Turkey and Greece resume talks to resolve maritime disputes

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Representatives of Turkey and Greece attend a meeting as part of the bilateral talks on the maritime disputes in Istanbul, Turkey January 25, 2021. (Reuters)
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Plans for resuming discussions foundered last year over Turkey’s deployment of a survey vessel in contested Mediterranean waters and disagreements over which topics to cover. (File/AFP)
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Updated 26 January 2021
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Turkey and Greece resume talks to resolve maritime disputes

  • Crisis sparked by Turkish energy exploration vessel working in disputed waters
  • Turkey faces potential EU sanctions over its energy exploration

ANKARA: Turkey and Greece on Monday held talks aimed at resolving maritime disputes, the first exploratory talks held since 2016.

Bilateral relations have been under particular strain since last year, when Turkey sent an energy exploration vessel to disputed waters near Greek islands. The move led to a crisis, with EU leaders threatening sanctions.

The two NATO members held 60 rounds of talks, described as exploratory rather than official, between 2002 and 2016.

Experts cautioned against having high expectations about any immediate success from the talks, which resumed after a years-long hiatus.

Dr. Zenonas Tziarras, researcher at PRIO Cyprus Centre, said the exploratory talks were not negotiations as such and, therefore, no agreement was expected.

“They aim to explore the intentions and positions of the two parties as well as set the agenda of the actual negotiations,” he told Arab News. “Much will depend on whether they can agree to limit the agenda to the issue of maritime zones, such as continental shelf, exclusive economic zone and perhaps territorial waters, leaving items that Turkey wants to add - like demilitarization of the islands - out.”

He said that although Turkey initiated the talks, they had been scheduled for last summer and got sidetracked by the Greek-Turkish crisis. “Turkey has made this move because, just like Greece, it sees the talks as a mechanism for de-escalation that allows it to focus on other problems and a projection of ‘good behavior’ in light of the new presidency in the US.”

He added that Turkey was trying to convince the West, including the US and the EU, that it remained a committed Western partner.

“However, these are tactical moves that aim to appease harsh reactions to Turkish foreign policy from the EU and the US, such as more sanctions, and allow Ankara to reap more benefits from these relations.”

Greece wants to limit the talks to rival interpretations about the delimitation of maritime boundaries under the principles of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which Turkey is not a party to.

But maritime delimitation talks could take a long time as neither side appears ready for compromises that could cost them popular support at home.

“We will attend with optimism but zero naivety,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told a parliamentary session, referring to the disagreements with Turkey over maritime borders.

Turkey also intends to discuss a range of other long-running and thorny issues, such as the demilitarization of Greek islands or sovereignty of certain rocks. It accuses Greece of illegally deploying troops on some islands.

The two countries almost came to blows in 1996 over the sovereignty of an uninhabited Aegean islet.

“If there is a convergence of interests and an agreement on the agenda, the two sides can either solve the issue politically or refer their dispute to the International Court of Justice,” George Tzogopoulos, a senior fellow at the International Center of European Formation, told Arab News. “The process will be a long and time-consuming one.”

The talks follow Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dialling down his confrontational rhetoric toward the EU, emphasizing his willingness to open a new chapter in relations with the bloc.

“I would judge the success of these talks if both parties decide on the continuation of talks,” Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and chairman of the Istanbul think-tank Edam, told Arab News. “But it is important that these talks serve as an insurance policy against any potential escalation in the East Med.”

A NATO defense ministers meeting in February and an EU summit in March also serve as an additional source of leverage over the talks between the two neighbors.

Tzogopoulos was pessimistic about a breakthrough but optimistic about a joint understanding of the need for some bilateral and multilateral cooperation.

“For now, Greece counts on calmness in the Eastern Mediterranean in order to concentrate on its post-COVID-19 economic recovery and the absorption of EU funds. Turkey, for its part, is also looking for calmness in its interest in recalibrating its relations with the EU as well as with the new American administration.”

The exploratory talks in Istanbul coincide with intense discussions about potential EU sanctions against Turkey over its energy exploration in the disputed waters of the eastern Mediterranean. Brussels pledged to enlarge a sanctions blacklist with more names.

A controversial agreement from 2019 between Turkey and Libya over the maritime borders in the Mediterranean could also be jeopardized by the exploratory talks.

The agreement delineated the maritime borders between the Greek island of Crete and Cyprus.

It was criticized by the EU, which described it as a serious breach of international law, but is likely to be used as a bargaining chip against another deal that was signed last August for the partial demarcation of maritime boundaries between Greece and Egypt.

Tzogopoulos said that Greece would rely on its agreement with Egypt and that Turkey would turn to its agreement with Libya if a formal dialogue on maritime zones started.

“Some zones covered in the two agreements do overlap, whereas other zones remain undelimited. So, a potential settlement requires compromises by the two countries as well as the participation of other countries of the Mediterranean in talks.”


Cameron tells Netanyahu UK will not ban IRGC: Report

Updated 11 sec ago
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Cameron tells Netanyahu UK will not ban IRGC: Report

  • Stance relayed during face-to-face talks between British FM, Israeli PM Wednesday
  • ‘We need to be able to pick up the phone. If we proscribed them it would not help the situation’

LONDON: The UK will not proscribe Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, the Daily Telegraph reported on Thursday.

The stance was reportedly relayed by UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron during a face-to-face meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Wednesday.

The Israeli government reportedly requested that the UK ban the IRGC following Iran’s drone and missile attack last week.

But Cameron, in what a source called a “blunt” response, told Netanyahu and Katz that doing so would hinder London’s ability to communicate with Tehran.

“We need to be able to pick up the phone. If we proscribed them it would not help the situation,” the source reported Cameron as saying.

If the IRGC were to be proscribed in the UK, it would make membership of it, attending its meetings, displaying its symbols or campaigning for it in the country illegal.

The move has been considered by the UK government for over a year, but Home Office officials have long warned that doing so would sever one of the few remaining diplomatic channels with Tehran. Instead, the IRGC has been sanctioned by the UK government on several occasions.

The US, which has banned the IRGC, has also suggested that the UK should proscribe it. The group’s navy was recently included in a new set of joint sanctions issued by London and Washington.


US to oppose Palestinian bid for full UN membership

Updated 22 min 22 sec ago
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US to oppose Palestinian bid for full UN membership

  • 15-member council is scheduled to vote on a draft resolution
  • Palestinians currently non-member observer state, de facto recognition of statehood

NEW YORK: The US will on Thursday vote against a Palestinian request for full United Nations membership, a US official told Reuters, blocking the world body from effectively recognizing a Palestinian state.
“It remains the US view that the most expeditious path toward statehood for the Palestinian people is through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority with the support of the United States and other partners,” the US official said.
The 15-member council is scheduled to vote on a draft resolution that recommends to the 193-member UN General Assembly that “the State of Palestine be admitted to membership of the United Nations.”
A council resolution needs at least nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the US, Britain, France, Russia or China to pass. Diplomats say the measure could have the support of up to 13 council members, which would force the US to use its veto.
“We have long been clear that premature actions in New York, even with the best intentions, will not achieve statehood for the Palestinian people,” the US official said.
The Palestinians are currently a non-member observer state, a de facto recognition of statehood that was granted by the UN General Assembly in 2012. But an application to become a full UN member needs to be approved by the Security Council and then at least two-thirds of the General Assembly.
The Palestinian push for full UN membership comes six months into a war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and as Israel is expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“Recent escalations make it even more important to support good-faith efforts to find lasting peace between Israel and a fully independent, viable and sovereign Palestinian state,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council.
“Failure to make progress toward a two-State solution will only increase volatility and risk for hundreds of millions of people across the region, who will continue to live under the constant threat of violence,” he said.

DIRECT TALKS
Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan said Palestinians failed to meet the criteria to become a full UN member, which he outlined as: a permanent population, defined territory, government, and capacity to enter relations with other states.
“Who is the council voting to ‘recognize’ and give full membership status to? Hamas in Gaza? The Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Nablus? Who?” Erdan asked the Security Council.
He said granting full UN membership to the Palestinians “will have zero positive impact for any party, that will cause only destruction for years to come, and harm any chance for future dialogue.”
The UN Security Council has long endorsed a vision of two states living side by side within secure and recognized borders. Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, all territory captured by Israel in 1967.
The Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank. Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority from power in Gaza in 2007.
Ziad Abu Amr, special envoy of Abbas, asked the United States: “How could this damage the prospects of peace between Palestinians and Israelis? How could this recognition and this membership harm international peace and security?“
“Those who are trying to disrupt and hinder the adoption of such a resolution ... are not helping the prospects of peace between Palestinians and Israelis and the prospects for peace in the Middle East in general,” he told the Security Council.
Abu Amr said full Palestinian UN membership was not an alternative for serious political negotiations to implement a two-state solution and resolve pending issues, adding: “However, this resolution will grant hope to the Palestinian people hope for a decent life within an independent state.”


After COVID, WHO defines disease spread ‘through air’

Updated 18 April 2024
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After COVID, WHO defines disease spread ‘through air’

  • Agencies have historically required high levels of proof before calling diseases airborne, which required stringent containment
  • Past disagreements also centered around whether infectious particles were “droplets” or “aerosols” based on size

LONDON: The World Health Organization and around 500 experts have agreed for the first time what it means for a disease to spread through the air, in a bid to avoid the confusion early in the COVID-19 pandemic that some scientists have said cost lives.
The Geneva-based UN health agency released a technical document on the topic on Thursday. It said it was the first step toward working out how to better prevent this kind of transmission, both for existing diseases like measles and for future pandemic threats.
The document concludes that the descriptor “through the air” can be used for infectious diseases where the main type of transmission involves the pathogen traveling through the air or being suspended in the air, in line with other terms such as “waterborne” diseases, which are understood across disciplines and by the public.
Almost 500 experts contributed to the definition, including physicists, public health professionals and engineers, many of whom disagreed bitterly over the topic in the past.
Agencies have historically required high levels of proof before calling diseases airborne, which required very stringent containment measures; the new definition says the risk of exposure and severity of disease should also be considered.
Past disagreements also centered around whether infectious particles were “droplets” or “aerosols” based on size, which the new definition moves away from.
During the early days of COVID in 2020, around 200 aerosol scientists publicly complained that the WHO had failed to warn people of the risk that the virus could spread through the air. This led to an overemphasis on measures like handwashing to stop the virus, rather than focusing on ventilation, they said.
On Wednesday, Democrats in the Arizona state House failed to repeal a controversial ban on abortion that dates back to 1864 after they couldn’t muster Republican support.
By July 2020, the agency said there was “evidence emerging” of airborne spread, but its then chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan – who began the process to get a definition – later said, opens new tab the WHO should have been more forceful “much earlier.”
Her successor, Jeremy Farrar, said in an interview that the new definition was about more than COVID, but he added that at the beginning of the pandemic there was a lack of evidence available and experts including the WHO acted in “good faith.” At that time, he was head of the Wellcome Trust charity and advised the British government on the pandemic.
Farrar said getting the definition agreed among experts from all disciplines would allow discussions to begin about issues such as ventilation in many different settings, from hospitals to schools.
He compared it to the realization that blood-borne viruses like HIV or hepatitis B could be spread by medics not wearing gloves during procedures.
“When I started out, medical students, nurses, doctors, none of us wore gloves to take blood,” he told Reuters. “Now it is unthinkable that you wouldn’t wear gloves. But that came because everyone agreed on what the issue was, they agreed on the terminology… [The change in practice] came later.”


Reuters photographer wins World Press Photo of the Year with poignant shot from Gaza

Updated 36 min 10 sec ago
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Reuters photographer wins World Press Photo of the Year with poignant shot from Gaza

  • Mohammed Salem won for heartrending photo of a Palestinian woman cradling the body of her young niece
  • Inas Abu Maamar holds five-year-old Saly, killed along with her mother and sister when Israeli missile struck their home

PARIS: Reuters photographer Mohammed Salem captured this year’s prestigious World Press Photo of the Year award Thursday with a depiction of loss and sorrow in Gaza, a heartrending photo of a Palestinian woman cradling the body of her young niece. The photograph, taken in Khan Younis just days after Salem’s own child was born, shows 36-year-old Inas Abu Maamar holding five-year-old Saly, who was killed along with her mother and sister when an Israeli missile struck their home.
Salem, who is Palestinian, described this photo filed Nov. 2 last year, as a “powerful and sad moment that sums up the broader sense of what was happening in the Gaza Strip.”
The image ”truly encapsulates this sense of impact,” said global jury chair Fiona Shields, The Guardian newspaper’s head of photography. “It is incredibly moving to view and at the same time an argument for peace, which is extremely powerful when peace can sometimes feel like an unlikely fantasy,” she added.
The World Press Photo jury praised the shot’s sense of care and respect and its offering of a “metaphorical and literal glimpse into unimaginable loss.”

This image provided by World Press Photo and taken by Julia Kochetova is part of a series titles War is Personal which won the World Press Photo Open Format Award. Amidst tens of thousands of civilian and military causalities and an effective stalemate that has lasted for months, there are no signs of peace on the horizon for Russia’s war in Ukraine. (World Press Photo via AP)

This is not the first time Salem has been recognized for his work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; he received a World Press Photo award more than a decade ago for another depiction of the human toll of conflict in the Gaza strip.
In the three other global categories announced Thursday, South Africa’s Lee-Ann Olwage won Photo Story of the Year for her touching series “Valim-babena,” featured in GEO magazine. The project focused on the stigmatization of dementia in Madagascar, a topic she explored through intimate portraits of “Dada Paul” and his family. Lack of public awareness surrounding dementia means that people displaying symptoms of memory loss are often stigmatized.
In the series, “Dada Paul,” who has lived with dementia for 11 years, is tenderly cared for by his daughter Fara. One of the standout images in the series shows him preparing for church with his granddaughter Odliatemix, capturing moments of normalcy and warmth amidst the challenges of dementia.

This image provided by World Press Photo is a part of a multimedia project by AP’s Renata Brito and Felipe Dana title Adrift, won the World Press Photo Africa Regional Winner Open Format category and shows a mortuary technician opening the door of a refrigerator used to store the remains of migrants recovered from inside the Mauritania boat that appeared drifting near the island of Tobago in Scarborough on January 25, 2022. (AP)

Photographer Alejandro Cegarra, a Venezuelan native who migrated to Mexico in 2017, won the Long-Term Project award for “The Two Walls,” published by The New York Times and Bloomberg. Cegarra’s project, initiated in 2018, examines a shift in Mexico’s immigration policies, which have moved from being historically open to enforcing strict regulations at its southern border. The jury said the photographer’s perspective as a migrant gave it a “sensitive,” human-centered perspective, according to a press release.
Julia Kochetova of Ukraine won the Open Format award for “War Is Personal.” The project stood out from coverage of the ongoing conflict by offering a personal look at the harsh realities of war. On a dedicated website, she merged traditional photojournalism with a diary-like documentary style, incorporating photography, poetry, audio clips and music.
The Associated Press won the Open Format award in the regional Africa category with the multimedia story “Adrift,” created by journalists Renata Brito and Felipe Dana. The story investigates the fate of West African migrants who attempted to reach Europe via a treacherous Atlantic route but ended up on a ghost ship discovered off Tobago. The team’s compelling use of photography, cinematography and detailed narrative, enhanced by expert design and multimedia elements, highlights the perils faced by migrants and the human stories behind global migration issues.

This image provided by World Press Photo is a part of series titles Afghanistan on the Edge by Ebrahim Noroozi, Associated Press, which won the World Press Photo Asia Series category and shows three Afghan internally displaced children look with surprise at an apple that their mother brought home after begging in a camp on the outskirts of Kabul on February 2, 2023. (AP)

The Associated Press’ Ebrahim Noroozi won the Asia Stories award for his series “Afghanistan on the Edge,” which documents the country since the Taliban took over in August 2021.
World Press Photo is an independent, nonprofit organization based in the Netherlands, founded in 1955.


France’s Macron to meet Lebanon PM in Paris Friday: French presidency

French President Emmanuel Macron will meet Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Friday in Paris. (File/Reuters/AFP)
Updated 18 April 2024
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France’s Macron to meet Lebanon PM in Paris Friday: French presidency

  • Lebanon has been without a president for more than a year after ex-head of state Michel Aoun’s mandate expired
  • Former French colony is also in the grips of an unprecedented economic crisis

PARIS: France President Emmanuel Macron will meet Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati and army chief Joseph Aoun on Friday in Paris, the French presidency said.
The announcement on Thursday comes as fears have increased in recent days of a regional escalation in the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
Lebanon is grappling with a deep economic and political crisis.
That has been compounded by near-daily cross-border fire between Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group and neighboring Israel ever since war erupted on October 7 between Israel and Hamas, a Hezbollah ally.
Hezbollah on Thursday said two of its fighters had been killed as Israel appeared to intensify strikes on south Lebanon following an attack by the Iran-backed group that wounded 14 Israeli soldiers.
Fears of a regional conflict have spiked in recent days after Tehran launched its first ever direct military attack on Israel late Saturday in retaliation for an April 1 air strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus widely blamed on Israel.
Lebanon has been without a president for more than a year after ex-head of state Michel Aoun’s mandate expired, with its feuding factions repeatedly failing in parliament to elect a new leader.
The multi-confessional former French colony is also in the grips of an unprecedented economic crisis.
Mikati has been prime minister since 2021 but leads a caretaker government with limited powers.
Joseph Aoun, no relation to the country’s former president, has good relations with all sides in the country and is sometimes put forward as someone who could lead it out of political deadlock.
Macron has visited the country twice in recent years in a bid to help bring it out of crisis, but then in 2023 assigned the task to former foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.