ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is downplaying Ankara’s tensions with a host of countries as he launches a charm offensive on a variety of fronts.
Meeting with the ambassadors of EU member states in Ankara on Jan. 12, Erdogan said that he expects to “turn a new page” in ties with Europe and “set a positive agenda” in 2021.
However, his comments came at the same time as Brussels draws up an expanded sanctions list targeting Turkish individuals over Ankara’s decision to drill for offshore natural gas near Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean. The punitive measures are set to be announced in March.
Turkey also initiated the 61st round of exploratory talks with Greece on Jan. 25 to resolve longstanding conflicts over energy rights and maritime boundaries that pushed both countries to the brink of war last year.
Similarly, Turkish and French presidents, after trading barbs last year, especially over their divergent regional policies, recently exchanged letters in which they agreed to resume talks to improve ties. The two countries are working on a roadmap to normalize relations.
Despite growing tensions last year over the drilling activities of the Oruc Reis research ship in contested waters off Greece, Erdogan also called for cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean rather than competition.
Experts remain skeptical about the success of this diplomatic sea-change and the hidden motivations behind it. Whether these steps will lead to tangible gestures in the region and globally is still a matter of concern.
Ian Lesser, vice president at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, believes Ankara is trying to modulate its foreign policy messaging, above all with the US and the EU.
“Part of this is tactical, including the desire to forestall or limit future sanctions, and to offset the influence of more hawkish voices within the EU,” he told Arab News.
According to Lesser, Ankara would prefer an agenda that is more German and less French in the coming months, and this will also be read closely by the new administration in Washington.
“With the important exception of the eastern Mediterranean, the Trump administration was not overly concerned about Turkish-EU relations or the range of issues affecting these relations. The incoming Biden administration is likely to pay more attention to migration, human rights and media freedom, all issues on the EU agenda with Ankara,” he said.
But according to Marc Pierini, a visiting academic at Carnegie Europe in Brussels and a former EU envoy to Turkey, “we have seen this movie before.”
“When Turkey finds itself stuck with failed policy choices, it performs abrupt U-turns, this time on monetary policy, and relations with the US and the EU,” he told Arab News.
In the meantime, Ankara hopes to rebuild its relations with Washington under Joe Biden, and failed to react harshly to the appointment of Brett McGurk, a staunch Turkey critic, as the National Security Council’s Middle East and North Africa coordinator.
Pierini believes that such Turkish U-turns have zero credibility.
“You can’t say that Turkey’s future is in Europe — only weeks after saying Germany was ‘Nazi’ and France needed to get rid of its mentally impaired president,” he said, referring to the feud between Erdogan and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron last year when the Turkish leader advised Macron to have a mental health checkup over his comments on Islam.
“While dismantling the rule of law week after week, Turkey’s leadership wants European leaders to believe that major governance reforms are around the corner and that its accession ambitions are alive,” Pierini said.
“The same goes with NATO, at a time when Turkey has deliberately facilitated Russia’s strategic objectives against the Atlantic alliance,” he added.
Ankara’s stubborn stance over the S-400 Russian air defense system remains a strong deterrent for any normalization with the US administration as the system is considered incompatible with the NATO version and could be used by Moscow to obtain classified details on the US F-35 jets.
However, experts are divided about whether these efforts will prove successful.
Lesser believes that rhetoric does make a difference, and that the Turkey debate has become so critical on both sides of the Atlantic that leaders and observers are looking for concrete change on the S-400 issue and other fronts.
“This will not be easy. There is probably a time-limited window for Ankara to demonstrate that there is substance behind these multiple signals of detente,” he said.
For Pierini, to find a way out of these massive contradictions, EU leaders will have to strike a balance between their own credulity and the artificial narratives emanating from Ankara.
“Before doing so, they will talk to the Biden administration,” he said.
At the end of 2020, Erdogan also expressed a desire to mend ties with Israel amid speculation that both countries would reappoint ambassadors.
Gallia Lindenstrauss, senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, said that the drivers behind Turkey’s overtures to Israel include: Preparations for the incoming US administration; tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, and the desire to drive a wedge between Israel, Cyprus and Greece; the Abraham accords and the end of the blockade on Qatar which requires Turkey to rethink its policies toward the Middle East; and the recent war between Armenia and Azerbaijan that reminded Ankara of the advantages of cooperating with Israel.
Although the return of diplomatic ties is a feasible aim, she doesn’t expect any change before the Israeli elections in March and the formation of a new government.
“However, this will not fundamentally improve relations as there is deep suspicion between the two states,” Lindenstrauss told Arab News.
“Also Israel will likely make additional demands from Turkey to show that its overtures are sincere, such as Ankara halting Hamas military activity organized on its soil and directed against Israel and the West Bank, as well as more transparency about Turkey’s projects in East Jerusalem,” she added.
Will Turkey succeed with its new charm offensive?
Will Turkey succeed with its new charm offensive?
- Erdogan said that he expects to “turn a new page” in ties with Europe and “set a positive agenda” in 2021
- Turkey also initiated the 61st round of exploratory talks with Greece on Jan. 25 to resolve longstanding conflicts
ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is downplaying Ankara’s tensions with a host of countries as he launches a charm offensive on a variety of fronts.
Iran says it produced 6.5 kg of uranium enriched to 60%
- Government spokesman said the country had also produced 108 kg of uranium enriched to 20% purity
- Tuesday's disclosure came as Tehran and Washington hold indirect talks in Vienna over the nuclear deal
DUBAI: Iran has made 6.5 kg (14 lb) of uranium enriched to up to 60%, the government said on Tuesday, detailing a move that rattled the country's nuclear talks with world powers by taking the fissile material a step towards nuclear weapons-grade of 90%.
Government spokesman Ali Rabiei was quoted by state media as saying the country had also produced 108 kg of uranium enriched to 20% purity, indicating quicker output than the rate required by the Iranian law that created the process.
Iran said in April it would begin enriching uranium to 60% purity, a move that would take the uranium much closer to the 90% suitable for a nuclear bomb, after Tehran accused arch-foe Israel of sabotaging a key nuclear site.
Tuesday's disclosure came as Tehran and Washington hold indirect talks in Vienna aimed at finding ways to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
Iran’s hardline parliament passed a law last year to oblige the government to harden its nuclear stance, partly in reaction to former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal in 2018.
Trump’s withdrawal prompted Iran to steadily overstep the accord’s limits on its nuclear programme designed to make it harder to develop an atomic bomb - an ambition Tehran denies.
"Under parliament's law..., the Atomic Energy Organization was supposed to produce 120 kg of 20 percent enriched uranium in a year. According to the latest report, we now have produced 108 kg of 20% uranium in the past five months," Rabiei was quoted as saying.
"In the area of 60% uranium production, in the short time that has elapsed..., about 6.5 kg has been produced," Rabiei added.
A quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear activities by the U.N. nuclear watchdog in May said that, as of May 22, Tehran had produced 62.8 kg of uranium enriched up to 20%, and 2.4 kg of uranium enriched up to 60%, with the next level down being enriched to between 2% and 5%.
Rights groups urge UN probe mission for Beirut port blast
- Human Rights Watch said the call was made in a joint letter by over a hundred Lebanese, regional, and international groups, individuals and survivors and families of the victims
BEIRUT: A group of international and regional rights groups on Tuesday urged member states of the UN Human Rights Council to establish an investigative mission into last year’s massive deadly blast at Beirut’s port.
Human Rights Watch said the call was made in a joint letter by 53 Lebanese, regional, and international groups and individuals, as well as 62 survivors and families of the victims.
HRW said it documented many flaws in the domestic investigation of the explosion — including flagrant political interference, lack of respect for fair trial standards and violations of due process.
Nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate — a highly explosive material used in fertilizers — had been improperly stored in the port for years. The chemicals ignited in the catastrophic Aug. 4 blast that killed 211 people, injured more than 6,000 and damaged entire neighborhoods.
It still remains unknown what triggered an initial fire at the warehouse that then caused the explosion and who was responsible for storing the rotting fertilizer there since 2014.
“Lebanese authorities have had over 10 months to demonstrate that they are willing and capable of conducting a credible investigation,” said Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But they have failed on all accounts,”
Six days after the blast, the Lebanese government referred the Beirut explosion to the country’s Judicial Council, a special court with no appeals process. No indictments have been issued so far.
In December, the prosecutor probing the blast filed charges against the caretaker prime minister, Hassan Diab, and three former ministers, accusing them of negligence that led to the deaths of hundreds of people.
Two months later, the judge in the probe was replaced following legal challenges by two former Cabinet ministers he had accused of negligence.
New Israel government faces early test with far-right march
- Jewish ultranationalists prepared to march into annexed east Jerusalem
- Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh condemned it as a provocation
JERUSALEM: Israel’s fledgling new government faced an early test Tuesday as Jewish ultranationalists prepared to march into annexed east Jerusalem, stoking tensions the UN has warned threaten a fragile Gaza cease-fire.
Rallies by far-right Jewish groups in Arab neighborhoods have raised tensions in recent months, prompting a police intervention in the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound that triggered the deadliest flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence since 2014.
The so-called March of the Flags, which celebrates the anniversary of Israel’s 1967 occupation of the city’s eastern sector, was originally scheduled for last Thursday but was delayed due to Israeli police opposition to the route and warnings from Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas.
The former government of veteran premier Benjamin Netanyahu put off the march until Tuesday, a decision confirmed late Monday by the incoming government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
“The right to demonstrate is a right in all democracies,” said Internal Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev.
“The police is ready and we will do everything in our power to preserve the delicate thread of coexistence.”
Organizers consulted police on the best route for the march that begins at 1430 GMT to avoid friction with Arab residents, the government said.
But Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh condemned it as a provocation.
“We warn of the dangerous repercussions that may result from the occupying power’s intention to allow extremist Israeli settlers to carry out the Flag March in occupied Jerusalem tomorrow,” Shtayyeh tweeted in English.
He said it was “a provocation and aggression against our people, Jerusalem and its sanctities that must end.”
The new Israeli premier is himself a Jewish nationalist but the coalition he leads also includes centrist and left-wing parties and, for the first time in the country’s history, an Arab party.
The support of the four lawmakers of the Islamic conservative Raam party was vital to the wafer-thin majority that the government won in a historic confidence vote that unseated Netanyahu on Sunday.
UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland urged all sides to behave responsibly to avoid damage to a hard-won May 21 cease-fire that ended 11 days of heavy fighting in and around Gaza.
“Tensions are rising again in Jerusalem at a very fragile & sensitive security & political time, when UN & Egypt are actively engaged in solidifying the cease-fire,” Wennesland said.
“Urge all relevant parties to act responsibly & avoid any provocations that could lead to another round of confrontation.”
The US embassy called on its staff to avoid entering the walled Old City in the heart of east Jerusalem because of the march and “possible counter-demonstrations.”
Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem since the Six-Day War of 1967 is not recognized by most of the international community which says the city’s final status should be a matter of negotiation between the two sides.
The Palestinians claim the city’s eastern sector as the capital of their future state.
The iconic Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the heart of the Old City is Islam’s third holiest site and a national symbol for all Palestinians regardless of religion.
It is also considered by Jews to be Judaism’s holiest site but by longstanding convention Jews are not allowed to pray inside the compound and visits by Israeli Jewish politicians often trigger disturbances.
When the march was originally announced for last week, senior Hamas official Khalil Hayya warned it could spark a return to violence like that of May 10-21.
“We warn the occupation (Israel) against letting the march approach east Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque compound,” Hayya said.
“We hope the message is clear so that Thursday doesn’t become (a new) May 10.”
Last month’s conflict started after Hamas issued a deadline for Israel to remove its security forces from flashpoint areas of east Jerusalem, and then fired a salvo of rockets at Israel when the ultimatum went unheeded.
Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip between May 10 to 21 killed 260 Palestinians including some fighters, the Gaza authorities said.
In Israel, 13 people were killed, including a soldier, by rockets fired from Gaza, the Israeli police and army said.
Palestinians warn new Israel government ‘will not differ from predecessors’
- The occupation is governed by a security and military system that does not stop practicing terrorism and aggression
GAZA CITY: Palestine should not expect a radical change in Israeli policy, especially toward Gaza, following the end of Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership, Palestinian political figures have warned.
However, opinions still differ on the formation of the new Israeli government headed by Natfali Bennett.
Palestinian factions agreed that the new government will not differ from its predecessors.
Osama Hamdi, 33, hailed the departure of Netanyahu as “a great achievement.”
He told Arab News: “The fall of any tyrant, no matter who comes next, should be considered positive, regardless of who will follow in power, even though all Israelis are not doing anything in our favor.”
But Hamdi warned that the new government does not have a strong base in the Knesset and within Israeli society.
Israel’s parliament narrowly approved the new Bennett-led coalition government on Sunday, ending Netanyahu’s historic 12-year rule.
The divisive former prime minister — the longest to ever hold office in Israel — will now serve as opposition leader.
Under a coalition agreement, Bennett will hold office for the first two years of the term, and then Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid, the architect of the coalition, will become prime minister.
Mohammed Sultan, 45, said that Netanyahu is a “strong figure” who can reach solutions with Palestinians, but in light of the weak new government, no real breakthrough can be achieved regarding Israel’s relationship with the Gaza Strip.
“Throughout history, strong leaders in Israel have taken bold steps — whether in war or peace — like Rabin, Sharon and Netanyahu. Now there is a government in which there is no real leader, so nothing can be achieved with it,” Sultan said.
Israel has imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip since Hamas took control of the area in 2007. The coastal strip has witnessed four wars and a rounds of fighting since then. Hamas does not expect any change in its relationship with Israel following the inauguration of the new government, especially in light of ongoing tensions with Jerusalem, which led to a military confrontation last month.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official, said on Twitter: “We do not count on any change in the occupation governments.
“They are united on the policy of killing and confiscation of Palestinian rights, but the fall of Netanyahu is one of the successive consequences of the victory of the resistance.”
Islamic Jihad spokesman Tariq Salmi said in a press statement: “The occupation is governed by a security and military system that does not stop practicing
terrorism and aggression.
“Therefore, we must always be ready to defend our people, our land and confront this entity.”
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said: “The formation of a new occupation government headed by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid alternately will not change anything on the ground.
“The new prime minister agrees, in essence, with Netanyahu’s program and policies, which are based on aggression, settlements and Judaization.”
Mustafa Ibrahim, a writer specializing in Israeli affairs, also warned that there would be no real change in Israel’s relationship with the Gaza Strip.
“This government is not a change for the Palestinians,” he told Arab News.
“It is an extension of the Netanyahu government as a result of the contradictions in it. It cannot take fateful decisions, but it will be more concerned with internal Israeli issues.
“The new government will abide by the red lines set by the previous government, that easing the blockade imposed on Gaza is linked to the release of the Israelis in Gaza, and agreement on this requires a strong government and a strong Israeli leader, which is not present in the new government.”
However, Ibrahim said that foreign pressure, especially from the US, “may make a difference in Israel’s relationship with Gaza and could keep the flame of confrontation dormant for a period of time.”
Biden, Erdogan upbeat about ties but disclose no breakthrough
“We had a positive and productive meeting, much of it one-on-one,” Biden told a news conference after their meeting in Brussels.
“Our teams are going to continue our discussions and I’m confident we’ll make real progress with Turkey and the United States,” he added.
Erdogan characterised his talks with Biden on the sidelines of a NATO summit as “productive and sincere.”
“We think that there are no issues between US and Turkey relationship that are unsolvable and that areas of cooperation for us are richer and larger than problems,” he said.
Despite their publicly optimistic tone, neither provided any details on how exactly they would mend the relationship or lay out steps that would help ease tensions between the NATO allies.
Turkey, with NATO’s second-largest military, has angered its allies in the Western military alliance by buying Russian surface-to-air missiles and intervening in wars in Syria and Libya. It is also in a standoff with Greece and Cyprus over territory in the Eastern Mediterranean.
As president, Biden has adopted a cooler tone than predecessor Donald Trump toward Erdogan. Biden quickly recognized the 1915 massacre of Armenians as genocide — a position that angers Turkey — and stepped up criticism of Turkey’s human rights record.
Washington has already removed Ankara from the F-35 fighter jet program and imposed sanctions over Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missiles.
One area where Erdogan hoped to showcase a central Turkish role in NATO is Afghanistan, where Ankara has offered to guard and operate Kabul airport after US and NATO forces withdraw in coming weeks. NATO head Jens Stoltenberg said Turkey would play a key role but that no decision was made at the Monday summit.
At the start of the main leaders’ session at NATO, Biden spoke to Erdogan at length in a small group before they took their seats.
Later in the day, the two leaders and their top aides sat mostly silently on opposite sides of a conference table, ignoring questions shouted to them by journalists briefly invited into the room.
Erdogan also met French President Emmanuel Macron. Ankara and Paris have been at odds over Syria, Libya and Turkish criticism of the fight against what Macron calls Islamist separatism, among other issues.
“President Erdogan confirmed during our meeting his wish that the foreign mercenaries, the foreign militias, operating on Libyan soil leave as soon as possible,” Macron told a news conference afterwards.