings, including iftars in mosques, tents or public places typical during Ramadan are affected by the prohibition against mass assembly, which starts from 9 p.m. until 4 a.m.

Oman’s Supreme Committee, which was created to deal with all coronavirus pandemic related developments, also imposed a ban on all social, sports and cultural activities and any other group activities throughout the holy month of Ramadan.

Key sectoral workers such as in oil, healthcare, utilities, food supply and media were however exempted from the movement ban, provided they have permissions, as well as three-ton trucks. Pharmacies were also allowed to operate during the night-time commercial ban.

The decisions can either be relaxed or toughened, depending on the pandemic situation, according to Dr. Abdullah Nasser Al-Harrasi, the minister of Information and a member of the COVID-19 Supreme Committee.


UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight
Updated 14 April 2021

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight
  • UAE health officials reported 2,022 new coronavirus cases overnight

DUBAI: The UAE administered 1118,805 more doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight, bringing total jabs given to residents and citizens to 9,156,728 or about 92.58 doses per 100 individuals.

The nationwide inoculation program aims to give the population immunity from coronavirus that will help curb its spread as well as bring down infection cases.

UAE health officials reported 2,022 new coronavirus cases overnight, bringing the country’s caseload to 487,697 since the pandemic began. Four deaths were also confirmed due to COVID-19 complications, bringing the total number of deaths in the country to 1,537.

Meanwhile, an additional 1,731 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 471,906.


Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE
Updated 14 April 2021

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden’s administration has told Congress it is proceeding with more than $23 billion in weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates, including advanced F-35 aircraft, armed drones and other equipment, congressional aides said on Tuesday.
A State Department spokesperson said the administration would move forward with the proposed sales to the UAE, “even as we continue reviewing details and consulting with Emirati officials” related to the use of the weapons.
The Democratic president’s administration had paused the deals agreed to by former Republican President Donald Trump in order to review them.


Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier
An honour guard of Israeli soldiers with their rifles stands to attention during a one minute siren, as they partake in a state ceremony for Memorial Day in Jerusalem on April 13, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 14 April 2021

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier
  • ‘He saw horrible things and nobody took care of him,’ his tearful brother Avi Saidian told journalists at the hospital

JERUSALEM: Israel was shaken Tuesday after a 26-year-old former soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder since the 2014 Gaza war set himself on fire, suffering severe injuries.
Itzik Saidian went to a support service for wounded soldiers near Tel Aviv on Monday, doused himself with a flammable liquid and lit it, “due to significant psychological distress,” the army said.
He was rushed to the intensive care unit of Tel Hashomer Hospital near Tel Aviv and was in “critical condition” with “deep burns all over his body,” the hospital said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “very shocked” and “determined to undertake a complete reform of the way we take care of our disabled and wounded veterans.”
The young man had been recognized as partially disabled because he suffered from PTSD related to his service during the 2014 war between Israel and the armed Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Around 2,250 Palestinians were killed in the war, mostly civilians, and 74 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
Saidian’s self-immolation came on the eve of Israel’s Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and attack victims.
It sparked controversy over the support system for wounded or psychologically ill soldiers, which is often deemed inefficient and bureaucratic.
“He saw horrible things and nobody took care of him,” his tearful brother Avi Saidian told journalists at the hospital.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced a “thorough investigation to find the reasons for this tragic event.” His ministry pledged to “substantially improve the treatment of post-traumatic soldiers.”
Military service is mandatory in Israel for 18-year-olds. Women serve two years and men two years and six months.


Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval
Updated 13 April 2021

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval
  • Aoun's decision could significantly delay the process
  • Israeli Energy Minister said Monday Lebanon's expanded claim would derail talks

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s president said on Tuesday a draft decree expanding its maritime claims in a dispute with Israel must be approved by the caretaker government, rejecting a request to grant it swift presidential approval.
The dispute with Israel over the maritime boundary has held up hydrocarbon exploration in a potentially gas-rich area of the eastern Mediterranean.
The decree, approved by Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, defense minister and minister of public work on Monday, would add around 1,400 square km (540 square miles) to an exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean claimed by Lebanon.
Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s office said the decree should be approved by President Michel Aoun so that the new maritime coordinates setting out Lebanon’s claim could be submitted to the United Nations.
But the presidency said it should be approved by Diab’s full cabinet, even though the government resigned eight months ago following a devastating explosion in Beirut, because of the gravity of the issue.
The draft decree “needs a collective decision from the council of ministers..., even under a caretaker government, due to its importance and the consequences,” a statement from Aoun’s office said.
Aoun’s decision could significantly delay the process. Since the government resigned in August it has referred all issues for exceptional approval by the president, leaving them to get formal endorsement when a new government is finally agreed.
Negotiations were launched in October to try to resolve the dispute with Israel yet the talks, a culmination of three years of diplomacy by the United States, have since stalled.
Israel already pumps gas from offshore fields but Lebanon has yet to find commercial gas reserves in its own waters.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday Lebanon’s expanded claim would derail the talks rather than help work toward a common solution, warning that Israel would implement “parallel measures.”
Lebanon, in the throes of a deep financial meltdown that is threatening its stability, is desperate for cash as it faces the worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war. But political leaders have failed to bridge their differences and form a new government.