Russian fighter aircraft ‘may drive a new wedge’ between Turkey, US

Russian fighter aircraft ‘may drive a new wedge’ between Turkey, US
The Turkish government became interested in buying Russian Su-35s or fifth-generation Su-57s after it was suspended from the American fighter jet program in 2019. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 14 March 2021

Russian fighter aircraft ‘may drive a new wedge’ between Turkey, US

Russian fighter aircraft ‘may drive a new wedge’ between Turkey, US
  • Biden administration signals Washington will pressure Ankara over any military cooperation with Moscow

ANKARA: Russia’s announcement that it is ready to hold negotiations with Ankara on the delivery of Su-35 and Su-57 fighter aircraft if requested may cause further tensions between the US and Turkey, experts say.

Turkey hired a Washington-based law firm last month to lobby for its readmission to the US F-35 fighter jet program after it was suspended following its purchase of the Russian air defense system. Washington says the presence of the Russian S-400 system in Turkey would be incompatible with NATO systems and expose the F-35s to possible Russian ploys.
Turkey’s previous order for about 100 F-35s was also canceled by the US, pushing Ankara to search for alternatives from other procurers and to focus on building its own fighter jet.
On March 12, Valeria Reshetnikova, the spokesperson for Russia’s Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation (FSMTC), said: “As for Ankara’s potential plans of purchasing Russian Su-35 and Su-57 fighters, the Turkish side has been informed about their technical specifications in full. If there is a request from Turkey for these planes, we are ready for negotiations on this issue.”
“The Turkish side has for quite long stated its intention to implement the project of developing its own TF-X fifth-generation fighter. Russia earlier indicated that it was ready to consider the possibility of cooperation under this program. However, we have not received the corresponding request from Ankara so far,” Reshetnikova said.
Russia’s call last week for Ankara to reconsider its previous decision on the Su-57s aims to draw Turkey further away from Washington and avoid a “reset” in the relationship, analysts say.
Aydin Sezer, an expert on Turkey-Russia relations, said the latest call by Russia to negotiate the purchase of Russian-made aircraft is a tactical move to keep Moscow-Ankara military cooperation on the Western agenda.

BACKGROUND

• Turkey hired a Washington-based law firm last month to lobby for its readmission to the US F-35 fighter jet program after it was suspended following its purchase of the Russian air defense system.

• Washington says the presence of the Russian S-400 system in Turkey would be incompatible with NATO systems and expose the F-35s to possible Russian ploys.

• Turkey’s previous order for about 100 F-35s was also canceled by the US, pushing Ankara to search for alternatives from other procurers and to focus on building its own fighter jet.

“The Kremlin knows very well that Turkey will not purchase a Russian jet,” Sezer told Arab News. “Even if it decides to buy it, it will receive it in 10 years’ time at the earliest. Russia wanted to remind Turkey of its unfulfilled commitments while trying to break ties between Turkey and the Biden administration from the very beginning,” he said.
Since February, the FSMTC has stepped up its calls for Ankara to continue negotiations over the Su-35 and Su-37.
Russia offers individual strategic partners the export version of the Su-57 fighter jet, which is considered the newest generation of Russian multi-role stealth combat aircraft.
Turkey became interested in buying Russian Su-35s or fifth-generation Su-57s after it was suspended from the US fighter jet program in 2019. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reviewed the Su-57s with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in 2019 during an international aviation fair held in Moscow.
Turkey’s Industry and Technology Minister Mustafa Varank recently said that Turkey would not hesitate to discuss with Russia the purchase of Su-35 and Su-57s.
“We are against the plane of country X, we are against the plane of country Y. If there is an airplane in Russia for our current needs and it will not be difficult to put it into our system and operate it, we can of course buy this plane from Russia or another country in Europe,” he told Sputnik News on March 11.
“This is the similar discourse Turkish officials used in late-2016 and early-2017 when the S-400 procurement issue began to arise,” Caglar Kurc, a researcher on defense and armed forces, told Arab News.
“Although Varank has no official responsibility in procurement decisions, I think Turkey is again trying to leverage the Russian card against the US, while Russia could be looking for another sale,” he said. However, Kurc said that this time the US position was very clear.
“There are no mixed messages as during the Trump administration. Furthermore, the Biden administration already signaled that the Turkish-American relations would be more transactional, meaning that the US would not shy from increasing the pressure if Turkey continues to have significant military-industrial cooperation with Russia,” he said.
According to Sezer, Turkey’s recent foreign policy moves have disturbed Russian policymakers.
“Ankara pledged to buy the second batch of S-400s last year, but since two months there is no attempt from Ankara to negotiate it as if it suddenly forgot all its previous commitments,” he said.


Egypt, Qatar discuss trade and investment future 

Egyptian Minister of Industry and Trade Nevin Gamea meeting Qatar’s ambassador to Cairo, Salem Mubarak Al-Shafi. (Supplied)
Egyptian Minister of Industry and Trade Nevin Gamea meeting Qatar’s ambassador to Cairo, Salem Mubarak Al-Shafi. (Supplied)
Updated 14 sec ago

Egypt, Qatar discuss trade and investment future 

Egyptian Minister of Industry and Trade Nevin Gamea meeting Qatar’s ambassador to Cairo, Salem Mubarak Al-Shafi. (Supplied)
  • Minister urged the importance of an Egyptian-Qatari trade committee to follow up on all bilateral cooperation projects.

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Industry and Trade Nevin Gamea met Qatar’s ambassador to Cairo, Salem Mubarak Al-Shafi, on Friday to discuss ways to further develop economic, trade and investment relations between the two countries after a four-year hiatus ended earlier this year.

According to a statement by the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Gamea said that both countries are intensifying efforts achieve further rapprochement at a political and economic level. She noted the importance of translating goodwill into concrete cooperation.

She pointed to the importance of building on the “solid ground” laid by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and Prince Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani by enhancing trade and developing joint investment.

The minister urged the importance of an Egyptian-Qatari trade committee to follow up on all bilateral cooperation projects.

Gamea also stressed the importance of the two countries working at a ministerial level, and invited the Qatari minister of trade to visit Cairo.

Al-Shafi said that Egypt offers “strategic depth” to the region, noting the desire of both countries to begin a new phase of bilateral cooperation.

He urged the importance of enhancing intra-regional trade and joint investment between Egypt and Qatar to “reflect the great potential of both countries.” He said that there is consensus between the two governments on a large number of joint cooperation files.

Al-Shafi praised the economic reforms and urban developments implemented by Egypt, and said that Qatari investment has remained strong in the Egyptian market, especially in finance and real estate.


Libya FM: Security, stability necessary to usher in new govt

Libya FM: Security, stability necessary to usher in new govt
Updated 23 October 2021

Libya FM: Security, stability necessary to usher in new govt

Libya FM: Security, stability necessary to usher in new govt
  • The Libyan government hosted a high-level conference aimed at resolving the country’s thorniest issues ahead of elections scheduled for late December
  • Libya still faces a number of obstacles before its people can go to the polls, including unresolved issues over the country's elections laws

TRIPOLI, Libya: Libya’s chief diplomat says the transitional government is working to hold long-awaited elections later this year, but security and political and economic stability are necessary for a peaceful transition to a new government.
Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush’s comments came in an interview with AP late Friday in the capital of Tripoli. She spoke a day after the Libyan government hosted a high-level conference aimed at resolving the country’s thorniest issues ahead of elections scheduled for late December.
“To reach a peaceful transition, attention must be paid to the security and military affairs and to push the wheel of the economy in Libya,” she said.
Libya still faces a number of obstacles before its people can go to the polls, including unresolved issues over the country’s elections laws, occasional infighting among armed groups serving the government, and the deep rift that remains between the country’s east and west, separated for nearly 10 years by civil war.
Hopefuls for the presidential election, slated for Dec. 24, are set to declare their candidacies in the coming days and there are signs that some figures who rose to prominence during the war could take part. Mangoush said she hopes Libyans would accept the results of the vote which, if held, would be the country’s first election since 2014.
Parliament elections have been rescheduled by lawmakers for early next year.
Mangoush said the conference Thursday attended by Western, regional and United Nations representatives was a push to implement the withdrawal of mercenaries and foreign forces from the oil-rich country before holding the presidential and parliamentary votes.
“The conference has a great and very deep symbolism for all Libyans,” she said, adding it was “the biggest indication that Libya is recovering.”
Libya has been engulfed in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. He was captured and killed by an armed group two months later. The oil-rich country was for years split between rival governments, one based in the capital, Tripoli, and the other in the eastern part of the country. Each side was backed by different foreign powers and militias.
After months of UN-backed negotiations, an interim government was appointed in February to lead the country to elections. As the countdown to the vote begins, differences are re-emerging between Libyan rivals — putting the entire reconciliation process at risk.
In September, Libya’s powerful, east-based commander Khalifa Haftar announced he was suspending his role as leader of a self-styled Libyan army for the next three months — the clearest indication yet that he may be contemplating a run for president in December elections. Should he run, he would be one of the frontrunners but his candidacy would likely stir controversy in western Libya and Tripoli, the stronghold of his opponents, many of them Islamists.
Thousands of mercenaries, foreign fighters and other foreign forces are still in Libya a year after a cease-fire deal included an agreement that they would depart within three months, which hasn’t happened.
A 10-member joint military commission with five representatives from each side of the conflict in Libya reached an initial agreement earlier this month on the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries. The UN has also started to deploy monitors to observe the cease-fire.
The UN special envoy for Libya, Jan Kubis, warned last month that failure to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on Dec. 24 could renew division and conflict and thwart efforts to unite the oil-rich country.
Mangoush said Libya is marching toward a “peaceful path and safe path,” but she warned that achieving a peaceful transition requires “security, political and economic stability.”
She said the transitional government of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah backs holding a “fair and comprehensive” vote at the end of the year, although “there is diligent and very serious work to be done toward the elections.”
“We are all waiting for it to take place on time, God willing, and that Libyans accept its results,” she said.


Two years after protests, Lebanon activists set sights on vote

Two years after protests, Lebanon activists set sights on vote
Updated 23 October 2021

Two years after protests, Lebanon activists set sights on vote

Two years after protests, Lebanon activists set sights on vote
  • Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese took to the streets from October 17, 2019 in an unprecedented countrywide and cross-sectarian uprising
  • Activist Firas Hamdan is one of many to say that the elections, set for next year, will be a new opportunity for people to raise their voices against the authorities

BEIRUT: Two years after a now-defunct protest movement shook Lebanon, opposition activists are hoping parliamentary polls will challenge the ruling elite’s stranglehold on the country.
Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese took to the streets from October 17, 2019 in an unprecedented countrywide and cross-sectarian uprising.
Their demands were for basic services and the wholesale removal of a political class they accused of mismanagement and corruption since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.
But as the country sank further into economic turmoil, made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, what demonstrators called their “revolution” petered out.
Many then saw a probe into the cataclysmic 2020 Beirut port blast as the best chance to bring down Lebanon’s hereditary political barons, but even intense international pressure in the explosion’s aftermath failed to make them change their ways.
Last week, feuding parties turned Beirut into a war zone, with heavy exchanges of fire killing seven people in a flare-up sparked by a rally against the main investigating judge.
Lawyer and activist Firas Hamdan is one of many to say that the elections, set for next year, will be a new opportunity for people to raise their voices against the authorities.
“We tried everything — protests in a single location and across regions, demonstrations outside the central bank and near the homes of officials, following lawmakers and officials into restaurants and coffee shops, and blocking roads — but all to no avail,” he said.
Instead now “the parliamentary elections will be a pivotal moment in confronting the system — even if not the final battle,” he added.
Hamdan said the polls would allow people to choose between those who want to actually “build a state,” and a tired ruling class “that only knows the language of arms, destruction and blood.”
It will be a “face-off between thieves and murderers, and citizens who deserve a chance at state building,” said the lawyer, who was hit in the heart by a lead pellet at a demonstration last year demanding justice over the port blast.
The protest movement has given birth to a clutch of new political parties, as well as attracting support from more traditional ones such as the Christian Kataeb party.
Each has its own vision of how to achieve change, but all largely agree on the importance of the upcoming elections.
Zeina El-Helou, a member of new political party “Lana” (For Us), said it was time to “move on from the nostalgia of throngs of people in the streets chanting” for change.
Activists needed instead to work on “managing frustrations and expectations” for the future, she said.
The political battle would be tough, as it opposed two sides of “unequal means,” she said, referring to her side’s limited financing or access to the traditional media for campaigning, and to gerrymandering giving establishment parties the advantage.
The various opposition groups have yet to decide how they will take part in the upcoming polls, and some observers have criticized them for failing to coordinate their efforts effectively.
Voters, meanwhile, are busy battling to get by on deeply diminished incomes, amid endless power cuts, price hikes and shortages of everything from medicine to petrol.
Maher Abu Chakra, from the new grouping “Li Haqqi” (For My Right), said the polls would likely not change a thing but it was “important to take part.”
“It’s a first step on the path to lasting change.”
But he too acknowledged the challenges.
“When people’s priority becomes making sure they can provide basic needs, they’re less ready for confrontation” in politics, he said.
Tens of thousands have been laid off or have taken pay cuts since the start of the crisis, and many people have been deprived of their own life savings, which have become trapped in the banks.
In some cases, traditional parties have managed to wheedle their way back into voters’ homes by giving them food, fuel or medication, or even paying their electricity or water bills.
Hilal Khashan, professor of political science at the American University of Beirut (AUB), said the old political system was “still alive and well.”
The people, however, were suffering from “social fatigue” and had “understood change wouldn’t be so easy,” he said.
Rima Majed, assistant professor of sociology at AUB, said people were leaving the country because they had lost hope in any political change.
Fed up with constant blackouts and shortages, thousands of fresh graduates and better-off families have packed their bags and quit Lebanon in recent months in search of a better life abroad.
“It’s deluded to believe that elections can change the system,” she said.


Senior Al-Qaeda leader killed in US drone strike in Syria: Pentagon

Senior Al-Qaeda leader killed in US drone strike in Syria: Pentagon
Updated 23 October 2021

Senior Al-Qaeda leader killed in US drone strike in Syria: Pentagon

Senior Al-Qaeda leader killed in US drone strike in Syria: Pentagon
  • US official says Al-Qaeda uses Syria as a safe haven to rebuild, coordinate with external affiliates, and plan external operations

WASHINGTON: A senior Al-Qaeda leader was killed in a US drone strike in Syria, the Pentagon said on Friday.
The strike comes two days after a base in southern Syria, used by the US-led coalition fighting the Daesh group, was assaulted.
“A US airstrike today in northwest Syria killed senior Al-Qaeda leader Abdul Hamid Al-Matar,” said Central Command spokesman Army Major John Rigsbee in a statement.
There were no known casualties from the strike, he said, adding it was conducted using an MQ-9 aircraft.
“The removal of this Al-Qaeda senior leader will disrupt the terrorist organization’s ability to further plot and carry out global attacks,” he said.
At the end of September the Pentagon killed Salim Abu-Ahmad, another senior Al-Qaeda commander in Syria, in an airstrike near Idlib in the country’s northwest.
He had been responsible for “planning, funding, and approving trans-regional Al-Qaeda attacks,” according to Centcom.
“Al-Qaeda continues to present a threat to America and our allies. Al-Qaeda uses Syria as a safe haven to rebuild, coordinate with external affiliates, and plan external operations,” Rigsbee said.
The ongoing war in Syria has created a complex battlefield involving foreign armies, militias and jihadists.
The war has killed around half a million people since starting in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.


Algeria rejects Western Sahara talks

Algeria rejects Western Sahara talks
Updated 23 October 2021

Algeria rejects Western Sahara talks

Algeria rejects Western Sahara talks
  • Morocco sees the entire Western Sahara as an integral part of its territory and has offered autonomy there while firmly ruling out independence

ALGIERS: Algeria on Friday ruled out returning to roundtable talks over Western Sahara, days after the UN appointed a new envoy for the conflict. “We confirm our formal and irreversible rejection of the so-called roundtable format,” Algeria’s Western Sahara envoy Amar Belani told the APS news agency.

Algiers is seen as the main backer of the Polisario Front, which seeks independence in the disputed territory, mostly controlled by Algeria’s arch-rival Morocco.

The International Crisis Group wrote this month that “Rabat considers Western Sahara a regional issue and the Polisario an Algerian proxy”, meaning Morocco wants Algeria at the table in any talks.

But some Polisario officials demand a return to bilateral talks on what they see as “a struggle by a colonized population for national liberation from a colonial power”, the ICG report explained.

The last UN-led peace talks in 2019 involved top officials from Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and the Polisario.

But they were frozen after UN envoy Horst Kohler quit the post in May 2019. He was finally replaced this month by veteran diplomat Staffan de Mistura. The Security Council is expected to renew the mandate of peace mission MINURSO by Oct. 27, and possibly call for new roundtable talks.

But Belani said Algeria had told the council it rejects the “deeply unbalanced” and “counterproductive” format, warning it would thwart De Mistura’s efforts.

He accused Rabat of trying “to evade the characterization of the Western Sahara issue as one of decolonization and to portray it as a regional, artificial conflict”.

Tensions have mounted between Rabat and Algiers since Morocco last year normalized ties with Israel and won US recognition of its sovereignty over the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony rich in phosphate and Atlantic fisheries.

Algeria, which has long supported the Palestinian cause as well as the Polisario, in August cut diplomatic ties with its rival over “hostile actions,” including alleged spying on its officials — accusations Morocco dismisses.

The standoff also came after the Polisario declared a three-decade cease-fire “null and void” after a Moroccan incursion to break up a blockade of a highway into Mauritania.

Belani urged the UN to treat the issue seriously. “We must recognize that the risks of escalation are serious,” he said. “Peace and stability in the region are at stake.”