Turkiye postpones NATO meeting with Sweden, Finland

Turkiye postpones NATO meeting with Sweden, Finland
Protesters demonstrate outside the Consulate General of Sweden after Rasmus Paludan burned a copy of the Qur'an near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm, in Istanbul, Turkiye. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 24 January 2023

Turkiye postpones NATO meeting with Sweden, Finland

Turkiye postpones NATO meeting with Sweden, Finland
  • Bids to join NATO must be ratified by all members of the alliance, of which Turkiye is a member
  • Ankara has been outraged by the burning of the Qur’an by an anti-Islam protester outside its embassy in Stockholm

ISTANBUL: Turkiye has indefinitely postponed a new round of talks with Sweden and Finland on the Nordic neighbors’ NATO membership bids, Turkish state media reported on Tuesday.
The talks were due to be held next month, the reports said, citing Turkish diplomatic sources.
Turkiye’s decision came a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Sweden he would not support its bid to join the Western US-led defense alliance.
Bids to join NATO must be ratified by all members of the alliance, of which Turkiye is a member.
Ankara has been outraged by the burning of the Qur’an by an anti-Islam protester outside its embassy in Stockholm over the weekend.
The protest was approved by the Swedish police, despite Turkiye’s fierce objections.
Erdogan’s comments and Tuesday’s postponement diminishes Sweden and Finland’s prospects of joining the bloc before Turkiye’s parliamentary and presidential polls in May.
Finland hinted for the first time on Tuesday that it might consider joining NATO without Sweden because of Stockholm’s diplomatic problems with Ankara.
Previous rounds of the tri-party NATO talks have been attended by foreign ministry officials and focused on a specific list of Turkish demands, which include the expulsion of dozens of mostly Kurdish suspects.
Turkiye and Hungary are the only NATO members not to have ratified the Nordic neighbors’ historic decision to break their tradition of military non-alignment in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has promised his parliament would approve the two bids next month.


Spain's PM heads to Morocco to reap benefits of mended ties

Spain's PM heads to Morocco to reap benefits of mended ties
Updated 9 sec ago

Spain's PM heads to Morocco to reap benefits of mended ties

Spain's PM heads to Morocco to reap benefits of mended ties
BARCELONA, Spain: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez travels to Rabat on Wednesday along with 12 ministers before a meeting with Moroccan government officials. This visit comes as part of the European country’s strategy to improve historically complex relations with its neighbor across the Strait of Gibraltar.
It comes 10 months after Sánchez went to meet Moroccan King Mohammed VI and put an end to a diplomatic crisis that had erupted in 2021 regarding Morocco's disputed territory of Western Sahara. During that meeting, Sánchez declared “a new phase of bilateral relations” with Morocco, an important partner with the European Union in fighting extremism and aiding the bloc's irregular migration policies.
Sánchez is flying south again on Wednesday and will attend a forum of business leaders from both countries in Rabat. On Thursday, he will sit down with Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch, a billionaire businessman who won a 2021 election and is considered close to Mohammed VI.
Sánchez’s agenda doesn't include another meeting with the Moroccan king, with whom he shared the Iftar meal to break the day’s fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan last April in the highlight of their reconciliation.
Sánchez’s office said that the prime minister instead had a phone conversation with the monarch in which they agreed that the meeting would “contribute to consolidating this new era in the relations between Morocco and Spain.” It added that Sánchez accepted the invitation by the king to make another official visit to Rabat at an unspecified date.
Moroccans make up the single largest foreign community with 800,000 residents in Spain, and important economic ties unite the neighbors which are separated by just 13 kilometers (8 miles) of water at the nearest point.
But relations between Spain and Morocco were severely damaged in May 2021 after Spain allowed the leader of the Polisario Front, which has waged a low-intensity armed rebellion seeking the Western Sahara’s independence from Morocco, to receive medical treatment for COVID-19 in Spain.
Morocco responded by relaxing its border controls around Spain’s North African exclave of Ceuta and thousands of people crossed over into the city. Tensions remained high until Sánchez did an about-face on Spain’s long-standing position on Western Sahara by backing Rabat’s proposal to give it more autonomy as long as it remains unquestionably under Moroccan control. Madrid maintains that the people of Western Sahara must decide their future via a referendum.
Sánchez paid a high price for moving closer to Morocco.
His shift on Western Sahara angered Algeria, a backer of the Polisario Front and major natural gas supplier to Spain. It was also widely criticized in Spain, which held Western Sahara as a colony until 1975, and caused friction inside Spain’s governing left-wing coalition between Sánchez’s Socialists and its junior partner. Politicians from across Spain's spectrum considered Sánchez to have betrayed the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara for very little tangible gains in return.
Now, Sánchez is aiming to reap some benefits after last year’s return to diplomatic normalcy.
This will be first meeting since 2015 with such a large delegation of ministries represented. Sánchez is taking along his ministers in charge of the economy, energy, foreign affairs, security and policing, agriculture, commerce, transport and migration, among others.
Thursday's meeting between the governments is expected to produce several agreements between ministries and to favor business growth, including the opening of customs offices at the border crossings for Ceuta and its sister exclave, Melilla, which Morocco has never officially recognized as Spanish territories. Melilla’s customs office was closed by Morocco in 2018, while Ceuta has never had one.
Spain is the largest foreign investor in Morocco, accounting for a significant chunk of all foreign investments, making economic cooperation a top priority for the Moroccan government. Morocco is Spain’s third most important non-EU commercial partner after the United States and Britain.
Morocco, in similar fashion to Turkey and other countries in north Africa, has reaped economic benefits from the EU in exchange for curbing irregular immigration to Spain. That, however, has not stopped thousands of migrants and refugees, including young Moroccans looking for a better future in Europe, from attempting a dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean, or a perilous Atlantic journey to the Canary Islands.
The frontier policing methods of both Spain and Morocco have fallen under intense scrutiny following the death of at least 23 African men, many reportedly refugees from Sudan, when they stormed a border fence at Melilla in June.
Rights group Amnesty International held a protest outside the seat of Spain’s government in Madrid on Wednesday, with cutout silhouettes of the victims of the Melilla tragedy. The rights group raises the number of deaths to 37 and says that 77 more people are still missing from the incident.
“A summit today between Morocco and Spain pretends to ignore what happened just seven months ago,” Esteban Beltrán, head of Amnesty International in Spain, said. “We want to remember that (the victims) are with us, and we want to remember the suffering of their families who have no information or a real investigation of what happened.”

Suez Canal tugs working to move broken down tanker, shipping traffic unaffected: Sources

Suez Canal tugs working to move broken down tanker, shipping traffic unaffected: Sources
Updated 01 February 2023

Suez Canal tugs working to move broken down tanker, shipping traffic unaffected: Sources

Suez Canal tugs working to move broken down tanker, shipping traffic unaffected: Sources
  • Canal sources say that shipping traffic is unaffected

CAIRO: Suez Canal tugboats are working to move a broken down LNG tanker called Grace Emilia on Wednesday, two canal sources told Reuters, adding that shipping traffic is unaffected.
The incident happened in a southern section of the canal where a second channel allows for ships to bypass the blockage caused by an engine malfunction, one of the sources said.


Iran says Iraq-based Kurd groups ‘involved’ in drone attack

Iran says Iraq-based Kurd groups ‘involved’ in drone attack
Updated 01 February 2023

Iran says Iraq-based Kurd groups ‘involved’ in drone attack

Iran says Iraq-based Kurd groups ‘involved’ in drone attack
  • Iranian authorities earlier reported “unsuccessful” drone attack

TEHRAN: Iran has accused Iraq-based Kurdish groups of being “involved” in a drone attack last week against a defense ministry site in the central province of Isfahan, Iranian media reported Wednesday.
“Parts of the drones that attacked the workshop complex of the defense ministry in Isfahan, along with explosive materials, were transferred to Iran with the participation and guidance of the Kurdish anti-revolutionary groups based in Iraq’s Kurdistan region,” Nour news agency said.
Iranian authorities reported an “unsuccessful” drone attack late Saturday that targeted a defense ministry “workshop complex” in Isfahan province, home to the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility.
An anti-aircraft system destroyed one drone and two others exploded, the defense ministry said, adding that there were no casualties and only minor damage to the site.
Nour charged that Kurdish groups brought the drone parts and explosive materials into Iran from “one of the hardly accessible routes in the northwest” upon “the order of a foreign security service.”
The news agency, considered close to the Islamic republic’s Supreme National Security Council, did not specify which country’s security service it accused of being behind the attack. It said the drone parts were delivered to the “service’s liaison in a border city.”
“The parts and materials have been assembled and used for sabotage in an advanced workshop by trained forces,” Nour said.
Some Western media have blamed the attack on Iran’s arch foe Israel.
Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region hosts camps and rear-bases operated by several Iranian Kurdish rebel groups, which Iran has accused of serving Western or Israeli interests in the past.
In November, Iran launched cross-border missile and drone strikes against several of the groups in Iraq, accusing them of stoking the nationwide protests triggered by the death in custody in September of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini.


Eight rockets fired at Turkish base in Iraq

Eight rockets fired at Turkish base in Iraq
Updated 01 February 2023

Eight rockets fired at Turkish base in Iraq

Eight rockets fired at Turkish base in Iraq
  • Iraqi contractor in the base was wounded
  • No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack

IRBIL, Iraq: Unidentified attackers fired eight rockets at a Turkish military base in northern Iraq on Wednesday, two of which landed inside the facility, the Counter-Terrorism Group, a security organization in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, said.
A Turkish security source said the attack had caused no damage and there were no casualties in the base, without going into further detail.
An Iraqi security source who declined to be identified said an Iraqi contractor in the base had been wounded.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in the early hours on the Zilkan base, which hosts Turkish troops in Ninevah province of northern Iraq.
Turkiye has been carrying out operations in Iraq for decades against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has bases in the region. It is designated a terrorist group by Turkiye, the United States, and the European Union.
The group launched an insurgency in southeast Turkiye in 1984 in which more than 40,000 people have been killed.


Abbas succession battle could ‘collapse’ Palestinian Authority: Think tank

Abbas succession battle could ‘collapse’ Palestinian Authority: Think tank
Updated 01 February 2023

Abbas succession battle could ‘collapse’ Palestinian Authority: Think tank

Abbas succession battle could ‘collapse’ Palestinian Authority: Think tank
  • Abbas heads the PA, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Fatah, the secular political movement founded by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: The future battle to succeed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas could trigger “mass protest, repression” and the outright collapse of the Palestinian Authority, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said Wednesday.
The think tank released its forecast a day after the aging and increasingly unpopular 87-year-old Abbas met in Ramallah with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was in the region to urge calm amid a spike in Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Given Abbas’s age and persistent rumors about his poor health, speculation on his successor is common in the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority (PA) is based.
The Brussels-based ICG predicted in its report that “elections based on legal procedures” were “the least likely” outcome when Abbas vacates the presidency.
Abbas heads the PA, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Fatah, the secular political movement founded by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Abbas was elected president after Arafat died in 2004. Palestinians have had no presidential elections since.
The report says Abbas, who has been unwilling to designate a successor, has also “hollowed out or disabled the institutions and procedures that would otherwise decide who will take his place.”
It is therefore “unclear who will succeed him, and by what process,” ICG said, warning of a possible “descent into mass protest, repression, violence and even the PA’s collapse.”
According to the report, any last-ditch effort to name a successor to ease a transition process “would go awry.”
Abbas has repeatedly called off plans to hold presidential polls, as recently as 2021 when he scrapped scheduled elections citing Israel’s refusal to allow voting in annexed east Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as their future capital.
Palestinian experts widely suspected Abbas backed away from the polls over fears Fatah would be trounced by Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip.

While Abbas has not named a successor, he has elevated PA civil affairs minister Hussein Al-Sheikh, who he tapped for the number two spot in the PLO.
The ICG report names Sheikh and PA intelligence chief Majid Faraj as possible successors.
Though the two men hold significant power within the PA and are seen as able to work with the international community, the report notes “neither has been able to win much support in Palestinian society.”
It identifies second-tier “would-be successors,” among them Palestinian Football Association chief Jibril Rajoub, prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh and Mohammed Dahlan, a former Gaza security chief exiled to the United Arab Emirates after falling out with Abbas.
“Each of these men has his own network,” the report says, but none “could stand on his own.”