At NATO, Turkey hails its revival of dialogue with Greece

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Greece's Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on the sidelines of the NATO summit. (Reuters)
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US President Joe Biden and Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan talk before a plenary session at a NATO summit in Brussels. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 June 2021

At NATO, Turkey hails its revival of dialogue with Greece

  • Turkish President is holding a series of one-on-one meetings with NATO leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden
  • Erdogan recently toned down his anti-Western rhetoric as he seeks foreign investments for his country

BRUSSELS: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday that a revival of dialogue with fellow NATO member Greece to resolve long-standing disputes will serve “stability and prosperity” in the region.
Speaking on the sidelines of a NATO summit, Erdogan also lamented what he said was a lack of support by Turkey’s NATO allies in its fight against terrorism.
It was a veiled reference to Turkey’s disappointment with US military support for Syrian Kurdish fighters, who Ankara argues are inextricably linked to a decades-long Kurdish insurgency in Turkey.
Erdogan, who is vying to mend Turkey’s battered relations with its Western partners, is holding a series of one-on-one meetings with NATO leaders, including US President Joe Biden.
The Turkish strongman has recently toned down his anti-Western rhetoric as he seeks foreign investments for his country, which has been troubled by a currency crisis and an economic downturn made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Turkey is on the frontline in the fight against terrorism in all relevant international platforms, especially NATO,” Erdogan said, adding that some 4,000 Daesh group fighters were “neutralized” in Turkish cross border operations.
“Turkey is the only NATO ally which has fought face-to-face and gave its young sons as martyrs for this cause,” Erdogan said. “Unfortunately, we did not receive the support and solidarity we expected from our allies and partners in our fight against all forms of terrorism.”
Last summer, a long-standing dispute between Turkey and Greece over boundaries and rights to natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean flared anew after Ankara sent research vessels into waters where Greece asserts jurisdiction.
Diplomats from the two countries have held two rounds of talks in recent months for the first time in five years, while the foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey also held reciprocal visits.
“I believe that reviving the channels of dialogue between (Turkey) and our neighbor and ally, Greece, and the resolution of bilateral issues will ... serve the stability and prosperity of our region,” Erdogan said, in a video address to a think tank event on the sidelines of the summit.
Erdogan’s talks with Biden are expected to focus on US support for Syrian Kurdish fighters, as well as a dispute over Ankara’s acquisition of a Russian air defense system, which led to Turkey being removed from the F-35 fighter program and sanctions on defense industry officials.
Washington says the S-400 missiles, which Turkey purchased in 2019, pose a threat to NATO’s integrated air defense and has demanded that Ankara abandons the $2.5 billion system.
In April, Biden infuriated Ankara by declaring that the Ottoman-era mass killing and deportations of Armenians was “genocide.” Turkey denies that the deportations and massacres that began in 1915 and killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians amounted to genocide.
In Brussels, Erdogan met with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
After his meeting with Erdogan, Macron tweeted that he wants to “move forward” with Turkey.
It was their first meeting since a dispute between the two countries reached its peak in October, after Erdogan questioned Macron’s mental health.
Both men discussed Libya and Syria issues, the Elysee said. Macron has accused Turkey of flouting its commitments by ramping up its military presence in Libya and bringing in jihadi fighters from Syria.
During the discussion with Johnson, the two leaders agreed to “work toward the resumption of travel between the UK and Turkey,” according to a Downing Street statement. Turkey has been pushing for a relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions to allow British tourists to come to Turkey this summer.


British navy group: Hijackers have left vessel off UAE coast

Updated 04 August 2021

British navy group: Hijackers have left vessel off UAE coast

FUJAIRAH, UAE: The hijackers who captured a vessel off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf of Oman departed the targeted ship on Wednesday, the British navy reported, as recorded radio traffic appeared to reveal a crew member onboard saying Iranian gunmen had stormed the asphalt tanker.
The incident — described by the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations the night before as a “potential hijack” — revived fears of an escalation in Mideast waters and ended with as much mystery as it began.
Hints of what unfolded on the Panama-flagged asphalt tanker, called Asphalt Princess, began to emerge with the maritime radio recording, obtained by commodities pricing firm Argus Media and shared with The Associated Press. In the audio, a crew member can be heard telling the Emirati coast guard that five or six armed Iranians had boarded the tanker.
“Iranian people are onboard with ammunition,” the crew member says. “We are … now, drifting. We cannot tell you exact our ETA to (get to) Sohar,” the port in Oman listed on the vessel’s tracker as its destination. It was not clear whether the crew members, whom he identified as Indian and Indonesian, were in immediate danger.
No one took responsibility for the brief seizure, which underscored mounting tensions as Iran and the United States seek a resolution to their standoff over Tehran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Apparently responding to the incident, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh on Tuesday denied that Iran played any role. He described the recent maritime attacks in the Arabian Gulf as “completely suspicious.”
Over the past years, the rising tensions have played out in the waters of the Arabian Gulf, where just last week a drone attack on an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire off the coast of Oman killed two crew members. The West blamed Iran for the raid, which marked the first known fatal assault in the years-long shadow war targeting vessels in Mideast waters. Iran denied involvement.
Late on Tuesday, the intruders boarded the Asphalt Princess sailing off the coast of Fujairah, authorities said. The official news agency of Oman’s military said it received reports that the Asphalt Princess had been hijacked and immediately dispatched Royal Air Force maritime patrol aircraft and naval vessels “to contribute to securing international waters.”
In the recorded radio traffic, when the Emirati coast guard asks the crew member what the Iranian gunmen were doing onboard, he says he “cannot understand the (Iranians),” his voice muffled, before trying to hand over the radio to someone else. The call then cuts off.
Possible signs of trouble began to emerge that evening when six oil tankers off the coast of Fujairah announced around the same time via their Automatic Identification System trackers that they were “not under command,” according to MarineTraffic.com. That typically means a vessel has lost power and can no longer steer.
Satellite-tracking data for the Asphalt Princess had showed it gradually heading toward Iranian waters off the port of Jask early Wednesday, according to MarineTraffic.com. Hours later, however, it stopped and changed course toward Oman, just before the British navy group declared the hijackers had departed and the vessel was now “safe.”
In an analysis, maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global described the seizure of the Asphalt Princess as the latest Iranian response to outside pressures, economic conflicts and other grievances.
“Iran has consistently shown that in conducting this kind of operation, it is calculated in doing so, both by targeting vessels directly connected with ongoing disputes and (vessels) operating within the ‘grey space’ of legitimacy,” which may be involved in illicit trade, Dryad Global said.
The owner of the Asphalt Princess, listed as Emirati free zone-based Glory International, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The US military’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet and the British Defense Ministry also did not respond to requests for comment. The Emirati government did not immediately acknowledge the incident.
The Gulf of Oman sits near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Arabian Gulf through which a fifth of all traded oil passes. Fujairah, on the UAE’s eastern coast, is a main port in the region for ships to take on new oil cargo, pick up supplies or trade out crew.
For the past two years, after then-President Donald Trump withdrew the US from Iran’s nuclear deal and imposed crushing sanctions, the waters off Fujairah have witnessed a series of explosions and hijackings. The US Navy has blamed Iran for a series of limpet mine attacks on vessels that damaged tankers.
In the summer of 2019, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard troops detained a British-flagged tanker, the Stena Impero, near the Strait of Hormuz. Last year, an oil tanker sought by the US for allegedly circumventing sanctions on Iran was hijacked off the Emirati coast and later ended up in Iran, though Tehran never acknowledged the incident.
And in January, armed Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops stormed a South Korean tanker and forced the ship to change course and travel to Iran. While Iran claimed it detained the ship over pollution concerns, it appeared to link the seizure to negotiations over billions of dollars in Iranian assets frozen in South Korean banks.

Iran court sentences German woman to decade in jail: daughter

Updated 04 August 2021

Iran court sentences German woman to decade in jail: daughter

  • Taghavi was arrested at her Tehran apartment on Oct. 16 after years fighting for human rights in Iran
  • Taghavi suffers from pre-existing conditions including high blood pressure and diabetes

BERLIN: A German-Iranian woman held in Iran has been given a decade-long jail term by an Iran court for participating in an outlawed group, her daughter said Wednesday.

Nahid Taghavi, 66, was given “ten years for membership in an illegal group” and “eight months for propaganda against the regime,” said her daughter Mariam Claren.

Taghavi was arrested at her Tehran apartment on Oct. 16 after years fighting for human rights in Iran, in particular for women’s rights and freedom of expression, according to the rights group IGFM.

According to Claren, Taghavi has been held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where she contracted Covid-19 last month.

Claren has repeatedly flagged up warnings about her mother’s health, saying that she suffers from pre-existing conditions including high blood pressure and diabetes.

Germany’s foreign ministry said in October that it was aware of the arrest of a German-Iranian woman in Iran, but did not name the detained citizen.

Frank Schwabe, who is the spokesman on human rights issues for the Social Democrats, condemned the verdict.

“The charges are baseless and the verdict a farce,” he wrote on Twitter.


International conference on Lebanon raises over $357 million

Updated 04 August 2021

International conference on Lebanon raises over $357 million

  • The Aug. 4, 2020 explosion in Beirut port killed at least 214 people
  • About 40 heads of state and government, diplomats and heads of international organizations have taken part in the conference

SAULIEU, France: The French presidency said an international conference on Lebanon has gathered over $357 million in aid required to meet the country’s humanitarian needs, one year after the massive explosion at Beirut’s port.
Wednesday’s virtual conference, co-hosted by France and the United Nations, was meant to show support for the Lebanese people, French President Emmanuel Macron said.
France will provide 100 million euros ($118.6 million) in the coming months, Macron said. Paris will also send 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines for the country.
President Joe Biden, who addressed the conference in a video message, pledged to give $100 million in new humanitarian assistance.
About 40 heads of state and government, diplomats and heads of international organizations have taken part in the conference, according to Macron’s office. Participants included Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, King Abdullah II of Jordan and European Council President Charles Michel.
Lebanon’s current humanitarian needs have been estimated by the UN to be at least $357 million. Aid will focus on food, schools, the health sector and clean water supply, Macron’s office said.
Wednesday’s event was also meant to mount pressure on Lebanese leaders to form a new government able to implement reforms and start rebuilding the country.
Lebanon is going through the worst economic and financial crisis of its modern history, and a political stalemate that has kept the country without a functioning government for a full year.
Biden said that “no amount of outside assistance will ever be enough, if Lebanon’s own leaders do not commit to do the hard but necessary work of reforming the economy and combating corruption. That’s essential, and has to start now.”
Lebanese politicians have only made the situation ”worse by placing their individual and political interests above the Lebanese people’s interests,” Macron criticized. “Lebanon definitely deserves better.”
Macron said that humanitarian aid promised Wednesday will be unconditional.
However, he warned that “there will be no blank check to the Lebanese political system because it is defaulting. ... Lebanese leaders seem to opt for the deterioration (of the situation). I regret it. I think it’s a historical and moral error.”
Michel, the European Council President, stressed that the EU adopted a few days ago a “sanctions framework ... to target those in Lebanon who obstruct efforts to end the political crisis. We obviously hope that we will not be obliged to activate it.”
Macron, who went to Beirut twice since the explosion at the port, has led international efforts to try to help the former French protectorate by providing emergency aid. Last year’s conference on Lebanon, organized in the wake of the explosion, raised about 280 million euros ($332 million).
According to the UN, over half of Lebanese people now live in poverty, one in three Lebanese suffer from food insecurity and nearly 4 million people are at risk of not accessing safe water.


Rocket fire from Lebanon prompts Israeli shelling: Army

Updated 04 August 2021

Rocket fire from Lebanon prompts Israeli shelling: Army

  • The military said in a statement the alerts sounded in at least three communities near the border with Lebanon

JERUSALEM: Rocket fire from Lebanon hit northern Israel on Wednesday prompting retaliatory shelling, the army said, as tensions rise between Israel and arch foe Iran.

“Three rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israeli territory,” the army said in a statement, adding that one had fallen short of the border.

“In response... artillery forces fired into Lebanese territory.”

Rocket warning sirens sounded in northern Israel near the Lebanese border, the Israeli military said.

There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties. The military said in a statement the alerts sounded in at least three communities near the border with Lebanon.

The border has been mostly quiet since Israel fought a 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas, who have sway in southern Lebanon and advanced rockets.

But small Palestinian factions in Lebanon have fired sporadically on Israel in the past, and two rockets were launched at Israel on July 20, causing no damage or injuries. Israel responded to that incident with artillery fire.

 


Pope Francis back to full-time work with call for Lebanon aid

Updated 04 August 2021

Pope Francis back to full-time work with call for Lebanon aid

  • ‘Today I appeal to the international community to help Lebanon along the path to resurrection through concrete gestures, not just words’

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis returned to work full-time on Wednesday following a colon operation, urging the international community to help a struggling Lebanon.
The 84-year-old took time to bless children and pose for selfies in the Vatican at the weekly general audience one month to the day after the delicate operation, which saw him hospitalized for over a week.
“Today I appeal to the international community to help Lebanon along the path to resurrection through concrete gestures, not just words,” Francis said.
Lebanon was Wednesday marking a year since a cataclysmic explosion ravaged Beirut, killing at least 214 people in its worst peace-time disaster, when the country’s economy was already in tatters.
The spiralling economic crisis has been branded by the World Bank as one of the planet’s worst since the mid-19th century. Lebanon has also had to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.
Francis said he hoped an international conference co-hosted by France and the UN on the day of the anniversary to raise humanitarian aid proves “productive.”
According to the Vatican News portal, the general audience marked the resumption of normal activities for the pope, who underwent planned surgery for inflammation of the colon at Rome’s Gemelli University Hospital on July 4.
Francis, who had previously been in fairly good health, had been taking it easy since the operation although he led the Sunday Angelus prayers both from hospital and from the Vatican window on his return.

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