Critical weeks ahead for Turkish ties with EU, Greece

Critical weeks ahead for Turkish ties with EU, Greece
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan receives Greek FM Nikos Dendias at the Presidential Complex in Ankara. (File/AFP)
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Updated 14 May 2021

Critical weeks ahead for Turkish ties with EU, Greece

Critical weeks ahead for Turkish ties with EU, Greece
  • Twin Brussels summits in June look to cool tensions between regional rivals
  • Ankara’s Europe pivot an “opportunistic” move amid struggling economy, experts say

ATHENS: The month of June could prove crucial for the mid-term and long-term future of Greek-Turkish relations, but also for the next steps in Ankara’s relationship with the EU.
The “twin summits” of NATO and the EU in Brussels, to be held on June 14 and June 24-25, respectively, could help clear the air between the two rivals and prepare the ground for a more positive agenda.
Athens and Ankara are exploring the possibility for a bilateral meeting between Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the NATO summit.
However, nothing has been agreed yet, and a planned visit by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to Athens in May will reveal if there is enough common ground for such a meeting.
But Erdogan will also meet with his US counterpart President Joe Biden on June 14, and the bilateral agenda will cover heavyweight issues, ranging from the S-400 missile system to the Eastern Mediterranean dispute.
A few days later, EU leaders will deal once more with the bloc’s relationship with Turkey.
Since the last European Council in March, member states decided to follow a dual-track approach toward Ankara, aiming to promote a positive agenda on issues such as the upgrade of the Customs Union and the EU-Turkey Statement on Migration.
In parallel, the EU is monitoring Turkey’s behavior toward Greece and Cyprus, following last summer’s escalation by Ankara when it sent seismic vessels in maritime areas close to Greek islands, violating the sovereign rights of both states and sparking regional tensions. 
Is there hope for a more sustained and viable relationship in the region?
“There is an obvious de-escalation with regard to Turkey’s illegal activities in disputed waters, but Ankara continues its provocative rhetoric, threatening Greece on a regular basis,” said Konstantinos Filis, executive director of the Institute of International Relations at Athens’ Panteion University.
He added: “The core problem, though, is that despite diplomatic efforts and the resumption of exploratory talks, the two sides have avoided dealing with the fundamental problems that have negatively affected bilateral ties for decades. But at the same time, it is convenient to demonstrate that tensions are under control.”
Many experts believe that Ankara wants closer ties with the EU, even for opportunistic reasons, as the Turkish economy is facing increasing problems.
“The upcoming European summit is expected to once again examine relations with Turkey. Sanctions may be out of the question, but I do not foresee any drastic development in refreshing the EU-Turkey agenda,” said Filis.
“The Biden factor is certainly crucial. His insistence on human rights and democracy rendered it imperative that the Europeans follow. So, in such an environment, and given Ankara’s constant retreat from European values, unleashing the so-called positive agenda will not be an easy task. The EU needs a more solid approach on behalf of Turkey. The revision of the joint statement of March 2016 addressing the migration crisis might be considered,” he added.
George Pagoulatos, a politics professor and director of prominent Greek think tank ELIAMEP, said: “The European Council on March 25 outlined its readiness to positively engage with Turkey in a ‘phased, proportionate and reversible manner,’ subject to the conditions set out in previous European Council conclusions.
“There are a number of ‘low-politics’ areas of cooperation, including public health, climate, counterterrorism and migration management. This dual approach is the right framework; a positive agenda highly conditional on Turkey’s actions, given its track record of rule of law violations and provocations in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
Could an upgrade of the Customs Union deliver a win-win solution for all sides? “The Customs Union is the only institutionalized instrument that remains important for both the EU and Turkey, given the density of trade relations,” Pagoulatos said.
“There is a strong incentive, especially on Turkey’s part, to update the Customs Union. This in itself offers an opportunity to strengthen political and economic ties in EU relations with Turkey,” he added.


More blackouts ahead as Lebanon generators starved of fuel

More blackouts ahead as Lebanon generators starved of fuel
Updated 23 June 2021

More blackouts ahead as Lebanon generators starved of fuel

More blackouts ahead as Lebanon generators starved of fuel
  • National network run by Electricité du Liban is prone to blackouts as some areas only gets provided power for 2 hours a day
  • Many Lebanese pay a separate bill for a backup from neighbourhood generators run by private firms

BEIRUT: The owners of private generators that provide a vital backup to Lebanon’s decrepit power grid warned Wednesday of their own cuts due to lack of fuel as the country’s economic crisis deepens.
The national network run by Electricité du Liban is prone to blackouts and in some areas only manages to provide power for two hours a day.
That forces many Lebanese to pay a separate bill for a backup from neighborhood generators run by private firms.
With the Lebanese economy facing its worst crisis in a generation and the currency in freefall, private suppliers have warned they are struggling to secure enough fuel to keep running.
The crisis is so acute that on Wednesday the lights went out in a building belonging to the foreign ministry, forcing employees to stop work, Lebanese media reported.
“Generator owners in several regions started telling customers on Wednesday that they would not be able to provide electricity for lack of mazout,” a widely used petrol derivative, said Abdu Saadeh, head of a syndicate for generator owners.
“We had warned late last week that the stocks would start running dry... and so far we haven’t found a solution.”
Lebanon has been roiled since autumn 2019 by an economic crisis the World Bank says is likely to rank among the world’s worst financial crises since the mid-19th century.
The collapse has sparked outrage at Lebanon’s political class, seen as woefully corrupt and unable to tackle the country’s many difficulties.
Officials have blamed the current fuel shortages on stockpiling by traders and a surge of fuel smuggling into Syria.
Several people have been arrested on suspicion of smuggling in recent weeks, according to the police.
The central bank has set up a mechanism to subsidise fuels by up to 85 percent, but fuel importers have accused it of failing to implement the program.
The head of public Internet provider Ogero has warned that electricity cuts could also threaten Lebanon’s access to the web.


Egypt stresses need for negotiated settlement on Renaissance Dam 

Egypt stresses need for negotiated settlement on Renaissance Dam 
Updated 23 June 2021

Egypt stresses need for negotiated settlement on Renaissance Dam 

Egypt stresses need for negotiated settlement on Renaissance Dam 
  • Minister Abdel-Ati arrived in Juba, South Sudan, along with an official delegation for a five-day visit to hold talks on promoting bilateral cooperation, including in the field of water management
  • Abdel-Ati said Egypt was implementing projects in all Nile Basin countries and African countries, and that the projects implemented in South Sudan aimed to serve its people

CAIRO: Egypt is keen to complete negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) issue, a government minister said, as Sudan on Wednesday asked the UN Security Council to meet and discuss the dam dispute.

Ethiopia is pinning its hopes of economic development and power generation on the GERD, but Egypt fears it will threaten its water supply from the Nile. Sudan is concerned about the dam’s safety and its own water flow.

Mohamed Abdel-Ati, who is Egypt's minister of water resources and irrigation, emphasized his country’s persistence in preserving its water rights and achieving the benefit for all parties in any GERD agreement that was reached.

On his visit to South Sudan, where he met the First Vice President Riek Machar and Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Manawa Peter, he stressed the pursuit of a just and binding legal agreement that met the aspirations of all countries in development.

He also highlighted Egypt's flexibility in negotiations during the past few years which, he added, had been met with the “intransigence of the Ethiopian side.”

Abdel-Ati arrived in Juba on Monday along with an official delegation for a five-day visit to hold talks on promoting bilateral cooperation, including in the field of water management.

They discussed the latest developments on the Nile water issue and their countries' current positions on the GERD.

Abdel-Ati said Egypt was implementing projects in all Nile Basin countries and African countries, and that the projects implemented in South Sudan aimed to serve its people and achieve stability for them by solving drinking water problems and protecting against the dangers of floods.

He added that projects were currently being implemented in seven countries and that the number was expected to increase to 10 soon.

His remarks came as Sudan asked the UN Security Council to meet and discuss the dam dispute.

Foreign Minister Mariam Sadiq Al-Mahdi called on the council to hold a session as soon as possible to discuss the GERD and “its impact on the safety and security of millions of people,” Reuters reported, quoting a government statement.

She called on the council’s leader to urge Ethiopia to stop the “unilateral” filling of the dam “which exacerbates the dispute and poses a threat to regional and international peace and security.”

The Arab League’s envoy to the UN, Maged Abdel Fattah, said on Tuesday that Sudan and Egypt were working on a draft resolution to the council on the GERD if Ethiopia did not reach a deal.

Arab states would lobby for the draft resolution to be approved, he told Egyptian TV, adding that he did not expect world powers to block it.


World powers in new push for Libya peace

World powers in new push for Libya peace
Updated 23 June 2021

World powers in new push for Libya peace

World powers in new push for Libya peace

BERLIN: Germany and the United Nations are bringing together representatives of Libya with powers that have interests in the country at a conference Wednesday which aims for progress toward securing elections in the North African nation and the removal of foreign fighters.
The meeting at the foreign ministry in Berlin, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken among participants, follows up on a January 2020 conference where leaders agreed to respect an arms embargo and to push the country’s warring parties to reach a full cease-fire. Germany has tried to act as an intermediary.
Countries that have been involved in the process include the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with Italy, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Ahead of the conference, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted that much has been achieved in the past two years. An October cease-fire agreement that included a demand that all foreign fighters and mercenaries leave Libya within 90 days led to a deal on elections, due to be held on Dec. 24, and a transitional government that took office in February.
But “many challenges still lie ahead of us,” said Maas. “For the further stabilization of the country, it is crucial that elections take place as planned and that foreign fighters and mercenaries really do leave Libya.”
He added that Wednesday’s conference launches a new phase “in which we no longer only talk about Libya, but in which we are now speaking with Libyan men and women about the future of their country.”
Blinken said that “we share the goal of a sovereign, stable, unified, secure Libya free from foreign interference — it’s what the people of Libya deserve, it’s critical to regional security as well.”
“For that to happen, national elections need to go forward in December and that means urgent agreement is needed on constitutional and legal issues that would undergird those elections,” he said at a news conference with Maas. “And the Oct. 23 cease-fire agreement has to be fully implemented, including by withdrawing all foreign forces from Libya.”
The US special envoy for Libya, Richard Norland, said it was important to start bringing all armed groups in the country under a joint military command. “When foreign forces leave, they’re going to need to be replaced by a viable united Libyan national military and police structure,” he said.
Meanwhile, aid group Doctors Without Borders said this week it was suspending its activities in two detention centers in Tripoli after “repeated incidents of violence toward refugees and migrants held there.” It said staff had witnessed guards beating detainees at one center and received reports of people being shot at in another.
Libya has been a key transit country for migrants from Africa trying to reach Europe, especially after the collapse of order when a NATO-backed uprising toppled and later killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. The oil-rich country was long divided between a UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the country’s east, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
In April 2019, eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar and his forces, backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive to try to capture Tripoli. Haftar’s 14-month campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its military support of the UN-backed government with hundreds of troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.
Little progress has been made so far on getting foreign forces out of Libya. Jalel Harchaoui, a senior fellow at the Geneva-based Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime who follows Libya closely, said that it is the presence of foreign mercenaries, acting as a sort of deterrent, that has led to the current, if uneasy, peace.
“That’s what it comes down to, and of course it’s not politically correct to say,” he said. He cautioned that elections could deepen polarization if conducted too hastily.


Iran official says US has agreed to lift oil, shipping sanctions

Iran official says US has agreed to lift oil, shipping sanctions
Updated 23 June 2021

Iran official says US has agreed to lift oil, shipping sanctions

Iran official says US has agreed to lift oil, shipping sanctions
  • The talks adjourned on Sunday for a break
  • Raisi is due to replace Rouhani in August

DUBAI: Iran said on Wednesday that Washington had agreed to remove all sanctions on Iran’s oil and shipping, and take some senior figures off a blacklist, at talks to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with global powers which are now on a pause.
The remarks, by outgoing president Hassan Rouhani’s chief of staff, were consistent with previous assertions by officials in Rouhani’s pragmatist camp that Washington is prepared to make major concessions at the talks, under way since April in Vienna.
The talks adjourned on Sunday for a break, two days after Iran held a presidential election won by hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi, the head of Iran’s judiciary who is on the US blacklist. Raisi is due to replace Rouhani in August.
“An agreement has been reached to remove all insurance, oil and shipping sanctions that were imposed by (former US President Donald) Trump,” presidential chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi was quoted as saying by Iran’s state media.
“About 1,040 Trump-era sanctions will be lifted under the agreement. It was also agreed to lift some sanctions on individuals and members of the supreme leader’s inner circle.”
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday there was still “a fair distance to travel”, including on sanctions and on the nuclear commitments that Iran has to make. Other Western and Iranian officials have also said the talks are a long way from a conclusion.
Iran agreed in 2015 to curbs on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of international sanctions. Trump abandoned the agreement three years later and reimposed sanctions, and Tehran responded by violating some nuclear limits.
The new US administration of President Joe Biden aims to restore the deal, but the sides disagree on which steps need to be taken and when.
Iranian and Western officials alike say Raisi’s rise is unlikely to alter Iran’s negotiating position, as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei already has final say on all major policy.
However, some Iranian officials have suggested Tehran may prefer an agreement before Raisi takes office to give the new president a clean slate.


Iran says US websites seizure unhelpful for nuclear talks

Iran says US websites seizure unhelpful for nuclear talks
Updated 23 June 2021

Iran says US websites seizure unhelpful for nuclear talks

Iran says US websites seizure unhelpful for nuclear talks
  • Iran's state broadcaster accused the US of repressing freedom of expression
  • EU negotiator Enrique Mora said on Sunday that those involved in the talks were "closer" to saving the Iran nuclear deal

TEHRAN: Tehran warned Wednesday that Washington's seizure of 33 websites run by Iran-linked media was "not constructive" for ongoing talks on bringing the United States back into a landmark nuclear deal.
The US Justice Department said it had seized 33 Iranian government-controlled media websites, as well as three of the Iraqi group Kataeb Hezbollah, which it said were hosted on US-owned domains in violation of sanctions.
Iran's state broadcaster accused the US of repressing freedom of expression, while the president's office questioned the timing of the move as talks on bringing Washington back into the 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and major powers are reportedly making headway.
"We are using all international and legal means to... condemn... this mistaken policy of the United States," the director of the president's office, Mahmoud Vaezi, told reporters.
"It appears not constructive when talks for a deal on the nuclear issue are under way."
The 2015 deal saw Iran accept curbs on its nuclear activities in return for an easing of sanctions, but in 2018 then US president Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned the agreement and ramped up sanctions, prompting Iran to pull back from its own commitments.
Trump's successor Joe Biden has signalled his readiness to return to the deal and state parties -- also including Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia -- have been negotiating its revival in Vienna since early April.
EU negotiator Enrique Mora said on Sunday that those involved in the talks were "closer" to saving the Iran nuclear deal but that sticking points remain.
The US action also comes just after Iranians chose ultraconservative cleric Ibrahim Raisi as president in an election the US State Department characterised as neither free nor fair.
Visitors to leading Iranian media sites like Press TV and Al-Alam, the country's main English- and Arabic-language broadcasters, as well as the Al-Masirah TV channel of Yemen's Huthis, were met with single-page statements declaring the website "has been seized by the United States government" accompanied by the seals of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Commerce Department.
The 33 websites were held by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU), itself controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force (IRGC).
Both the IRTVU and IRGC have been placed on the US sanctions blacklist, making it illegal for Americans, US companies, and foreign or non-American companies with US subsidiaries to have business with them or their subsidiaries.
Kataeb Hezbollah, the Iraqi group which owned three sites that were seized, is a hardline military faction with close ties to Tehran that Washington has formally designated a terror group.
Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the immediate parent of Al-Alam, reported that other web domains, including Palestine-Al Youm, a Palestinian-directed broadcaster, and an Arabic-language religious and cultural channel were among those seized.
Bahrain's LuaLua TV, a channel run by opposition groups with offices in London and Beirut, was also frozen by the United States, according to an AFP correspondent in the region.
IRIB accused the US of repressing freedom of expression and joining forces with Israel and Saudi Arabia "to block pro-resistance media outlets exposing the crimes of US allies in the region."
TV stations such as Press TV and Al-Alam switched to .ir domains and their websites remained accessible. They are also still present on social media, mainly Twitter, and their broadcasts have continued uninterrupted.
On the website of their political wing, the Huthis branded the action "American piracy and copyright confiscation".
"The government of the United States of America is banning the Al-Masirah website without any justification or even prior notice," they said.
Al-Masirah quickly established a new website, using its name but swapping the .net domain for .com.
Meanwhile LuaLua and Al-Masirah continued to broadcast new programs, AFP journalists said.
IRTVU was designated for sanctions last year for "brazen attempts to sow discord among the voting populace by spreading disinformation online and executing malign influence operations aimed at misleading US voters," the Justice Department said.
"IRTVU and others like it, disguised as news organisations or media outlets, targeted the United States with disinformation campaigns and malign influence operations," it said in a statement.
US officials meanwhile have tied Kataeb Hezbollah to rocket and other attacks on sites in Iraq where American soldiers and diplomats reside, and say the group is supported by Iran's Revolutionary Guards.
The Justice Department did not identify the US company or companies which owned the domains that hosted the websites, or explain how they had been able to host them contrary to sanctions.