Diplomatic row heats up in Turkey over envoys’ joint declaration

This undated handout file photograph released on October 15, 2021, by the Anadolu Culture Center via AFP)
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This undated handout file photograph released on October 15, 2021, by the Anadolu Culture Center via AFP)
An undated handout file photograph released on Oct. 15, 2021, by Anadolu Culture Center shows Osman Kavala speaking during an event in Istanbul. (AFP)
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An undated handout file photograph released on Oct. 15, 2021, by Anadolu Culture Center shows Osman Kavala speaking during an event in Istanbul. (AFP)
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Updated 25 October 2021

Diplomatic row heats up in Turkey over envoys’ joint declaration

Diplomatic row heats up in Turkey over envoys’ joint declaration
  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ordeed the Foreign Ministry to declare the envoys “persona non grata”
  • Ankara’s foreign policy being driven by domestic political considerations, analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA: The joint declaration by 10 ambassadors of Western countries urging the release of the 64-year-old jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala continues to shape domestic politics in Turkey, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordering the Foreign Ministry to declare the envoys “persona non grata.”

The move is expected to have domestic and international political and economic repercussions.

Kavala, who denies the charges, is behind bars for four years, accused of financing nationwide anti-government protests in 2013.

The ambassadors of France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand, the US, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands called for a quick and just resolution of Kavala’s case on Oct. 18 — the day marking four years of the start of his detention.

We “believe a just and speedy resolution to his case must be in line with Turkey’s international obligations and domestic laws. Noting the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights on the matter, we call for Turkey to secure his urgent release,” the ambassadors’ statement read, echoing the European Court of Human Rights ruling on its member country Turkey.




An undated handout file photograph released on Oct. 15, 2021, by Anadolu Culture Center shows Osman Kavala speaking during an event in Istanbul. (AFP)

The ambassadors were summoned by the Foreign Ministry after the release of the statement.

“I gave the necessary instruction to our foreign minister and said what must be done: These ten ambassadors must be declared persona non grata immediately,” Erdogan said in a speech on Saturday.

“They will know and understand Turkey. The day they do not know and understand it they will leave,” he added, noting that these ambassadors would not release “terrorists” in their own countries.

A declaration of “persona non grata” — an envoy who is no longer welcome — is a diplomatic move that is one step before expulsion.

The Turkish government considers the ambassadors' declaration as direct interference into domestic politics, rather than reminding European top court's ruling.

In the meantime, Kavala, who served on the advisory board of US philanthropist George Soros’ Open Society’s national foundation in Turkey until 2018, released a statement on Friday saying that he would not attend his next trial on Nov. 26 to deliver his defense, as he believes his hearing would be not fair in light of recent circumstances.

The ambassadors referred to the ECHR in their declaration. The top European court urged the immediate release of the Turkish philanthropist in late 2019, saying that his detention was aimed at silencing him.

Last month, the Council of Europe warned that infringement proceedings against Ankara would begin at the end of November if Kavala was not released.

The Danish, Dutch and Norwegian embassies in Turkey said that they had not received any notification from Turkish authorities and would continue to urge Turkey to comply with its international obligations.

Experts, however, note that the expulsion of 10 European and North American ambassadors — unprecedented in Turkish political history — may trigger actions in kind from these countries.

“As elsewhere in the world, all politics is local,” Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director of the German Marshall Fund of the US, told Arab News.

“Turkish foreign policy has been driven excessively driven by domestic political considerations and this case is no different,” he said.

According to Unluhisarcikli, Erdogan’s instruction to the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to declare these ambassadors as “persona non grata” may please his voters and divert attention from domestic troubles, but it will also contribute to Turkey’s international isolation at a time when the country is already under US sanctions and came close to being sanctioned by the EU last year.

Last year, the US administration sanctioned the Turkish defense industry over its purchase of the Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile system. The action was taken under the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

“Moreover ,Turkey is going through a currency crisis, which could trigger a financial crisis about 18 months before the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for June 2023,” Unluhisarcikli said.

In public statements, Turkey’s former ambassadors underlined that although harsh reactions could be given in diplomatic proceedings, the main goal should be the management and resolution of the crises.

Abdurrahman Bilgic, a retired envoy who served as the ambassador to Tokyo and the UK, said the ambassadors in Turkey had the right to declare their countries’ stance on Kavala’s release, either individually or through a joint declaration.

“In return, the Turkish Foreign Ministry can also retaliate with a declaration to show their uneasiness. But in the meantime the ambassadors should not target our ruling government and judiciary with their consecutive social media statements,” he told Arab News.

However, for Bilgic, declaring these diplomats “persona non grata” would not serve Turkey’s interests and could trigger retaliation.

“If the process is being handled like this, Turkey could not only loose its voting rights at the Council of Europe but even its membership,” he said.

Article 90 of the Turkish Constitution provides that in the case of conflict between international agreements in the area of fundamental rights and freedoms, the provisions of international agreements shall prevail.

“Expelling ambassadors is not the way to defend national interests or to explain one’s position on any given matter. Impulsive foreign policy with an eye on domestic politics has only served to aggravate Turkey’s isolation. This should not be deepened through rash action,” tweeted Alper Coskun, the former Turkish ambassador to Azerbaijan and senior fellow at Washington-based think-tank Carnegie Endowment.

In the past 50 years, Turkey has declared only three diplomats — one from Libya in 1986, Syria in 1986, and Iran in 1989 — as persona non grata, while the last foreign ambassador Ankara declared persona non grata was an Iranian envoy.


Iran makes maximalist demands as Vienna nuclear talks open

Iran makes maximalist demands as Vienna nuclear talks open
Updated 30 November 2021

Iran makes maximalist demands as Vienna nuclear talks open

Iran makes maximalist demands as Vienna nuclear talks open
  • Unclear whether this represented an opening gambit by Iran’s new hard-line president
  • It may also signal serious trouble for those hoping to restore the 2015 nuclear deal

TEHRAN: Iran struck a maximalist tone Tuesday after just one day of restarted talks in Vienna over its tattered nuclear deal, suggesting everything discussed in previous rounds of diplomacy could be renegotiated as Tehran demands all American sanctions be lifted.

Iranian state media reported the comments by Ali Bagheri, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, and Mohammed Eslami, the country’s civilian nuclear chief.

It remained unclear, however, whether this represented an opening gambit by Iran’s new hard-line president or signaled serious trouble for those hoping to restore the 2015 deal that saw Tehran strictly limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

The United States left the deal under then-President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran in 2018. Since the deal’s collapse, Iran now enriches small amounts of uranium up to 60 percent purity — a short step from weapons-grade levels of 90 percent. Iran also spins advanced centrifuges barred by the accord, and its uranium stockpile now far exceeds the accord’s limits.

Speaking to Iranian state television, Bagheri referred to the previous rounds of talks only as a “draft.”

“Drafts are subject to negotiation. Therefore nothing is agreed on unless everything has been agreed on,” he said. “On that basis, all discussions that took place in the six rounds are summarized and are subject to negotiations. This was admitted by all parties in today’s meeting as well.”

Another state TV segment saw Bagheri in Vienna also saying Iran demanded a “guarantee by American not to impose new sanctions” or not re-impose previously lifted sanctions.

Eslami, speaking to Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency, reiterated that demand.

“The talks (in Vienna) are about return of the US to the deal and they have to lift all sanctions and this should be in practice and verifiable,” he said.

Talks in Vienna resumed Monday after an over five-month hiatus as hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi took power. Raisi, a protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, campaigned on getting sanctions lifted. However, fellow hard-liners within Iran’s theocracy long have criticized the nuclear deal as giving too much away to the West.

Iran’s comments Tuesday stood in stark contrast to the optimistic tone offered by the European Union diplomat leading the talks.

“I feel positive that we can be doing important things for the next weeks,” Enrique Mora told reporters on Monday.

Israel, Iran’s regional, nuclear-armed rival, kept up its own pressure amid the negotiations. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in a video address delivered to nations negotiating in Vienna, warned that he saw Iran trying to “end sanctions in exchange for almost nothing.”

“Iran deserves no rewards, no bargain deals and no sanctions relief in return for their brutality,” Bennett said in the video that he later posted to Twitter. “I call upon our allies around the world: Do not give in to Iran’s nuclear blackmail.”

Iran maintains its atomic program is peaceful. However, US intelligence agencies and international inspectors say Iran had an organized nuclear weapons program up until 2003. Nonproliferation experts fear the brinkmanship could push Tehran toward even more extreme measures to try to force the West to lift sanctions.

Making matters more difficult, United Nations nuclear inspectors remain unable to fully monitor Iran’s program after Tehran limited their access. A trip to Iran last week by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, failed to make any progress on that issue.


Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa

Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa
Updated 30 November 2021

Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa

Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa
  • Coalition asked civilians in Sanaa not to gather near the targeted sites

RIYADH: The Arab coalition struck Iranian Revolutionary Guard experts in Yemen’s capital, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The coalition asked civilians in Sanaa not to gather near the targeted sites.

The operation complies with international humanitarian law and its customary rules, the coalition said.

The coalition has hit a number of sites in the capital in the past few weeks in an effort to deteriorate the capabilities of the Iran-backed Houthi militia.

Previous attacks have targeted drone warehouses and experts belonging to Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The Houthis repeatedly target the Kingdom with bomb-laden drones, mostly without causing much damage because of Saudi air defenses.

Houthi attempts to target civilians has been labeled as war crimes by the Kingdom.

The Arab coalition has been supporting the internationally recognized Yemeni government regain full control of the country after the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.

Saudi Arabia has previously said that a political solution is the only way to permanent peace in Yemen. Launched in March, the Riyadh Initiative aimed to do just that. The plan includes a nationwide ceasefire and as well as of peace talks. However, the Houthi leadership has rejected the plan.

The war, which has now lasted for seven years, has cost thousands of Yemenis their lives and has forced many more to depend on humanitarian assistance.


Those guilty of chemical attacks must be held accountable, says UN Chief

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said perpetrators of chemical-weapon attacks must be identified and held accountable. (Reuters)
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said perpetrators of chemical-weapon attacks must be identified and held accountable. (Reuters)
Updated 30 November 2021

Those guilty of chemical attacks must be held accountable, says UN Chief

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said perpetrators of chemical-weapon attacks must be identified and held accountable. (Reuters)
  • At start of conference devoted to a nuclear-free Middle East, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also called on all parties to work to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal
  • Expansion of existing nuclear-free zones around the world would lead to more robust disarmament and non-proliferation norms, he added

NEW YORK: The perpetrators of chemical-weapon attacks must be identified and held accountable for their actions, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday.

His comments came as he opened the second session of the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Currently, 60 percent of UN member states are covered by five nuclear weapon-free zones in Latin America and the Caribbean; the South Pacific; Southeast Asia; Africa; and Central Asia. Guterres said that expanding these zones would lead to more robust disarmament and non-proliferation norms.

“That is particularly the case in the Middle East, where concerns over nuclear programs persist, and where conflicts and civil wars are causing widespread civilian casualties and suffering, undermining stability and disrupting social and economic development,” the UN chief said as he again called on all in the region to exercise restraint and avoid the escalation of conflicts.

The second session of the annual conference, which was delayed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, was presided over by Mansour Al-Otaibi, the permanent representative to the UN for Kuwait, which was chosen to inherit the presidency from Jordan after the first session in 2019.

In line with a General Assembly decision, the goal of the conference is to “elaborate a legally binding treaty” to establish a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, on the basis of “arrangements freely arrived at by the states of the region.”

Guterres praised Kuwait for “actively engaging participants during the intersessional period to learn from the other nuclear weapon-free zones and continue moving the process forward.”

He said the conference represents a chance to produce tangible results for the Middle East and to reinstate dialogue on the “full and effective” implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal.

He urged “all parties” to work to salvage the agreement, signed in 2015 by world powers and Iran, under which Tehran pledged to halt its efforts to develop a nuclear weapon in return for the lifting of international sanctions.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the deal in 2018. A sixth round of negotiations to revive the JCPOA began on Monday in Vienna.

“Your strong political will, together with the international community’s support, can transform the vision of a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction into a reality,” Guterres told the participants.


Lebanese protesters block roads over economic meltdown

A Lebanese youth stands by burning tyres blocking a road during a protest in the capital Beirut on November 29, 2021, as the country struggles with a deep economic crisis. (AFP)
A Lebanese youth stands by burning tyres blocking a road during a protest in the capital Beirut on November 29, 2021, as the country struggles with a deep economic crisis. (AFP)
Updated 30 November 2021

Lebanese protesters block roads over economic meltdown

A Lebanese youth stands by burning tyres blocking a road during a protest in the capital Beirut on November 29, 2021, as the country struggles with a deep economic crisis. (AFP)
  • After Doha talks, Aoun stresses need to overcome defects in Lebanon-Arab relations
  • Maronite Patriarch Al-Rahi decries Hezbollah influence after Nasrallah remarks against judiciary 

BEIRUT: Demonstrators blocked roads across parts of Lebanon on Monday in protest at the country’s economic meltdown, days after its currency sank to new lows.

There has been little progress since Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government was appointed in September after more than a year of political deadlock.

Roads were blocked by piles of burning tires in central Beirut, Tripoli in northern Lebanon and the southern city of Sidon.

Schools were forced to close in Beirut after the protests made them inaccessible to students. Protesters in the city’s southern suburbs, meanwhile, blocked the road to the airport in front of Al-Aytam station.

Less than 24 hours before the Beirut protests, residents of Ali Al-Nahri, in the Bekaa Valley, launched their own protests, shouting “we are cold and hungry.”

A spokesperson for the protesters said: “We will take to the streets more frequently in the coming days unless the governing authority put a stop to the deteriorating living conditions the Lebanese are facing.”

He added: “The people of Beirut are noble. They are fighting extremely hard for their city and their livelihood.

“They are not thieves, and today’s move does not have any political, electoral, parliamentary or ministerial dimension. Its sole purpose is the livelihood of citizens after a large number of students now go to school without any food.”

In a UNICEF report published last week, the agency said: “More than 30 percent of families have at least one child in Lebanon who skipped a meal, while 77 percent of families say they lack sufficient food and 60 percent of them buy food by accumulating unpaid bills or borrowing money.”

The protests coincided with President Michel Aoun’s visit to Qatar to attend the opening of the FIFA Arab Cup and inaugurate the new Olympic Stadium.

The president discussed Lebanon’s economic meltdown and unprecedented diplomatic crisis with Gulf states during his talks with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

Al-Thani reiterated Qatar’s readiness to help in all areas needed for the rise of Lebanon from the “difficult circumstances it is going through.”

He announced that Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani will visit Beirut in the coming period, to follow up on the developments and provide the country with necessary assistance.

He hoped for “a resolution for the crisis between Lebanon and a number of Gulf states in the near future, especially as Lebanon has always stood by all the Arab and Gulf states.”

Aoun welcomed any “investment from Qatar to implement developmental projects in Lebanon in the area of energy, electricity and banking, where there are many opportunities.”

Qatar will continue to stand by the Lebanese people and to do anything in its power to alleviate their suffering, said the president.

“There was a consensus that this phase needs the brotherly Arab states, especially the Gulf states, to stand by Lebanon,” said Aoun.

He pointed out that the Lebanese-Gulf relations “always were, and must remain, based on mutual fraternity.”

Aoun stressed the need to overcome any defects in these ties, notably because Lebanon desires to the best relations with brotherly states.

“My presence in Doha today only confirms our commitment to those relations and our genuine desire to cooperate on keeping them serene and restoring them to a normal state, thus serving Lebanon and the brotherly Gulf states,” he said.

Aoun’s remarks came as Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi took a firm position against “attempts to change Lebanon in order to impose a new governing formula by force or persuasion.”

In a televised speech broadcast on Monday, Al-Rahi touched on the secretary-general of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, reprimanding judicial authorities, asking: “Is he above the judicial authority?”

Al-Rahi said the country “is highly influenced by Hezbollah.”

He asked: “In contrast, where is the state and where is the president of the republic? Why are they submissive if someone is intimidating us?”

He noted that “the one disrupting the government is practically disrupting the life of the homeland and causing the hunger of citizens.”


Egypt and Saudi Arabia hold talks on possible exchange of military experience, technology

The two met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2. (SPA)
The two met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2. (SPA)
Updated 29 November 2021

Egypt and Saudi Arabia hold talks on possible exchange of military experience, technology

The two met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2. (SPA)

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Military Production Mohamed Ahmed Morsi and the president of the Saudi General Organization for Military Industries Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Mady held talks on the possibility of exchanging experiences and manufacturing technology.

They met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2.

Morsi said there was a need for integration between Arab countries in the defense industries field, especially between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The minister said Egypt was witnessing a state of stability as a result of the efforts made by the state to enhance the security situation and economic reform measures to attract more foreign investment.

Al-Mady praised the minister’s role in meeting the needs of the Egyptian armed forces. 

He said the Saudi General Organization for Military Industries took part in the first EDEX, in 2018, and was keen to participate in this year's event as the exhibition represented a distinguished international gathering of major authorities and companies.

Al-Mady called for Egypt to participate in the first World Defense Show in Riyadh, to be held next March, which will provide a unified platform for stakeholders in the military and security industries sector.

He said Saudi Arabia was following up on the latest technology in all military fields to keep pace with developments in the sector in order to confront the threats facing the Kingdom and enhance its capabilities to deter any attempt to interfere in its internal affairs.