Turkey to host Afghanistan peace meeting in April

Turkey to host Afghanistan peace meeting in April
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attends a joint press conference following a tripartite meeting with his Russian and Qatari counterparts, on March 11, 2021 in Doha. (File/AFP)
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Updated 12 March 2021

Turkey to host Afghanistan peace meeting in April

Turkey to host Afghanistan peace meeting in April
  • Russia also plans to hold a conference on Afghanistan in Moscow later this month

ANKARA: Turkey announced on Friday that it will host high-level talks on the Afghanistan peace process in April.

Confirming earlier reports about US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s call for a meeting between the Taliban and the Afghan government, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu revealed that next month’s discussions would take place in Istanbul.

A special envoy for Afghanistan will also be appointed by Turkey, suggesting that Ankara would be assuming a mediation role in the process.

It was unclear if Afghan President Ashraf Ghani or his “authoritative designees” would be attending the meeting.

Turkey has contributed to international efforts to rebuild Afghanistan, assumed the leadership of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) under NATO by deploying thousands of troops, provided training for the Afghan National Army and Afghanistan’s civilian police force, and established ties with several Afghan factions.

In November 2003, Turkish politician Hikmet Cetin was appointed as NATO’s senior civilian representative in Afghanistan and was based in Kabul for his three-year stint.

Afghanistan has been one of the unique areas where Turkish and American policies have generally been aligned. Turkey has a non-combatant force in Afghanistan under the NATO-led coalition.

Experts have pointed out that the US preferred engaging Turkey with the Afghan peace process due to its historical links in Afghanistan and its relatively positive image among Afghans.

“It makes good sense for the US to ask Turkey to host this mediation event in Turkey for a couple of reasons,” Sinan Ulgen, executive chairman of Istanbul-based think tank Edam and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, told Arab News.

“Traditionally, Turkey has been one of the countries that have had an engagement in Afghanistan under the NATO umbrella. It has supported sizeable efforts in state-building. But even before the NATO intervention, Turkey has had a historical relationship with Afghanistan with a lot of Turkish humanitarian aid being targeted to the country,” he said.

The meeting is likely to contribute positively to the strained relations between Ankara and Washington and may create a new layer of trust and an avenue for cooperation under American President Joe Biden’s administration.

“This effort will provide a degree of positivity for the bilateral relationship,” Ulgen added.

However, experts say one meeting is unlikely to produce a magical formula to get US-Turkey relations back on track once and for all. Instead, they have noted that Turkey and the US might compartmentalize their disagreements in the eastern Mediterranean and Syria and cooperate at the same time in Afghanistan through an institutional level.

Whatever happens, Ulgen said there were still other big issues that needed to be addressed in the bilateral relationship such as the US’ partnership with the Syrian Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG).

In tandem, the UN was also expected to convene another meeting of foreign ministers and envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India, and the US to discuss a united approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan.

The US was still considering its decision on the full withdrawal of its forces by May 1, as its fulfillment of the commitment was tied to a reduction of violence by the Taliban and the group stopping Al-Qaeda from raising funds or recruiting militants in Afghanistan.


Israel, Turkey should restore ambassadorial links: Foreign policy expert

Israel, Turkey should restore ambassadorial links: Foreign policy expert
Updated 39 sec ago

Israel, Turkey should restore ambassadorial links: Foreign policy expert

Israel, Turkey should restore ambassadorial links: Foreign policy expert

ANKARA: Israel and Turkey should restore ambassadorial links as part of efforts to reduce tensions between the two countries, a leading regional foreign policy expert has told Arab News.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently hinted that an impending detente with Israel could be next on his rapprochement agenda with countries in the region, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.
Such a move would reflect a general pattern currently being followed in the Middle East with nations trying to de-escalate tensions and diversify relations.
Dr. Nimrod Goren, president and founder of Mitvim, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, said the restoration of ambassadorial-level ties was now a feasible foreign policy goal for Israel and Turkey.
“The leaders of both countries should not let this opportunity go by unfulfilled and should seek to translate the positive vibe in relations into tangible actions,” he added.
Earlier this month, an Israeli couple, both bus drivers, were detained for a week in Turkey on political and military espionage charges after being arrested for photographing Erdogan’s residence in Istanbul.
Their release and return to Israel and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s public thanks to Erdogan for his personal involvement in resolving the incident were seen as the extension of an olive branch to prevent an escalation of the crisis.
Goren said: “The positive manner in which the incident of the Israeli couple’s detention in Istanbul ended creates a window of opportunity beyond the window that already opened up when the new Israeli government took office and after the recent call between Erdogan and (new Israeli President Isaac) Herzog.
“The efforts to resolve the incident exemplified that both countries can work together to resolve tensions. It increased mutual trust, strengthened existing channels, and led to initial and much-needed direct communication between Erdogan and Bennett.”
In a recent interview with Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, Israel’s Foreign Ministry Director General Alon Ushpiz, said: “There is potential for a relative improvement in Israel Turkey ties, more than there was two weeks ago, and I think we need to examine it exhaustively.”
Dr. Selin Nasi, London representative of the Ankara Policy Center and a respected researcher on Turkish Israeli relations, told Arab News: “Turkey and Israel, as two of the three non-Arab countries in the region, have a lot to gain from cooperation in various areas, be it trade relations, intelligence sharing, energy cooperation, or defense.
“Indeed, the two countries have succeeded in compartmentalizing bilateral relations and bilateral trade has continued to grow in the last decade despite political disputes.”
The foreign trade volume between Turkey and Israel was $6.2 billion last year.
The looming threat of Iran becoming armed with nuclear weapons had also incentivized the need for security cooperation, Nasi said.
On Nov. 18, Erdogan had a rare phone call with his Israeli counterpart Herzog and emphasized that continued dialogue between the two nations would be “mutually beneficial.”
Nasi added: “From Ankara’s perspective, anti-Israeli rhetoric might have served its purpose in the domestic political sphere but is no longer deemed useful in mobilizing the constituency.”
Instead, she pointed out that a positive narrative based on “Turkey gaining back its soft power through a number of reconciliatory steps taken to mend broken ties with countries in the region” may prove more useful in the upcoming elections.
She noted that improved relations between Turkey and Israel would pave the way for Ankara to get involved, either directly or indirectly, in the US-backed strategic partnership network that had been increasingly consolidated in the Eastern Mediterranean over the last decade.
“Ankara wants to gain back some of the ground lost to her regional competitors — Greece and Egypt — and therefore aims to repudiate multilateral treaties and redraw maritime boundaries according to her strategic interests,” Nasi said.
Israel, she added, had always been a significant facilitator for friendly ties between Ankara and Washington.
“Maintaining cordial relations with Israel also enables Turkey to play a more active and constructive role in the Palestinian issue, raising living standards for the Palestinians.
“Because of her unique geopolitical position bordering Syria and Iran, along with her being a NATO member, Turkey will remain as an important actor and an ally for Israel. This explains why Israel has left the door open for dialogue with Ankara, and welcomed reconciliatory steps in this regard, despite having reservations,” Nasi said.
Meanwhile, Israel has urged Turkey to close all offices and ban the activities of Hamas in the country after a Nov. 21 terror attack in Jerusalem carried out by a Hamas member affiliated with Turkey.
Nasi pointed out that any progress on the normalization of Turkish Israeli relations would depend on Ankara’s sincerity and consistency in seeking reconciliation with Israel.
“There is potential for cooperation, but building mutual trust is essential in moving forward. And in terms of building resilient bilateral ties, the two countries need to develop cooperation on the basis of shared interests in a pragmatic manner, preventing the Palestinian issue solely dominating the agenda,” she added.
Goren said: “Senior Israeli ministers still expect Turkey to prove its goodwill and positive intentions, especially by limiting Hamas’ activities in Turkey. But a Turkish decision to send an ambassador to Israel, will most likely be welcomed, and will be reciprocated with a similar Israeli move.”
He noted that such an upgrade of ties would enable both countries to launch a strategic dialogue on regional affairs, improve bilateral economic and civilian cooperation, promote Turkish involvement in the Palestinian issue, and increase Israeli engagement with the Muslim world.
“If done within a context of a Turkish rapprochement with Egypt and the UAE, the potential will even be bigger. It will soften tensions in the region, broaden the space for dialogue and cooperation, and lessen Israeli concerns that advancing ties with Turkey might jeopardize other regional alliances,” he added.


Lebanon relaunches support programs for the vulnerable

Lebanon relaunches support programs for the vulnerable
Updated 8 sec ago

Lebanon relaunches support programs for the vulnerable

Lebanon relaunches support programs for the vulnerable
  • Beneficiaries will be selected according to transparent criteria ‘to secure the basic requirements for a decent life’

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced on Wednesday the launch of the ration card platform and the emergency social safety net project.
Funded and supported by the World Bank and the UN, the programs are intended to help the most vulnerable in Lebanon.
The ration card platform had faltered after it was announced by Hassan Diab’s resigned government on Sept. 9 due to funding issues and objections by the World Bank.
The platform was supposed to be up before subsidies on fuel were lifted to limit protests.
In his announcement, Mikati addressed the obstruction of Cabinet sessions since Oct. 12: “If some people have the right to revolt in the street and get angry, then those who were and still are in power have no right to shirk responsibility and blame those who are currently trying to fight to save the country.”
He noted that during the diplomatic meetings he held in the country and overseas, one expression was constantly repeated: “Help yourselves, and we will help you.” If anything, this indicates the extent of the responsibility of all Lebanese officials and leaders to cooperate for Lebanon to move forward, he explained.
Mikati noted: “The beneficiaries of the two projects will be selected according to transparent criteria to secure the basic requirements for a decent life. The two-month registration phase will be closely monitored to prevent any exploitation, after which the payment process will begin early next year with a retroactive effect from January 2022.”
According to the Ministry of Social Affairs, 25 percent of Lebanese suffer from extreme poverty, while 70 percent are struggling to make ends meet, with the middle class almost becoming extinct amid Lebanon’s economic and financial collapse.
The ministry is currently assisting 36,000 families suffering from extreme poverty by giving them a $25 food card and a further $15 for each family member. The children of these families are enrolled in public schools and receive free primary healthcare, thanks to EU funding. The ministry aims to start supporting 75,000 families.
“In the first phase, we will start implementing the social safety net program, which covers 150,000 Lebanese families and 87,000 children enrolled in public schools,” said Minister of Social Affairs Hector Hajjar.
He added: “These programs are not the solution; they are rather temporary support to help citizens survive until economic recovery is initiated.”
Mikati said that he had issued a decision “to form a technical committee to review the security and cyber aspects of the IMPACT platform and its subsidiary webpages, headed by the minister of interior, to prevent any data manipulation and ensure user privacy.”
Hajjar expected around 20,000 people to register on the platform daily.
More families are falling under the poverty line in Lebanon, a World Bank report revealed.
The share of the Lebanese population under the international poverty line is estimated to have risen by 13 percentage points in 2020 and is expected to further increase by as much as 28 percentage points by the end of 2021; amounting to 1.5 million Lebanese.
Meanwhile, 780,000 Syrian refugees are under the poverty line, and their share is estimated to have risen by 39 percentage points in 2020 and 52 percentage points in 2021.
The report also tackled the successive financial crises that have afflicted Lebanon, noting that “the Lebanese government’s hands are tied in terms of providing social assistance to citizens and residents alike.”
International institutions fear further repercussions as Lebanon is being assailed by compounded crises for the third year in a row, which may lead to widespread chaos and disturb the fragile security stability, especially in light of the significant rise in the prices of goods, fuel, transportation, medicine, electricity from generators, and other daily life necessities.
“Radical reforms are essential to achieve recovery and social protection programs are very helpful in mitigating the impact of multiple crises,” the World Bank said.


Lebanon reintroduces some COVID-19 prevention measures

Lebanon reintroduces some COVID-19 prevention measures
Updated 01 December 2021

Lebanon reintroduces some COVID-19 prevention measures

Lebanon reintroduces some COVID-19 prevention measures
  • Mandatory vaccinations for all civil servants and workers in the health, education, tourism and public transport sectors

BEIRUT: Lebanon will impose a night-time curfew starting Dec. 17 on non-vaccinated people for three weeks.
And full vaccination will be made mandatory for all workers in several sectors due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus, the COVID-19 committee said on Wednesday.
Vaccination will be mandatory for all civil servants and workers in the health, education, tourism and public transport sectors as of Jan. 10, the committee said.
A new coronavirus variant found in South Africa and detected in several countries was determined as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization last week and has led to strengthening COVID-19-related restrictions around the world.


Vaccine coverage below 10 percent in seven eastern Mediterranean nations — WHO

Vaccine coverage below 10 percent in seven eastern Mediterranean nations — WHO
Updated 01 December 2021

Vaccine coverage below 10 percent in seven eastern Mediterranean nations — WHO

Vaccine coverage below 10 percent in seven eastern Mediterranean nations — WHO
  • Low-income countries, mostly in Africa, have received only 0.6% of the world's vaccines
  • "The longer that these inequities persist, the greater the chance of more variants,” said WHO’s regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean

CAIRO: An official at the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office said on Wednesday seven countries in the region have not yet reached a threshold of 10 percent vaccination coverage.
These countries represent a high-risk setting for the emergence of further variants, Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said at a news briefing in Cairo.
Low-income countries, mostly in Africa, have received only 0.6 percent of the world’s vaccines, while G20 countries have received more than 80 percent, Al-Mandhari said.
“The longer that these inequities persist, the greater the chance of more variants,” said Al-Mandhari. “Indeed, no one is safe until everyone is safe.”
So far, 24 countries may have reported cases of the new Omicron variant, said Abdinasir Abubakr, infection hazards prevention manager for the region.
Early Omicron cases suggest mild symptoms, added Richard Brennen, WHO regional emergency director in the region.
In terms of the response to the variant, he warned of complacency and COVID-19 fatigue and encouraged social-distancing measures.
However, he said social and travel curbs require risk assessment before implementation.
“While we understand that some countries locked down international travel, this has to be done on evidence and strong analysis,” said Brennen.
As of Nov. 29, over 16.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 309,500 deaths were reported across the Eastern Mediterranean region.


IAEA plans to step up inspections at Iran's Fordow plant

IAEA plans to step up inspections at Iran's Fordow plant
Updated 01 December 2021

IAEA plans to step up inspections at Iran's Fordow plant

IAEA plans to step up inspections at Iran's Fordow plant
  • The 2015 Iran nuclear deal does not allow Iran to enrich uranium at Fordow at all
  • Until now it had been producing enriched uranium there with IR-1 machines and had enriched with some IR-6s without keeping the product

VIENNA: The UN nuclear watchdog plans to increase the frequency of its inspections at Iran's Fordow plant after Iran started producing enriched uranium with more advanced machines there, the watchdog said in a report to member states on Wednesday seen by Reuters.
“The Agency has decided and Iran has agreed to increase the frequency of verification activities at FFEP and will continue consultations with Iran on practical arrangements to facilitate implementation of these activities,” the International Atomic Energy Agency report said, referring to the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant.

The IAEA said Iran had started the process of enriching uranium to up to 20 percent purity with one cascade, or cluster, of 166 advanced IR-6 machines at Fordow. Those machines are far more efficient than the first-generation IR-1.

Indirect talks between Iran and the United States on bringing both fully back into the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed this week after a five-month break prompted by the election of hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi.
Western negotiators fear Iran is creating facts on the ground to gain leverage in the talks.
Underlining how badly eroded the deal is, that agreement does not allow Iran to enrich uranium at Fordow at all. Until now it had been producing enriched uranium there with IR-1 machines and had enriched with some IR-6s without keeping the product.
It has 94 IR-6 machines installed in a cascade at Fordow that is not yet operating, the IAEA said in a statement.