Turkiye’s new foreign minister must chart course through evolving global landscape

Turkey's Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan (R) talks during a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (unseen) on the first day of the Ukraine Recovery Conference in London on June 21, 2023. (AFP)
Turkey's Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan (R) talks during a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (unseen) on the first day of the Ukraine Recovery Conference in London on June 21, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 08 July 2023
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Turkiye’s new foreign minister must chart course through evolving global landscape

Turkiye’s new foreign minister must chart course through evolving global landscape
  • Analysts speculate on Hakan Fidan’s approach to foreign-policy challenges

ANKARA: Following President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s reelection in late May, Turkiye’s foreign policy is in the spotlight once again with the appointment of Hakan Fidan as the country’s new foreign minister.

As Turkiye’s diplomatic leadership undergoes a transition, observers are waiting to see what direction the country will take under Fidan’s guidance.

It is generally believed that little will change, except that Turkiye may take a more assertive stance with an emphasis both on normalization efforts and on institutionalizing a security-guided foreign-policy approach, since Fidan’s doctoral studies focused on the role of intelligence in foreign policy.

The 55-year-old minister is a highly influential figure in Turkiye, having served as the country’s chief of intelligence from 2010 to 2023, orchestrating several reconciliation initiatives with Middle Eastern countries including Syria, Israel, and Egypt.

Financing the current account deficit will remain a top priority, and this may lead Turkiye to pursue more positive relations with Western allies.

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Analyst

Renowned for his negotiation skills, Fidan played a direct role in high-level meetings, showcasing his ability to navigate complex geopolitical issues and grasp the intricacies of domestic dynamics in other countries.

Fidan met with the Syrian intelligence chief several times to lay the groundwork for political talks between Damascus and Ankara in 2022, suggesting that further steps may be taken to normalize relations with the Assad regime and to address security concerns related to the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Turkiye equates to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

In addition to his experience in hard diplomacy, Fidan previously led the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency, the country’s international aid agency, expanding Turkiye’s soft power through infrastructural and humanitarian assistance in the Balkans, Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia.

His previous role as Turkiye’s representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency also acquainted him with nuclear negotiations involving Iran.

Fidan’s appointment is widely interpreted as a signal of Ankara’s desire to pursue a more active role in regional and global matters.

As foreign minister, Fidan will face the challenge of negotiating with Western powers over several thorny issues, including Sweden’s potential membership of NATO and the delivery of F-16 fighter jets from the US.

On Thursday, Fidan held talks in Brussels with NATO’s top official Jens Stoltenberg. Ankara is insisting that Sweden must align with the recent legal amendments on anti-terror law that Turkiye pushed for, which would allow Swedish authorities to prosecute individuals who support terrorist groups.

“Sweden took some steps concerning legal changes and removing defense-industry restrictions against Turkiye. Those legal changes should now be put into practice,” Fidan said.

Whether Washington will approve the sale of F-16s in return for Turkiye agreeing to Sweden’s ascension is still unclear. Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of senators told US President Joe Biden that Congress should not consider the sale until Turkiye ratifies Sweden’s membership of NATO.

According to Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the US, Fidan is well respected in Washington and in European capitals. “This is an advantage at the outset of his tenure as foreign minister,” he told Arab News.

Recently, Fidan met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in London, where Blinken referred to him as a “colleague of many years.” The situation in Ukraine and NATO’s expansion topped the agenda during their meeting.

Experts do not anticipate any drastic changes in Turkiye’s foreign policy, expecting Fidan to prioritize continuity over major shifts.

“First and foremost, Fidan is Erdogan’s foreign minister, as (his predecessor, Mevlut) Cavusoglu was, and will conduct foreign policy based on the political directives he receives from the president. He was very active in foreign policy as the head of Turkish intelligence and played a role in most key policy areas,” Unluhisarcikli said.

However, given the ongoing depreciation of the Turkish lira and soaring inflation rates, Turkish foreign policy is likely to be closely tied to the country’s economic well-being, which relies heavily on foreign currency.

“I still expect changes in Turkish foreign policy in the upcoming period. Financing the current account deficit will remain a top priority, and this may lead Turkiye to pursue more positive relations with Western allies,” explained Unluhisarcikli.

He also said that, in the short term, assistance from Russia and the Gulf could help address the deficit, but accessing Western financial markets in the medium term would be crucial.

To bolster Turkiye’s strained economy, President Erdogan plans to visit Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE from July 17-19. He is expected to seek direct investments from Gulf countries — initially of approximately $10 billion, potentially rising to $30 billion — particularly in the energy, infrastructure, and defense sectors, according to Reuters.

Independent policy analyst Fuad Shahbazov suggests that, unlike Cavusoglu, Fidan may provide some flexibility.

“Cavusoglu was more concerned about diplomatic etiquette — trying to circumvent harsh rhetoric — but Fidan is a key ally of President Erdogan and a supporter of his conservative and pragmatic foreign policy, even at the cost of partnership with some Western countries,” Shahbazov told Arab News.

Shahbazov acknowledges that Fidan’s portfolio regarding Western and Central Asian networks may be somewhat limited, but believes this will not pose a problem.

“I don’t expect U-turns in diplomatic thaws with Egypt and Israel, as he is the mastermind of the process and will likely follow up on it promptly,” Shahbazov concluded.

The Turkish and Egyptian presidents are set to meet on July 27 in Turkiye.

 


Gaza zookeeper fears for his animals after fleeing Rafah

Gaza zookeeper fears for his animals after fleeing Rafah
Updated 25 May 2024
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Gaza zookeeper fears for his animals after fleeing Rafah

Gaza zookeeper fears for his animals after fleeing Rafah

KHAN YOUNIS: In a cowshed in Gaza’s Khan Younis, zookeeper Fathi Ahmed Gomaa has created a temporary home for dozens of animals, including lions and baboons, having fled with them from Israel’s offensive in Rafah.
“We’ve moved all the animals we had, except for three big lions that remain (in Rafah),” he said.
“I ran out of time and couldn’t move them.” Ahmed abandoned his zoo in Rafah when Israel ordered the evacuation of parts of the southern Gazan city.
Before the offensive, the city on the border with Egypt had been spared a ground invasion, and more than half of the Gaza Strip’s population was sheltering there.
Now, the Israeli offensive has sent more than 800,000 people fleeing from Rafah, according to the UN, with Gomaa and his family among them.
“I am appealing to the Israeli authorities: these animals have no connection to terrorism,” Gomaa said, saying he wanted their help in coordinating with aid agencies to rescue the lions left behind in Rafah.
He fears they won’t survive long on their own.
“Of course, within a week or 10 days, if we don’t get them out, they will die because they’ll be left with no food or water.”
Gomaa said he had already lost several of his animals to the war: “Three lion cubs, five monkeys, a newborn monkey, and nine squirrels.”
And while the squawking of parrots fills the air, many of Gomaa’s other birds are no longer with him.
“I released some of the dogs, some of the hawks and eagles, some of the pigeons, and some of the ornamental birds. I released many of them because we didn’t have cages to transport them.”
In the cowshed, Gomaa is making do with what he has, using improvised fencing to raise the heights of the pens so that their new inhabitants, spotted deer, can’t leap out.
Israeli troops began their assault on Rafah on May 7, defying widespread international concern for the safety of the 1.4 million civilians sheltering in the city.


EU considers possible Rafah border mission, diplomats say

EU considers possible Rafah border mission, diplomats say
Updated 25 May 2024
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EU considers possible Rafah border mission, diplomats say

EU considers possible Rafah border mission, diplomats say

BRUSSELS: Talks on deploying a EU mission at the Rafah border crossing in Gaza are at a preliminary stage and the deployment will not happen without an end to the war between Israel and Hamas, a senior EU official said on Friday.
EU foreign ministers will hold their monthly meeting in Brussels on Monday, and discuss how to improve humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza.
Two diplomats said the US had suggested the EU revive its EU Border Assistance Mission or EUBAM Rafah, which has not been operational since 2007, when Hamas seized full control of Gaza.
The crossing is the main entry point for aid from Egypt and has been closed since Israeli forces took control of it from the Gazan side nearly three weeks ago.
Rafah city is now fire in an Israeli military assault, which judges at the top UN court said on Friday should immediately halt.
“Even if we now have people on the ground talking to the different parties and seeing how it could be done, we are in a very preliminary part of the story,” said the senior official.
The official said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell could be mandated by the 27 members on Monday to come up with “some kind of operative conclusions that could allow the mission to deploy.”
He said a deployment could not happen “in the current circumstances, not in war circumstances.”
“We are talking about the future,” the official said.
Three EU diplomats said the discussion would be on the table, but there was nothing concrete to discuss. One said the proposal was a “long shot.”
The mission would need unanimous approval from EU member states. Also, EUBAM is a civilian mission, and given the potentially dangerous nature of the operation, personnel and equipment would need to be adapted.
Diplomats said that such a mission could go ahead only if Egypt and Israel were also in favor.
Two US officials said Washington was reviewing options to secure the opening of the Rafah crossing, but no definitive plans have been developed yet. Israel began its offensive in Gaza after Hamas’ deadly attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7.


Four Britons repatriated from Syria camp, Kurds say

Four Britons repatriated from Syria camp, Kurds say
Updated 24 May 2024
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Four Britons repatriated from Syria camp, Kurds say

Four Britons repatriated from Syria camp, Kurds say
  • The Kurdish administration said it had “handed over a woman and three children to the United Kingdom“
  • The four had been interned in the Roj camp where militants’ relatives are held

QAMISHLI, Syria: Kurdish authorities in northeast Syria said Friday that they had handed over a woman and three children to British representatives for repatriation, with a source saying they had been held in a camp for militants’ relatives.
Five years after the Daesh group was driven out of its last bastion in Syria, tens of thousands of the militants’ family members, including from Western countries, remain in detention camps in the Kurdish-controlled northeast.
The Kurdish administration said it had “handed over a woman and three children to the United Kingdom,” following a meeting with a British delegation led its Syria envoy Ann Snow.
A source within the administration told AFP the four had been interned in the Roj camp where militants’ relatives are held.
Britain’s foreign ministry said UK officials had “facilitated the repatriation of a number of British nationals from Syria to the United Kingdom.”
“This repatriation is in line with the long-standing policy that all requests for UK consular assistance from Syria are considered on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all relevant circumstances including national security,” the spokesperson said.
On May 7, the United States announced it had brought back 11 Americans including five minors, as well as a nine-year-old non-US sibling of an American, from internment camps in northeastern Syria.
The United States in the same operation facilitated the repatriation of six Canadian citizens, four Dutch citizens and one Finnish citizen, eight of them children, Secretary of state Antony Blinken said.
And in December, the Kurdish administration handed over to Britain a woman and five children who had also been held in a camp.
Despite repeated appeals by the Kurdish authorities, a number of Western countries have refused to take back their citizens from the camps.
Among the most high profile cases is that of Shamima Begum, a former Briton stripped of her citizenship after leaving the country aged 15 to marry an Daesh group fighter.


Lebanon ‘open to any effort to curb Israeli aggression,’ says Berri

Lebanon ‘open to any effort to curb Israeli aggression,’ says Berri
Updated 24 May 2024
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Lebanon ‘open to any effort to curb Israeli aggression,’ says Berri

Lebanon ‘open to any effort to curb Israeli aggression,’ says Berri
  • Parliamentary speaker accuses Israel of ‘greed’ over Lebanese resources
  • Berri’s statement came as hostilities between Hezbollah and the Israeli army in the southern border region entered their 230th day

BEIRUT: Lebanon is willing to cooperate with any international effort to stop Israeli aggression and bring security to the region, Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri said on Friday.
However, in a statement marking the 24th anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, Berri warned that Lebanon “is not ready to waive any of its sovereign rights.”
He also accused Israel of displaying “greed toward Lebanon, its resources, its entity, and its land, sea, and air borders.”
Berri’s statement came as hostilities between Hezbollah and the Israeli army in the southern border region entered their 230th day.
The parliamentary speaker called for intensified international and regional efforts to halt Israel’s assault in the Gaza Strip, saying this was crucial to maintain security and stability in the entire region.
Hezbollah claims its actions have been in support of Gaza amid further Israeli threats to Lebanon.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Thursday from the northern command headquarters “to carry out detailed, important and even surprising plans to return displaced settlers to the north.”
He claimed Israel had killed hundreds of Hezbollah fighters.
Benny Gantz, a minister in the Israeli war Cabinet, said: “Get ready from now on for the return of the residents of the north to their houses safely in early September by force or order.”
Berri returned from Tehran after attending the funeral of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash on May 19.
In his message to the Lebanese, he renewed Lebanon’s “commitment and adherence to UN Resolution 1701, and all its terms and stipulations.”
The resolution calls for an end to hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon to be replaced by Lebanese and UNIFIL forces in southern Lebanon, and the disarmament of armed groups including Hezbollah.
Berri accused Israel of ignoring the resolution “since the moment it was issued, with over 30,000 land, sea and air violations.”
Lebanon “upholds its right to defend its land with all the available means in the face of Israeli hostilities,” he said.
He called for the liberation of “the remaining occupied territory in the Kfarchouba Hills, the occupied Shebaa Farms, the northern part of the GHajjar village, and the contested border points with occupied Palestine all the way to the B1 point in Ras Al-Naqoura.”
Caretaker Minister of Defense Maurice Slim said that Lebanon preferred peace to war.
However, “defending the land was and will be the Lebanese state’s choice through the resilience of its army and people, especially the steadfast ones who are still residing in their villages and towns to repel the aggression,” he said.
Israeli warplanes on Thursday struck the town of Maroun Al-Ras in the Bint Jbeil district.
Sirens sounded in Israeli settlements opposite the border with Lebanon amid fears of possible drone attacks.
The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Friday that Hezbollah’s drones caused significant damage in the northern towns and resulted in several fatalities.
Another newspaper, Israel Hayom, said that Hezbollah’s drones are “one of the biggest threats facing Israel in the northern arena.”
The newspaper said that Hezbollah leader Mohammed Hassan Fares, who was killed by an Israeli drone strike last week in Qana, was a scientist who specialized in robotics and machine learning.


2,000 aid trucks stuck at Rafah border: Norwegian Refugee Council

2,000 aid trucks stuck at Rafah border: Norwegian Refugee Council
Updated 24 May 2024
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2,000 aid trucks stuck at Rafah border: Norwegian Refugee Council

2,000 aid trucks stuck at Rafah border: Norwegian Refugee Council
  • Palestinians ‘actively deprived’ of essential items as Israel steps up operations in city
  • Some in Gaza have been displaced as many as 9 times since October

LONDON: The Norwegian Refugee Council has warned that 2,000 aid trucks are stuck in Egypt at the Rafah border crossing, with Palestinians in Gaza being “actively deprived” of essential goods.
Rafah is the last remaining area of Gaza yet to come under full assault by Israeli forces, with fears now mounting of an imminent operation to take the southern city.
The NRC’s head of operations in Gaza, Suze van Meegen, told the BBC: “The city of Rafah is now comprised of three entirely different worlds: the east is an archetypal war zone, the middle is a ghost town, and the west is a congested mass of people living in deplorable conditions.”
She said medical supplies, tents, water tanks and food are being held up at the border, and in some cases Palestinians in Gaza have been displaced as many as nine times since Israel launched its military operation last October.
“People have no choice but to put their faith in so-called ‘humanitarian safe zones’ designated by the forces that have killed their family members and destroyed their homes,” she added.
Israeli journalist Amos Harel told the BBC that he believes Israel is moving ahead with plans to occupy Rafah with tacit US support.
“It’s quite clear that the Americans are no longer trying to prevent Israel from occupying Rafah. So the Israelis may proceed carefully and not too quickly. But it’s less of a question of whether the Israelis are going to occupy Rafah. It’s quite clear that they are,” he said.
It comes despite earlier warnings by US President Joe Biden against Israel attacking “population centers,” and with the International Court of Justice set to rule on the legality of the Israeli campaign in Gaza after a case was submitted by South Africa in December accusing Israel of genocide.