Opinion

Putin, Raisi and Erdogan have less in common than it appears

Putin, Raisi and Erdogan have less in common than it appears

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Tuesday’s three-way summit in Tehran, the first to bring the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran together since 2019, put many common issues on the table, but with a diverse agenda. So diverse, in fact, that the chances of Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ebrahim Raisi agreeing on everything, when the three are facing unique challenges, were remote at best.
The Tehran meeting came a few days after US President Joe Biden participated in an extraordinary high-level meeting in Jeddah, hosted by Saudi Arabia and attended by the GCC leaders plus the heads of Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. The outcome of the Jeddah summit was in contrast with the bilateral US-Israel declaration signed only two days before while Biden was visiting Israel.
While the main component of the so-called Jerusalem Declaration was a vow not to allow Iran to militarize its nuclear program, the message from Jeddah was articulated in a way that keeps the door open for an Arab reconciliation with Iran. There was no mention of an anti-Iran Middle Eastern version of NATO, with Israel as a member.
The Iranian leadership will appreciate the value of the messages coming from Jeddah. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said that Riyadh continues to extend its hand to Tehran. The UAE announced that it is considering sending an ambassador to Iran, which Tehran has also welcomed.
But the leaders’ meeting in Tehran had other issues to consider. Putin wants to sign with Iran a comprehensive strategic treaty, whose main objective is to lessen the effect of Western sanctions on Moscow and create an anti-American alliance. Tehran can go as far as siding with Putin, but not at the expense of losing an opportunity, feeble as it may be, to end Western oil sanctions.

Tehran can go as far as siding with Putin, but not at the expense of losing an opportunity to end Western oil sanctions.

Osama Al-Sharif

For Iran — where a close adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Kamal Kharrazi, announced this week that Tehran had the capability to build a nuclear bomb but it chooses not to — an 11th-hour deal to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement remains possible. An anti-Western alliance with Moscow at this stage would not help conclude a deal that Tehran badly wants.
For Putin, any semblance of support from states with an axe to grind with America is a good thing. But there are limits to such support. For Tehran, normalizing ties with Riyadh would carry huge geopolitical value. Such rapprochement could end many of the region’s conflicts. At the end of the day, Iran is aware of its geographical destiny as a neighbor of the Arab Gulf states.
For Erdogan, a pragmatic leader who has no qualms about shifting sides and switching positions, cementing his presence and influence over two anti-US countries is enough to keep Turkey a major geopolitical player regionally and beyond. He has been threatening to launch a major military operation in northern Syria for weeks. But Moscow and Tehran have different takes on such an operation. Why Ankara wants to engage in a risky military adventure in northern Syria is difficult to fathom.
Iran has stated that it opposes any operation that threatens the territorial integrity of Syria. Moscow is also not happy with Turkey’s meddling in Syria, which it sees as an extension of its own geopolitical influence in the region. The fact that Moscow is caught up in the Ukrainian quagmire makes it apprehensive about any serious shift in the balance of power in Syria.
Topping all this is the fact that Israel, in the wake of Biden’s visit, has made direct threats toward Tehran. On Monday, Israeli army chief Aviv Kochavi said that the military is preparing for the possibility it will have to act against Iran’s nuclear program. Israel and Iran have been engaged in an indirect war for years. But the fact that Israel is considering an attack on Iran does not please anybody. The US, the Europeans and the Arab countries are in no mood to see another unpredictable war break out in the region. Certainly, when it comes to potentially igniting another war in the region, Israel is in a minority of one.
While the Tehran summit offered much in terms of a photo opportunity, a platform for some fiery statements and a semblance of an accord, the reality is that the three leaders have less in common than it appears. Their personal agendas are not in synergy and, while joint challenges may bring them together for now, dealing with them leaves much to be desired.

Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Erdogan presses case against Syria’s Kurds at Tehran summit despite Khamenei rebuke

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meet in Tehran on July 19, 2022. (WANA handout via REUTERS)
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Updated 20 July 2022

Erdogan presses case against Syria’s Kurds at Tehran summit despite Khamenei rebuke

  • The summit was ostensibly aimed at ending more than 11 years of conflict in Syria
  • Turkey is also deeply opposed to a semiautonomous Kurdish administration in Syria’s northeast

TEHRAN: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pressed his case for a military offensive against Syria’s Kurds at a summit in Tehran Tuesday, despite Iran’s supreme leader warning against such a move.

Erdogan told the leaders of Russia and Iran that he expected their full support in Ankara’s fight against “terrorists” in Syria.

The summit, hosted by Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and also attended by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, was ostensibly aimed at ending more than 11 years of conflict in Syria, where Iran and Russia support the Damascus government and Turkey supports rebel forces against the regime.

But Turkey is also deeply opposed to a semiautonomous Kurdish administration in Syria’s oil-rich northeast, and Erdogan has lately repeatedly vowed to launch an offensive against Kurdish militants, on the back of a 2019 onslaught.

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Both Russia and Iran have a military presence in parts of Syria mentioned as possible targets of Turkey’s new assault.

A statement by the three presidents “expressed their opposition to the illegal seizure and transfer of oil revenues that should belong to Syria,” while they also “rejected all attempts to create new realities on the ground... including illegitimate self-rule initiatives” in the war-torn country.

The trilateral statement came shortly after Erdogan had urged Russia and Iran to back his efforts to combat terrorism in Syria, contending that “it should be understood clearly that there is no room in our region’s future for separatist terror organizations.”

“We will continue our fight against terrorist organizations in the time to come,” he said.




Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan presses his case at the Tehran summit. (WANA handout via REUTERS)

Erdogan accuses outlawed Kurdish militants of using the border region as a staging post for their decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

“What we expect from Russia and Iran is their support for Turkey in its fight against terrorism,” Erdogan said in televised remarks.

Erdogan noted that Turkey had struck an agreement with Moscow and Washington in 2019 under which both countries were supposed to help push outlawed Kurdish militants 30 km away from the Syria-Turkey border.

“This still has not happened,” said Erdogan. “It is a long overdue.”

Washington and Moscow have also urged Turkey to exercise restraint.

Erdogan had earlier Tuesday earned a rebuke for his push for an offensive against Syria’s Kurds from Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei in a bilateral meeting ahead of the summit.

Khamenei told Erdogan such an offensive would be “detrimental” for the region and called for the issue to be resolved through dialogue between Ankara, Damascus, Moscow and Tehran.




A Turkey-backed fighter looks out from a military position in the Syrian area of Jibrin towards the Kurdish-controlled area of Tal Rifaat on July 19, 2022. (Bakr Alkasem / AFP)

It was not immediately clear whether the trilateral statement at the summit reflected any alteration in Iran’s or Russia’s position on Turkey’s threatened offensive.

Khamenei also on Tuesday urged strengthened energy cooperation with Moscow in a meeting with Putin.

Russia’s president traveled abroad for only the second time since ordering Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine in order to attend the gathering.

The summit came days after US President Joe Biden visited the Middle East for the first time in his presidency, with stops in Iran’s regional foes Israel and oil-rich Saudi Arabia, a country his government has pressed to increase oil output to ease a price spike related to the Ukraine war.
Khamenei called for stronger “long-term co-operation” with Moscow, according to a statement on his official website that noted both Moscow and Tehran are afflicted by Western sanctions.
Describing such ties as “deeply beneficial to both countries,” the supreme leader called for bilateral contracts and understandings in hydrocarbons to be “followed up and implemented fully.”
Prior to Putin’s arrival, the National Iranian Oil Company and Russia’s Gazprom signed a memorandum of understanding “worth about $40 billion,” according to the Iranian oil ministry’s official news agency.
Putin and Erdogan also held a bilateral meeting where the Russian president said he wanted to “thank” his Turkish counterpart for progress on talks over Ukraine’s grain, according to the Kremlin.
Russia’s war on Ukraine has massively hampered shipments from one of the world’s biggest exporters of wheat and other grain, sparking fears of global food shortages.
Turkey — a NATO member on speaking terms with both Russia and Ukraine — has spearheaded efforts to resume the grain deliveries.
Erdogan has for months been offering to meet Putin in a bid to help resolve heightened global tensions.
“I want to thank you for your mediation efforts,” Putin told Erdogan during the bilateral meeting, according to comments released by the Kremlin.
“We have moved forward,” Putin said, while adding “not all issues have yet been resolved.”
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned on Monday that Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports threatens supplies to countless thousands vulnerable to starvation.

On Sunday, a day after Biden ended his tour of the Middle East, Iran accused the United States of provoking crises in the region.
Biden had vowed the US would not “tolerate efforts by any country to dominate another in the region through military buildups, incursions, and/or threats,” in reference to Iran.
In a speech at a Saudi summit of Gulf Arab states as well as Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, Biden assured those gathered that the US would remain fully engaged in the Middle East.
“We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran,” he said
Following the meeting, a joint statement committed the leaders to “preserve regional security and stability.”
It also underscored diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, a goal Tehran has always denied seeking.
On Sunday, Iran accused the US of having “once again resorted to the failed policy of Iran-phobia, trying to create tensions and crises in the region.”
The US last week alleged Iran plans to deliver “hundreds of drones” to Russia to aid its war on Ukraine, an accusation the Islamic republic dismissed as “baseless.”

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Iran acknowledges ‘tens of thousands’ detained in protests

Updated 26 sec ago

Iran acknowledges ‘tens of thousands’ detained in protests

  • Reports about decree offer no explanation for decision by Supreme Leader Khamenei
  • Iran prisons are already overcrowded after years of protests over economy, other affairs

JEDDAH: Iranian activists on Sunday dismissed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s decree reportedly ordering amnesty or a reduction in prison sentences for “tens of thousands” of people detained amid nationwide anti-government protests shaking the country, acknowledging for the first time the scale of the crackdown.

“Khamenei’s hypocritical pardon doesn’t change anything,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam of the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights.

“Not only all protesters must be released unconditionally, but also it is a public right that those who ordered the bloody repression and their agents are held accountable.”

The decree by Khamenei, part of a yearly pardoning by the supreme leader before the anniversary of the 1979 revolution, comes as a long-detained opposition leader called for a nationwide referendum on whether to write a new constitution for Iran.

State media also published a list of caveats over the order that would disqualify those with ties abroad or facing spying charges — allegations which have been met with wide international criticism.

Khamenei “agreed to offer amnesty and reduce the sentences of tens of thousands accused and convicted in the recent incidents,” the state-run IRNA news agency said in a Farsi report.

A later IRNA report carried by its English-language service said the pardons and commuted sentences were for “tens of thousands of convicts, including the arrestees of the recent riots in Iran.” Authorities did not immediately acknowledge the discrepancy in the reports.

The reports about the decree offered no explanation for the decision by Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state in Iran. However, prisons and detention facilities already had faced overcrowding in the country after years of protests over economic issues and other matters.

In Mir Hossein Mousavi’s call, posted by the opposition Kaleme website, he said he did not believe that Iran’s current system, which gives the final say to a supreme leader, worked any longer.

He also called for the formation of a constitutional assembly of “real representatives” to write a new constitution.

It remains unlikely that Iran’s theocracy will heed the 80-year-old politician’s call.

He and his wife have been under house arrest for years since his disputed presidential election loss in 2009 led to the widespread Green Movement protests that security forces also repressed.

Mousavi himself, however, had supported and served in Iran’s theocracy for decades.

Separately, former reformist President Mohammad Khatami urged “free and competitive elections” after the release of political prisoners both imprisoned and under house arrest.

“Reformism at least has faced a ... dead end, so people have a right to be (as) frustrated about it as they are about the ruling system,” Khatami said in a statement circulated online.

More than 19,600 people have been arrested during the protests, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that has been tracking the regime’s crackdown.

At least 527 people have been killed as authorities violently suppressed demonstrations, the group said. Iran has not offered a death toll for months.

On Sunday, state media published a list of caveats that would disqualify those who face spying charges, among others, from receiving a pardon. The list has been met with wide international criticism.

Khamenei “agreed to offer amnesty and reduce the sentences of tens of thousands accused and convicted in the recent incidents,” the IRNA news agency said in a Farsi report.

A later IRNA report carried by its English-language service said the pardons and commuted sentences were for “tens of thousands of convicts, including the arrestees of the recent riots in Iran.”

Authorities did not name any of those who had been pardoned or given shorter sentences.

Authorities also did not name any of those who had been pardoned or seen shorter sentences. Instead, state television continued to refer to the demonstrations as being a “foreign-backed riot,” rather than homegrown anger over the September death of Masha Amini, an Iranian-Kurdish woman detained by the country’s morality police.

Anger also has been spreading over the collapse of the Iranian rial against the US dollar, as well as Tehran arming Russia with bomb-carrying drones in its war on Ukraine.

More than 19,600 people have been arrested during the protests, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that’s been tracking the crackdown. At least 527 people have been killed as authorities violently suppressed demonstrations, the group said. Iran hasn’t offered a death toll for months. It already has executed at least four people detained amid the protests after internationally criticized trials.

All this comes as Iran’s nuclear deal has collapsed and Tehran has enough highly enriched uranium to potentially build “several” atomic bombs if it chooses, the United Nations’ top nuclear envoy has said. A shadow war between Iran and Israel has risen out of the chaos, with Tehran blaming Israel for a drone attack on a military workshop in Isfahan last week as well.

Meanwhile, a long-detained opposition leader in Iran is calling for a nationwide referendum about whether to write a new constitution for the Islamic Republic.
Mir Hossein Mousavi’s call, posted late Saturday by the opposition Kaleme website, included him saying he didn’t believe Iran’s current system giving final say to a supreme leader worked any longer. He also called for the formation of a constitutional assembly of “real representatives” to write a new constitution.

It remains unlikely Iran’s theocracy will heed the 80-year-old politician’s call. He and his wife have been under house arrest for years after his disputed presidential election loss in 2009 led to the widespread Green Movement protests that security forces also put down. However, he himself had supported and served in Iran’s theocracy for decades.
In 2019, Mousavi compared Khamenei to the former Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, whose rule saw troops gun down demonstrators in an event that led to the Islamic Revolution.
Separately, former reformist President Mohammad Khatami urged “free and competitive elections” after the release of political prisoners both imprisoned and under house arrest.
“Reformism at least has faced a ... dead end, so people have a right to be frustrated about it as they are about the ruling system,” Khatami said in a statement circulated online.
Currently, hard-liners control all levers of power in the country. Reformists like Khatami and Mousavi previously sought to change and open up Iran’s Islamic Republic while maintaining its system. But increasingly, protesters have demanded an end to theocratic rule in the country.


Israeli forces kill several armed militants in raid - army statement

Updated 06 February 2023

Israeli forces kill several armed militants in raid - army statement

  • The Palestinian health ministry said three people had been wounded
  • Israeli forces have carried out months of raids in the West Bank in the wake of a spate of deadly attacks in Israel last year

JERUSALEM: Israeli forces killed a number of armed fighters during a raid on a refugee camp near the city of Jericho on Monday aimed at capturing suspected Hamas militants, according to a statement from the Israeli military.
It said the targets of the raid were suspected of an attempted attack on a restaurant in the Israeli settlement of Vered Yeriho on Jan. 28.
The Palestinian health ministry said three people had been wounded, one critically but it gave no details on any dead.
The raid came during a period of heightened tensions that have drawn fears of a further escalation in violence and prompted calls for calm on both sides from the United States and international bodies including the United Nations.
Israeli forces have carried out months of raids in the West Bank in the wake of a spate of deadly attacks in Israel last year and forces have been put on high alert after a lone Palestinian gunman shot seven people near a synagogue on Jan. 27.
The military said Monday’s raid in the Aqabat Jabr camp was aimed at capturing a group of militants belonging to Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs Gaza, who it said were barricaded in a house in the camp and were planning further operations following the attempted restaurant attack.
On Jan. 28, it said two armed individuals appeared in a restaurant in the Vered Yeriho settlement, where around 30 people were present, but fled before carrying out an attack after a weapon malfunctioned.
Over the past week, it said security forces had conducted a number of operations to try to find and arrest the suspects.


Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground

Updated 05 February 2023

Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground

  • Rachid Karami International Fair has decayed due to conflict, poor maintenance and country’s financial crisis

TRIPOLI: Its arch is cracking and its vast pavilions lie empty, but the crumbling Rachid Karami International Fair in Lebanon’s port city Tripoli now has hope of revival, having been added to the United Nations’ list of world heritage sites in danger.
Designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in 1962, the collection of structures on the 70-hectare plot is considered one of the key works of 20th century modernism in the Middle East.
But the fair park has slowly decayed due to repeated rounds of fighting over the last 60 years, poor maintenance and most recently Lebanon’s crippling, three-year-old financial crisis.
“It was placed on the World Heritage List exceptionally, quickly and urgently – and on the list of heritage in danger because it’s in a critical situation,” said Joseph Kreidi, UNESCO’s national program officer for culture in Beirut.
Its elegant arch is missing concrete in some parts, exposing the rebar underneath. Rainwater has pooled at the locked entrances. One section is sealed off by a sign that reads, “Unsafe building entry.”
“Placing it on the World Heritage Danger List is an appeal to all countries of the world, as if to say: this site needs some care,” said Kreidi.
He said it was up to the Lebanese authorities to draw together a plan for the site’s protection and rehabilitation but that UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, could help search for funding and provide technical expertise.
Lebanon has five other sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, most of them citadels and ancient temples.
Niemeyer is recognized as one of the fathers of modern architecture and the site in Tripoli was an early foray into the Middle East.
Construction of the fairground began in the 1960s but was delayed when civil war erupted in Lebanon in 1975. Fighters used the site to stage operations and stored weapons underneath its concrete dome.
Mira Minkara, a freelance tour guide from Tripoli and a member of the Oscar Niemeyer Foundation’s Tripoli chapter, has fond – but rare – memories of the fairground as a child.
For the most part, it was off-limits to Tripoli’s residents given safety concerns. But Minkara remembered her first visit during a festival of pan-African culture and crafts.
She hopes that UNESCO’s recognition could bring new festivals, exhibitions and economic benefits to Tripoli – already one of the poorest cities on the Mediterranean before Lebanon’s financial meltdown began.
Lebanon’s cultural heritage has been hit hard in recent years. The 2020 Beirut port blast tore through 19th-century homes in historic neighborhoods and power outages caused by the financial crisis have cut supplies to the national museum.
“We hope things change a little,” Minkara said. “It’s high time for this fairground to emerge from this long sleep, this almost-death.”


Sokhna port welcomes first cruise ships amid ongoing development

Updated 05 February 2023

Sokhna port welcomes first cruise ships amid ongoing development

  • Movement of vessels ‘working perfectly’ alongside construction, official says
  • More than 3,000 tourists arrived by ship on Saturday

CAIRO: Development work at the Suez Canal Economic Zone is progressing well, a senior official said, with the new berth at Sokhna port recently welcoming its first cruise ships.

Walid Youssef, deputy chairman of the southern part of the zone, said that the circulation and reception of vessels was “working perfectly” alongside the construction work, which was nearing completion.

The development included four new basins and 18 km of marine berths, as well as commercial and logistical areas covering 5.3 sq. km, he said.

The area is served by a rail network stretching 33 km, which also connects to the Sokhna-El Alamein electric train service.

Youssef said there was constant coordination with the relevant authorities to ensure the smooth operation of the port as the work progressed.

On Saturday, the port welcomed the cruise ship Splendida MSC with 2,826 passengers aboard. It was en route from Yanbu to Safaga.

It also received the Emerald Azzurra, carrying 75 tourists from Sharm El-Sheikh, and the Clio, which had traveled from Hurghada with 85 passengers.


Iran ex-president, former PM call for political change

Updated 05 February 2023

Iran ex-president, former PM call for political change

  • Khatami hopes the use of ‘non-violent civil methods’ can ‘force the governing system to change its approach and accept reforms’

TEHRAN: Iran’s former president Mohammad Khatami and former premier Mir Hossein Mousavi have both called for political changes amid the protests triggered by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini.
As the 44th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution approaches, one of the country’s main opposition figures, Mousavi, called on Saturday for the “fundamental transformation” of a political system he said was facing a crisis of legitimacy.
And on Sunday Khatami, the leader of the reformist movement, in a statement said: “What is evident today is widespread discontent.”
Khatami said he hoped that the use of “non-violent civil methods” can “force the governing system to change its approach and accept reforms.”
In a statement carried by local media, Mousavi said: “Iran and Iranians need and are ready for a fundamental transformation whose outline is drawn by the pure ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ movement.”
He was referring to the main slogan chanted in demonstrations sparked by the death on September 16 of Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd.
She had been arrested three days earlier by the morality police in Tehran for an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s dress code for women.
Mousavi, 80, said the protest movement began in the context of “interdependent crises” and proposed holding a “free and healthy referendum on the need to change or draft a new constitution.”
He called the current system’s structure “unsustainable.”
An unsuccessful presidential candidate in 2009, Mousavi alleged large-scale fraud in favor of populist incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, leading to mass protests.
He has been under house arrest without charge in Tehran for 12 years, along with his wife Zahra Rahnavard.
A close confidant of the Islamic republic’s founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Mousavi was prime minister from 1981 to 1989.
“People have the right to make fundamental revisions in order to overcome crises and pave the way for freedom, justice, democracy and development,” Mousavi said in his statement.
“The refusal to take the smallest step toward realizing the rights of citizens as defined in the constitution... has discouraged the community from carrying out reforms.”
Khatami, 79, made similar remarks, warning that “there is no sign of the ruling system’s desire for reform and avoiding the mistakes of the past and present.”
President from 1997 to 2005 before being forced into silence, Khatami said he regretted that Iran’s population was “disappointed with Reformism as well as with the ruling system.”