Kuwait emir reappoints prime minister to form new cabinet

Kuwait emir reappoints prime minister to form new cabinet
Kuwait's emir tasked Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah with nominating a new cabinet. (File/KUNA)
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Updated 25 January 2021

Kuwait emir reappoints prime minister to form new cabinet

Kuwait emir reappoints prime minister to form new cabinet
  • The prime minister and the cabinet had been acting in a caretaker role since the resignation

DUBAI: Kuwait’s emir reappointed Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah as prime minister on Sunday and tasked him with choosing ministers for a new government.
Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah last Monday accepted the government’s resignation, led by Sheikh Sabah.
The resignation came “due to the current developments in the relationship between the National Assembly (parliament) and the government,” state news agency KUNA reported on Sunday.
Sheikh Sabah thanked the emir for appointing him and pledged “to make every effort to translate his directives and realize the hopes and aspirations of citizens.”
The prime minister said the relationship between the government and the National Assembly has been drawn up by Article 50 of the constitution regarding the separation of powers.
He said he would “relentlessly endeavor in the next stage to enhance constructive cooperation and bridge viewpoints with MPs before announcing the ministerial formation and coordinate with them to define legislative priorities to achieve the desired reform in various fields, to develop the economic environment, and to achieve prosperity and progress.”
He said the next government would also continue the fight against corruption, tackle economic and social issues, and the develop infrastructure and public services.
“Executive and legislative authorities are facing numerous and serious challenges in light of international and regional changes and the crises that afflict the local and global economy, especially in light of the increasing escalation of the coronavirus pandemic and its dangerous repercussions,” the prime minister said.
Three MPs, who were elected in December, submitted a request to question the prime minister on Jan. 5, accusing him of not cooperating with the National Assembly.
The motion was supported by about 34 other MPs, which meant a total 37 MPs supported the interpellation of the prime minister out of 50.


Hezbollah gunmen fight off bid to arrest Rafik Hariri’s killer

Hezbollah gunmen fight off bid to arrest Rafik Hariri’s killer
Updated 30 min 44 sec ago

Hezbollah gunmen fight off bid to arrest Rafik Hariri’s killer

Hezbollah gunmen fight off bid to arrest Rafik Hariri’s killer

BEIRUT: Gunfire broke out in south Beirut on Tuesday night when Hezbollah fought off an apparent attempt by Lebanese security forces to arrest the man convicted of assassinating former prime minister Rafik a.

Information circulating on social media said officers tried to raid a house thought to be the hideout of Salim Ayyash, 57, who is wanted by the Lebanese state at the request of the International Tribunal for Lebanon. Hezbollah fighters opened fire, surrounded the security patrol, and detained its members and their vehicles.

Amateur video footage on social media shows shots being fired and a Hezbollah fighter shouting: “Attack them and disarm them.”

An activist close to Hezbollah told Arab News: “The security patrol wanted to arrest wanted suspects accused of a crime, it is not true that there was a clash with Hezbollah."

Rafik Hariri died in a suicide bombing of his car in Beirut in February 2005. The Special Tribunal tried Ayyash in his absence, and sentenced him to life imprisonment in August 2020 for conspiracy to commit a terrorist act. Hezbollah has said it will never hand him over.
 


Saudi Arabia urges UN Security Council to hold Houthis accountable for threat posed to global peace, security

Saudi Arabia urges UN Security Council to hold Houthis accountable for threat posed to global peace, security
Updated 36 min 17 sec ago

Saudi Arabia urges UN Security Council to hold Houthis accountable for threat posed to global peace, security

Saudi Arabia urges UN Security Council to hold Houthis accountable for threat posed to global peace, security
  • Attacks against the Kingdom prove that these Iran-backed militias ‘only believe in terrorist behavior to reach their narrow political aims,’ top Saudi envoy writes in letter seen by Arab News
  • Abdallah Al-Mouallimi: Houthis continue to ignore and violate Security Council resolutions and international humanitarian law

NEW YORK: Saudi Arabia urged the UN Security Council (UNSC) on Tuesday to shoulder its responsibility and hold the Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen accountable for the threats they pose to international peace and security.
The Houthis’ terror activities continue to jeopardize UN efforts to reach a comprehensive solution in Yemen, and undermine the credibility of UNSC resolutions, Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative to the UN, wrote in a letter seen by Arab News.
He alerted the council to the continued military hostilities committed by the Houthis against the Kingdom. “Among these hostilities towards civilians and civilian objects, some of the scattered debris of a ballistic missile launched by these militias resulted in material damage to one house in Riyadh on February 27th 2021, after being intercepted and destroyed,” Al-Mouallimi wrote.
“Moreover, the fall of a military projectile (on Monday) launched by these militias towards one of the border villages in Jazan Region injured five civilians as a result of flying shrapnel. It also damaged two houses, a grocery store and three civilian vehicles.”
The letter was addressed to US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who is assuming the rotating presidency of the UNSC this month. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was copied in.
“Although the Security Council strongly condemned the continuation of Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and called for an immediate cessation of attacks without preconditions in its resolution 2564 (2021) that was adopted on 25 February 2021, the Houthi militias continue their behavior in ignoring and violating Security Council resolutions and International Humanitarian Law,” the top Saudi envoy wrote.
“It is an obvious response of the Houthi militias to the … calls and appeals (of the UNSC and international community) for a political solution to the crisis in Yemen, and it proves once again that these militias only believe in terrorist behavior to reach their narrow political aims.”
Al-Mouallimi reiterated that Saudi Arabia reserves its full rights “to safeguard its citizens, residents and territories in accordance with its commitments under international law.” He asked Thomas-Greenfield to circulate the letter as an official document.
 


Pope Francis’ visit to throw history and fragility of Iraq’s Christian community into sharp relief

Pope Francis’ visit to throw history and fragility of Iraq’s Christian community into sharp relief
Updated 5 min 33 sec ago

Pope Francis’ visit to throw history and fragility of Iraq’s Christian community into sharp relief

Pope Francis’ visit to throw history and fragility of Iraq’s Christian community into sharp relief
  • First ever papal visit to biblical nation will highlight stark choice facing members of indigenous Christian community
  • More sites mentioned in the Bible are located in Iraq than anywhere else other than the Holy Land

LONDON/ROME: No one knows how many Iraqi Christians will flock to witness the historic visit of Pope Francis to Iraq, for the simple reason that no one knows exactly how many of the faithful remain in a country that can trace its Christian roots back to the earliest days of the faith.

Plagued by years of internal strife following the US-led invasion in 2003, Iraq has not conducted a census of its population since 1997.

One planned for 2020, the year the coronavirus pandemic struck the world, was not carried out. But while estimates of the number of Christians in Iraq have varied over the years, they have all agreed on one thing — that in modern times, the population of one of the oldest Christian communities in the world has steadily dwindled in the face of increasing insecurity and persecution.

Charlemagne (742-814), crowned Emperor by pope Leon III, December 25, 800. (Photo by Photo12/UIG/Getty Images)

Mesopotamia, the fertile plain between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates in what is today Iraq, is where modern civilization first put down roots.

This is the land where more than 6,000 years ago writing, agriculture and the world’s first great cities flourished. But the land of Iraq is also steeped in the heritage of Christianity — more sites mentioned in the Bible are located in Iraq than anywhere else other than the Holy Land.

In the tradition of the three great Abrahamic religions — Christianity, Islam and Judaism — the patriarch Abraham hailed from Ur, the ancient city of the Sumer, one of the world’s oldest known civilizations. Today some remains of the world’s first great city can still be seen, near the modern-day city of Nasiriyah on the banks of the Euphrates.

Iraq is even associated with the creation narrative of the Christian faith as the scene of the fall from innocence of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman. Many Christian scholars believe that the Garden of Eden described in the Book of Genesis was located in southern Iraq, where the two great rivers of Mesopotamia empty into the Gulf.

Other biblical characters, saints and prophets are associated with sites throughout Mesopotamia. Rebecca, the wife of Isaac, is believed to have come from ancient Carrhae in upper Mesopotamia, now the Turkish city of Harran on the border with Iraq.

The tomb of the Hebrew Prophet Ezekiel is held to be in the town of Al-Kifl, between Najaf and Hillah on the east bank of the Euphrates. But it was the destruction by Daesh of the tombs of Al-Nabi Danyal (the biblical Prophet Daniel) and Yunus (Jonah) in Mosul in 2014 that underlined both the history and the fragility of the Christian community in modern Iraq.

According to the Annuario Statistico, the Vatican’s annual publication tracking the number of Christians in the world, the faithful in Iraq numbered about 1.5 million in 2003, on the eve of the US-led invasion. Life for Christians and other minorities under the dictator Saddam Hussein and his essentially secular Baathist regime, hostile to Islamist extremism, was relatively stable.

First Council of Nicaea, First Half of 16th century. Found in the collection of Stavronikita monastery, Mount Athos. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Indeed, one of Saddam’s closest allies, Tariq Aziz, who became his deputy prime minister and foreign minister, was a Christian. Aziz was born Mikhail Yuhanna, the son of a Chaldean Christian family in the Assyrian town of Tel Keppe, northeast of Mosul.

Not that there was not discrimination. Under Saddam, Christian schools were nationalized, and a law passed dictating that the religion’s history could be taught in state schools only if at least a quarter of the pupils were Christian. The presence of a single Muslim pupil, on the other hand, was sufficient to oblige all to study the Qur’an.

Christian communities have also found themselves caught in the crossfire of Iraqi politics. Between 1978 and 1980, Kurdish rebels hit numerous Christian villages, seeing them as aligned with Saddam’s regime. But things took a significant turn for the worse after the 2003 invasion.

The overthrow of Saddam, accompanied by the enforced disbanding of the Baath Party and the Iraqi military, unleashed years of chaos, insurgency and sectarian terror on the country — with Christians often in the line of fire.

Kurdish rebels mounted a large campaign during the early 1980s against Iran, Iraq, and Turkey in an attempt to regain sovereignty over their homeland. (Photo by michel Setboun/Corbis via Getty Images)

Between 2003 and 2008, the Christian population of Iraq halved as more than 65 churches were attacked, with those who fled seeking sanctuary in countries including Jordan and Syria, or in Europe or North America.

The record of the attacks on Christians in this period, recorded in the Annuario Statistico, is a litany of horror and suffering. On Aug. 1, 2004, 18 people died and 60 were injured in car bomb attacks on five churches — four in Baghdad and one in Mosul.

On Jan. 29, 2006, a series of blasts near Christian churches in Kirkuk and Baghdad killed three. On Oct. 9, 2006, Syrian Orthodox Priest Paulos Iskandar was kidnapped in Mosul and found beheaded two days later.

On Nov. 26, 2006, Monther Saqa, pastor of an evangelical Christian church in Mosul, was kidnapped and murdered. On June 3, 2007, Ragheed Aziz Ghanni’s car was stopped by armed men who murdered the priest and his three companions, all sub-deacons.

On Feb. 29, 2008, Paulos Faraj Rahho, the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, was kidnapped. His three companions were murdered on the spot, and the archbishop’s body was found two weeks later. On April 5, 2008, Syrian Orthodox Priest Youssef Adel was shot dead in Baghdad. 

A Christian militiaman stands near the broken body of a statue of Christ in the 13th century St. Jacob's Church on November 4, 2015 near the frontline with Daesh fighters in Telskuf, northern Iraq. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

In all, according to Cardinal Louis Sako, the archbishop of Kirkuk, since 2003 there have been 710 Christian martyrs in Iraq.

In one of the worst incidents, 58 men, women and children died when militants of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq attacked the Syrian Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad during Sunday Mass on Oct. 31, 2010. 

“What happened was more than a catastrophic and tragic event,” said Iraqi Human Rights Minister Wijdan Michael, himself a Christian, at the time.

“In my opinion, it is an attempt to force Iraqi Christians to leave Iraq and to empty Iraq of Christians.”

St. Thomas, from Apostles, n.d., Martin Schongauer, German, c. 1450-1491, Germany, Engraving on paper, 90 × 50 mm (plate), 91 × 53 mm (sheet). (Photo by: Sepia Times/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The church had been attacked before. In August 2004, it was one of five churches hit in Baghdad and Mosul, in which 12 people died. Commemorating the anniversary of the 2010 massacre in 2018, the Assyrian Policy Institute said there had “yet to be any meaningful change in how Iraq’s indigenous Christian Assyrian population is viewed and treated.”

In the years since the massacre, it added, “Assyrians in Iraq have faced threats to their existence in the emergence of ISIS (Daesh) in 2014 and the scuppering of any hope to fair representation in both the Iraqi and Kurdistan Region Parliaments.” Pope Francis will remember all of Iraq’s Christian martyrs when he visits Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad.

The emergence of Daesh brought fresh horror for Iraq’s Christians. In June 2014, Daesh seized Mosul and thousands of Christians fled for their lives, first to nearby Qaraqosh and, when that seemed certain to fall, to Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The monastery of St. Elijah, founded by the Church of the East near Mosul in the late sixth century, closed in 1743 after the monks were killed by soldiers of the shah of Iran for refusing to convert to Islam. The building, although damaged by US troops during the 2003 invasion, remained a destination for Christian pilgrims until it was reduced to a pile of rubble by Daesh in 2014.

A report in the New York Times the following year spelt out the choice faced by the Christians in Mosul and Qaraqosh: “They could either convert or pay the jizya, the head tax levied against all ‘People of the Book’ — Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews. If they refused, they would be killed, raped or enslaved, their wealth taken as spoils of war.”

Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Tarek Aziz speaks to a gathering of the United Nations Security Concil 14 June 1988. Aziz is attending the third special session on disarmament. (AFP/File Photo)

Unsurprisingly, research by the EU into the fate of minorities in Iraq at the height of Daesh’s terror concluded that by 2015 just 500,000 Christians remained in the country, living mainly in Baghdad, Mosul, the Nineveh Plains and the autonomous Kurdistan region.

Today, there could be as few as 150,000. One of the most poignant moments of the pope’s visit will be when he visits the Qaraqosh community at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Iraq’s largest church, which was badly damaged during the occupation of the city by Daesh.

Tradition holds that Iraq’s association with Christianity dates back to the first century AD, when following the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, his disciple Thomas traveled east to preach in Mesopotamia.

The Syriac Orthodox Church of St. Thomas in Mosul is said to have been built on the site of the house in which Thomas lived, and in 1964 workmen discovered what were believed to be his finger bones. After the fall of Mosul to Daesh in 2014, these relics were transferred for safekeeping to the Syriac Orthodox Monastery of St. Matthew near Bartella, on the Nineveh Plains, founded in the fourth century.

Thomas — later canonized as St. Thomas the Apostle — had two disciples, Thaddeus of Edessa, also known as Mar Addai, and Mar Mari (mar is a Syriac title of respect, meaning lord.) To these two is credited the foundation of the Christian Church in Mesopotamia.

This was what became known as the Church of the East, also known as the Persian Church and — because of its support in the fifth century of the theologically controversial Nestorius, the archbishop of Constantinople — as the Nestorian Church.

The story of Christianity in Mesopotamia is one of frequent schism. In 410, at the Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, all the Christians of the Persian Sassanid Empire gathered together in the capital city, near modern-day Baghdad, to form a single church — the Church of the East, which in 424 broke with the Roman Empire.

Even after the rise of Islam and the Muslim conquest of the Sassanid Empire, the Christians — tolerated as a dhimmi, or protected non-Muslim community — thrived.

Iraqi Christians fleeing the violence in the towns of Qaraqush and Bartala, both east of the city of Mosul in the northern province of Nineveh, pray at the Saint George church on July 1, 2014 in the Kurdish autonomous region's capital Arbil. (AFP/File Photo)

Between the eighth and 13th centuries, the Church of the East expanded dramatically, spreading the gospel from its base in Mesopotamia and establishing more than 100 dioceses, from the Mediterranean coast through Iraq and Iran and India, and as far afield as the Mongol Empire and China. 

Decline began in the 13th century as the Mongols turned their backs on Christianity and embraced Islam, and in the 14th century Tamerlane, ruler of the Turco-Mongol Timurid Empire, set about purging his territories of all non-Muslims.

From then on, the Church of the East was confined to the land where it had all began — northern Mesopotamia, where, despite all the trials and challenges of modern-day Iraq, its descendant Christian churches and their dwindling band of parishioners continue to stand by their faith.

Over the centuries internal schisms have followed, rifts reflected in the diverse denominations to which Iraqi Christians belong today, including the Assyrians (or Nestorians, members of the Syriac Orthodox Church) and the Armenian, Chaldean and Syriac eastern Catholic churches.

But whatever their doctrinal differences, all Iraq’s Christians will see the historic arrival of the pontiff in their midst as a sign that their courage and persistence in the face of shocking adversity has not been in vain.

“We are trying to heal this wound created by ISIS,” Father Karam Shamasha, one of two priests at St. George Chaldean Catholic Church in Telskuf — a Christian village about 20 miles north of Mosul — told the Catholic News Agency in November 2020.

“Our families are strong; they have defended the faith. But they need someone who says, ‘You have done very well, but you must continue your mission’.”

That someone will be Pope Francis. Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil told Aid to the Church in Need, a charity that works on behalf of persecuted Catholics in Syria and Iraq, in December: “We are a people that have been marginalized to the very edge of existence. To have His Holiness come to visit us now may very well be the thing that saves us.”


Iran resistance urges tougher sanctions after exposing secret nuclear advances

Iran resistance urges tougher sanctions after exposing secret nuclear advances
Updated 02 March 2021

Iran resistance urges tougher sanctions after exposing secret nuclear advances

Iran resistance urges tougher sanctions after exposing secret nuclear advances
  • “Today’s revelation shows that deception, denial, and duplicity are part of the regime’s DNA.”

CHIACGO: Leaders of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) called on the international community at a press conference on Tuesday to re-enforce sanctions on Iran and not surrender to “Tehran’s blackmailing and posturing.”

NCRI officials revealed new information on how Iran’s Mullahs are carefully building a nuclear weapon while seeking to remove sanctions on its programs.

The latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released on Feb. 23 shows anthropogenic uranium particles at two sites in Iran. The Iranian regime had blocked access to these sites to IAEA inspectors for months.

“Today’s revelation shows that deception, denial, and duplicity are part of the regime’s DNA. Neither Europe nor the US should give into Tehran’s blackmail and posturing,” Ali Safavi of the NCRI told the Arab News following the press conference.

“They should hold it to account for the systematic and flagrant breaches of its own commitments, even under the fatally flawed Iran nuclear deal. Sanctions should not be lifted unless and until the regime comes clean on its nuclear deceptions and stops its malign actions in the Middle East and its oppression of the Iranian people.”

Joining the NCRI at the press conference were US envoy and former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph and Struan Stevenson, former senior member of the European Parliament from Scotland.

“The discovery of uranium particles at two suspect sites demonstrate very clearly that the regime continues and has continued to violate the agreement,” Joseph said, emphasizing that the Iranian regime cannot be trusted.

“The regime openly violates the limits of the Iran deal today to coerce the US administration back into the agreement. The lesson here is not to be blackmailed by the regime because if you allow yourselves to be blackmailed you will only have more blackmail in the future, and another fatally flawed agreement.”

Joseph said that rejoining the deal will not achieve the goal of President Joe Biden’s administration to lay the groundwork for a broader and more comprehensive agreement with Iran.

Stevenson criticized the EU’s failure to address the problems and urged Biden to halt efforts to renegotiate with Iran.

“Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, hasn’t uttered a single word of criticism about an Iranian diplomat who was jailed last month for trying to kill hundreds of people in Europe with a bomb,” Stevenson said.

“I sincerely hope that the Biden administration will not follow Borrell’s example of bare-faced appeasement. To do so would, it would be a humiliating defeat to America and a propaganda coup for the theoretical regime. The US, the EU, and the UN must hold the Iranian regime to account for its acts of aggression. Any concessions to the theocratic dictatorship will be seen as an act of weakness by the West.”

The NCRI has been monitoring Iran’s secret nuclear arms development program and said new information released Tuesday was provided by the sources from the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran inside the country.

The information includes details on the role and function of the site in Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, the experts involved at the time, and their current activities.

The regime has not yet answered the IAEA’s questions regarding the possible presence of nuclear material at these locations, NCRI officials said.

In his introductory statement to the IAEA Board of Governors yesterday, IAEA Director Rafael Grossi expressed the agency's deep concerns on finding nuclear material in undeclared locations in Iran.

“The fact is that the mullahs’ regime is seeking to acquire a nuclear weapon as a strategic means to guarantee its survival, and for this reason it has never abandoned its pursuit of a nuclear weapon. This pursuit has continued unabated for the past three decades,” Safavi said.

One site, located north of Abadeh city in the Fars province, was built by companies controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the mid-1990s under the supervision of the then-minister of defense.

The site is part of a project managed by the main entity in charge of research and development of nuclear weapons, the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, known by its Persian acronym SPND.

This site was constructed for a project dubbed Marivan for the use of one of the SPND’s subdivisions, called the Center for Research and Expansion of Technologies on Explosions and Impact.

The center is engaged in the research and construction of nuclear high-explosive detonators.

Saeed Borji, one of the regime’s top explosives and high-impact specialists who for years worked directly under the supervision of Brig. Gen. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the key figure in Tehran’s nuclear weapons project, has been involved in the Marivan project.

Borji is currently in another role along with some of the most senior experts. It is alleged that he is still conducting research for the nuclear weapons program’s explosives and impact fields using a cover.
 


Congress urges Biden to see human rights abuses while formulating Turkey policy

Congress urges Biden to see human rights abuses while formulating Turkey policy
Updated 02 March 2021

Congress urges Biden to see human rights abuses while formulating Turkey policy

Congress urges Biden to see human rights abuses while formulating Turkey policy
  • Turkey’s politically-motivated judicial proceedings against opposition lawmakers has been on the radar for a long time
  • Ankara recently made some steps to improve relations with Washington over Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system

ANKARA: In a bipartisan letter penned by 170 members of the US Congress to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, American lawmakers have urged President Joe Biden’s administration to consider the “troubling human rights abuses” in Turkey. 

“President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party have used their nearly two decades in power to weaken Turkey’s judiciary, install political allies in key military and intelligence positions, crack down on free speech and (the) free press,” the letter said.

Dated Feb. 26 but made public on March 1, the letter asks Washington to formulate its policy regarding Turkey considering human rights, saying that the Erdogan administration has strained the bilateral relationship. 

“Strategic issues have rightfully received significant attention in our bilateral relationship, but the gross violation of human rights and democratic backsliding taking place in Turkey are also of significant concern,” the letter said, making a specific reference to the May 2017 assault on peaceful protesters and federal employees by Turkish security forces during Erdogan’s visit to Washington.

The letter’s timing coincides with the common declaration of Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists, and the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project on Monday, criticizing the Turkish government’s failure to comply with a binding European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) order to release Turkish activist Osman Kavala.

The letter also came a day before Turkey announced a much-awaited reform plan that only included vague commitments to launch a “Human Rights Action Plan,” with no clarification about the situation of jailed activists and politicians. 

Washington previously urged Ankara to respect the ECHR’s rulings to release Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas and Kavala. 

Turkey’s politically-motivated judicial proceedings against opposition lawmakers, as well as the debates around the closure of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), have been on the radar for a long time. 

Indeed, just after the announcement of the “Human Rights Action Plan,” the Court of Cassation launched an investigation into the HDP and requested the summary of proceedings pertaining to its lawmakers — a strong sign that the government is in a rush to shut down the third largest party in the Turkish Parliament. 

Ankara recently made some steps to improve relations with Washington, especially through an expensive lobbying campaign to bypass the deadlock over Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system that resulted in the removal of Turkey from the US F-35 fighter jet program. 

“Within the bigger picture, promotion of democracy and human rights, as well as freedoms in Turkey, will for the first time be on the agenda of the US administration,” Soner Cagaptay, a Turkish academic from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Arab News. 

“Previously, US administrations usually paid lip service, making statements but always separating strategic ties from the democracy and human rights portfolio. But now it is not really possible,” he said. 

According to Cagaptay, among American allies, together with Hungary, Turkey is the country suffering the most from democratic erosion and the curtailment of checks and balances, and for the Biden administration, strengthening democracy abroad has become a vital component for strengthening faith in the democratic process at home. 

While managing differences and expanding areas of cooperation will also be other legs of Turkish-American relations in the new period, democracy will occupy the largest part, experts note. 

“Congress is currently the most powerful focal point of anti-Turkish voices, especially after the purchase of the Russian missile defense system. CAATSA legislation, according to which Turkey was sanctioned for its S-400 acquisition, was written by Congress itself. Turkey is the first country to defy this legislation. Turkey is seen in Congress as the second most problematic country after Russia,” Cagaptay said. 

Therefore, he added, even if the Biden administration were to reset with Turkey, it will be very hard for US-Turkish relations to gain a semblance of normality because, however the White House reaches out to Ankara, Congress will constantly check and temper it.

Jonathan Katz, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, agrees. 

“While not the only challenges on the agenda, human rights and democratic backsliding will definitely be an area of high-level focus with Turkish officials for the Biden administration and US Congress,” he told Arab News. 

According to Katz, it is clear based on the two recent congressional letters in the Senate and House that there is a ramped-up effort to address what many see as Erdogan pushing Turkey closer toward being an autocracy, and away from being a stalwart NATO ally that shares a US and transatlantic security and political agenda. 

“Turkey’s government carrying out and implementing new reforms would be seen as positive in Washington but there is deep suspicion that these efforts are ‘window dressing’ only meant to strengthen Erdogan politically,” he said.