Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

Diplomatic crisis escalates between Germany and Turkey — German government signaling to Turkey that its patience is running out — “We want Turkey to remain part of the West”

July 22, 2017

France 24 and The Associated Press

© Kay Nietfeld / dpa / AFP | German Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel addresses a press conference on July 20, 2017 in Berlin, following the arrests of human rights activists in Turkey.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-07-22

Germany’s government is signaling to Turkey that its patience is running out and it can hit back against escalating provocations, but has sought to stop well short of burning its bridges with its NATO ally.

More than a year of strains in the countries’ relationship came to a head this week with Turkey’s jailing of a German human rights activist, Peter Steudtner, who had no previous links to Turkey but was accused of links to terror groups.

A court jailed Steudtner along with five others from Turkey and Sweden days after Turkey blocked a visit by lawmakers to German troops serving in NATO air crews at a base in Turkey.

The accelerating pace of mini-crises with Turkey meant that German politicians felt they had no option but to give Ankara food for thought, after months in which they had held back. With a German election coming on September 24, there was added pressure to get tough.

Yet while Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Cabinet colleagues switched to harsher rhetoric on Thursday, Germany announced little drastic immediate action — giving Turkey a glimpse of what damage could await but also leaving room for an improvement in relations. And as Gabriel noted, Berlin is keen to avoid a situation in which Germany’s own ethnic Turkish minority “falls between stools.”

Gabriel cast doubt on the future of government export guarantees to insure German companies’ investments in Turkey, as they do in many other countries, arguing that “you cannot advise anyone to invest in a country if there is no longer legal security.”

He didn’t immediately announce concrete steps, but Germany’s exporters association noted that many companies had already put investments on hold, and that losing out on Turkish business wouldn’t badly affect the foreign trade of the European Union’s biggest economy.

On Friday, the Economy Ministry said all applications for the export of defense equipment to Turkey are being put under examination. It didn’t elaborate.

Turkey’s ‘little games’

Two other steps are subject to discussion with EU partners, many also running out of patience with Ankara: discussing the future of financial aid allocated to help prepare Turkey to join the bloc, and examining credits from European development banks.

Germany’s new travel advice set out the problems that have arisen in recent months — nine German citizens are currently in custody as a result of the crackdown following last year’s coup attempt in Turkey. It stated that “people traveling for private or business reasons to Turkey are advised to exercise elevated caution.”

But it stopped notably short of a formal travel warning, which would likely prompt tour operators to offer free vacation rebookings or cancelations.

Germany’s finance minister, an influential figure in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative party, hinted that it could be worse for Turkey. In comments published Friday in the Bild daily, Wolfgang Schaeuble said Turkey is now arresting people arbitrarily and failing to comply with minimum consular standards — a reminder, he added, of “how things used to be in East Germany.”

“If Turkey doesn’t drop these little games, we must say to people: ‘You travel to Turkey at your own risk, we can’t guarantee anything for you any more,'” he said.

Merkel herself — an instinctively cautious leader who rarely rises to provocations — has kept channels of communication open with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, most recently holding a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany two weeks ago.

On Thursday, she left the limelight to her foreign minister, leaving her spokesman to quote her on Twitter as saying that the measures he announced were “necessary and indispensable.”

“We are still interested in good and trusting relations with the Turkish government. We want Turkey to remain part of the West,” Gabriel said. “But it takes two to tango.”

It remains to be seen whether Turkey will accept the invitation.

Related:

Turkey to re-arrest four activists in Amnesty case — Charges of aiding a “terror” group.

July 21, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Amnesty International activists hold placards as they protest against the arrest of rights activists in Turkey, including Amnesty International’s Turkey director, on July 20, 2017, near the Coliseum in Rome

ISTANBUL (AFP) – A Turkish court on Friday issued new arrest warrants for four activists previously detained but then released in a controversial case that has raised tensions with the West.

The four were among 10 people detained earlier this month in a raid by police on a workshop session of human rights activists held on an island off Istanbul.

A Turkish court on Tuesday ordered six of the human rights activists, including Amnesty International’s Turkey director Idil Eser, be remanded in custody on charges of aiding a “terror” group.

The four others were then released on judicial supervision.

But the state-run Anadolu news agency said an Istanbul court has issued new arrest warrants for the four — Nalan Erkem, Seyhmus Ozbekli, Nejat Tastan and Ilknur Ustun — after granting an appeal from prosecutors against their release.

It was not immediately clear if they had yet been re-arrested.

The decision to remand the six in custody earlier this week sparked international alarm and amplified fears of declining freedom of expression under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Eight of the 10 initially detained are Turkish rights activists. But the other two are German Peter Steudtner and Swede Ali Gharavi, who were leading the digital information workshop.

This has stoked tensions in particular with Berlin, which is now looking at an overhaul of its relations with Ankara.

Amnesty describes Gharavi as an IT strategy consultant and Steudtner as a “non-violence and well-being trainer”.

Related:

Turkish PM Tries to Downplay Tensions With Germany — Turkey continues to regard Germany as a “strategic partner in Europe”

July 21, 2017

BERLIN — The Latest on Germany’s tougher stance on Turkey following the jailing of a human rights activist (all times local):

2:15 p.m.

Turkey’s prime minister has sought to downplay worries of growing tensions between Turkey and Germany following the jailing of six human rights activists, which included one German.

Image result for Binali Yildirim, photos

Binali Yildirim

Binali Yildirim said Turkey continues to regard Germany as a “strategic partner in Europe” and that now and then there may be “tensions in the relations due to considerations caused by domestic politics.”

Yildirim urged “cool-headedness” and said there is “no benefit to Germany or to Turkey if relations are damaged.”

Yildirim’s comments came a day after Germany toughened its stance toward Ankara following the jailing of six human rights activists, which included four Turks, a Swede as well as the German.

Berlin told German citizens traveling to Turkey to exercise caution and threatened to withhold backing for investments.

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8:50 a.m.

Germany’s finance minister is comparing Turkey with communist East Germany after his government toughened its stance toward Ankara following the jailing of a German human rights activist.

The government a day earlier told German citizens traveling to Turkey to exercise caution and threatened to withhold backing for investments.

Image result for Wolfgang Schaeuble, photos

Wolfgang Schaeuble

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told Friday’s edition of Bild newspaper that Turkey is now arresting people arbitrarily and failing to comply with minimum consular standards.

He was quoted as saying: “It reminds me of how things used to be in East Germany. It was clear to anyone who traveled there: if something happens to you, no one can help you.”

Schaeuble added that if Turkey doesn’t stop playing “games,” Germany will have to tell people: “You travel to Turkey at your own risk.”

Related:

Turkey Has Over 680 German Firms on Terrorism Black List — Ten times the number initially reported

July 21, 2017

BERLIN — Turkey has provided German authorities with a list of over 680 German firms it suspects of supporting terrorism, a German security source said on Friday, ten times the number initially reported by German media.

Die Zeit newspaper had reported on Wednesday that the list included large German companies such as Daimler and BASF AG.

But Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Mehmet Simsek, said on Twitter on Thursday that the report was “completely false.”

(Reporting by Thorsten Severin; Writing by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Michelle Martin)

Related:

German Minister Compares Turkey With Communist East Germany — Tells Germans, “You travel to Turkey at your own risk.”

July 21, 2017

BERLIN — Germany’s finance minister is comparing Turkey with communist East Germany after his government toughened its stance toward Ankara following the jailing of a human rights activist.

The government a day earlier told German citizens traveling to Turkey to exercise caution and threatened to withhold backing for investments.

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told Friday’s edition of Bild newspaper that Turkey is now arresting people arbitrarily and failing to comply with minimum consular standards.

He was quoted as saying: “It reminds me of how things used to be in East Germany. It was clear to anyone who traveled there: if something happens to you, no one can help you.”

Schaeuble added that if Turkey doesn’t stop playing “games,” Germany will have to tell people: “You travel to Turkey at your own risk.”

Image result for Wolfgang Schaeuble, photos

Related:

Turkey Accuses Germany of Harbouring ‘Terrorists’ — Germany Overhauls its Foreign Policy for Turkey — Germany reviews export credits to Turkey over blacklisted firms

July 21, 2017

Al Jazeera

Reaction follows German threat to slap sanctions and decision to issue travel advisory amid row over activists’ arrest.

 Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, has accused Germany of harbouring “terrorists” after the country stepped up a travel advisory for Turkey and considered slapping sanctions over its arrest of human rights activists.
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Germany told its citizens on Thursday to exercise caution if travelling to Turkey, with Sigmar Gabriel, foreign minister, warning that his government could no longer guarantee its citizens’ safety in the face of “arbitrary” mass arrests.

The warning came after Turkey arrested six human-rights activists, including a German national, on accusations of “terrorism”.

READ MORE: Rejected asylum – From Karachi to Germany and back again

Germany, Turkey’s chief export partner, called the allegations absurd.

Image result for Merkel, Erdogan, photos

File photo: German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. © Tobias Schwarz / Reuters

Gabriel said Germany would review state guarantees for foreign investment in Turkey, and reconsider its support for billions in European Union financial flows to Turkey.

Germany’s Bild newspaper, citing government sources, reported that the country was also putting arms projects involving Turkey on hold.

Stance ‘unacceptable’

Cavusoglu called Germany’s stance “unacceptable”.

“As a country providing shelter to PKK and FETO terrorists in its own territory, statements by Germany are just double standards and unacceptable,” he said on Twitter, referring to the Kurdistan Workers Party and the network of the US-based religious leader Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Turkey for last year’s failed coup.

Germany and Turkey have clashed over numerous issues in recent months, including the pre-trial detention of a Turkish-German journalist, Deniz Yucel, and Germany’s refusal to extradite asylum seekers Turkey alleges were involved in the coup attempt.

The latest row broke out after a Turkish court on Tuesday ordered six rights activists, including German national Peter Steudtner and Amnesty International’s Turkey director Idil Eser, to remain in custody for allegedly aiding a “terror” group.

Gabriel broke off his holiday to deal with the crisis.

He said Steudtner “never wrote about Turkey, he had no contacts in the political establishment … and never appeared as a critic.”

He said any German national travelling to Turkey could suffer the same fate.

Gabriel also accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of trying to muzzle “every critical voice” with mass arrests.

Erdogan says the crackdown, in which roughly 50,000 people have been detained and 150,000 sacked or suspended from the judiciary and journalism to academia, was essential after the failed coup.

Many companies have also been seized on allegations of links to “terrorism”.

Without legal certainty

Gabriel said he could not advise companies to invest in a country without legal certainty where “even completely innocent companies are judged as being close to terrorists”.

“I can’t see how we as the German government can continue to guarantee corporate investments in Turkey if there is the threat of arbitrary expropriation for political reasons.”

Germany still wanted to rebuild relations with its long-time ally, he said, but added that Erdogan’s government must first “return to European values”.

Juergen Hardt, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling conservative party, said the EU candidate country had now “left the path to Europe”.

Gabriel, left, and Cavusoglu have engaged in a war of words over the Turkish arrests [File: AP]

 

“No one invests in a country … in which the judiciary has been degraded to be a helper of the ruling AKP party,” he said.

Cavusoglu hit back at Gabriel’s remarks, saying threats and blackmail would find no answers in Turkey, and that Germany and Turkey needed to focus on their long-term mutual goals instead.

“We don’t see such threats against Turkey as worthy of a serious country,” Cavusoglu said in Cyprus.

The foreign ministry in Ankara said Turkey would not make concessions on its judicial independence and struggle against “terrorism” “for financial matters such as loans, funds or the [European] Customs Union”.

READ MORE: Germany to withdraw troops from Turkish base

For his part, Ibrahim Kalin, Turkey’s presidential spokesman, accused Germany of “great political irresponsibility” in stepping up its travel warning.

He suggested Gabriel’s remarks were intended to win votes at national elections in two months. “They need to rid themselves of this abdication of reason and think rationally,” Kalin said.

Gabriel’s warnings to private as well as business travellers could deal a blow to Turkey’s tourism industry. So far this year, bookings from Germany have accounted for about 10 percent of Turkey’s tourists.

List of companies

The German newspaper Die Zeit reported on Wednesday that Turkish authorities had, several weeks ago, handed their German counterparts a list of 68 German companies they accused of having links to Gulen.

They included chemicals manufacturer BASF, which confirmed it was on a list that had been passed to it by German police but declined to comment on the allegations.

Mehmet Simsek, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, said on Thursday the reports were untrue.

Germany was Turkey’s top export destination in 2016, buying $14bn worth of Turkish goods.

It was also the second biggest source of Turkish imports, at $21.5bn. Only China, at $25.4bn, exported more to Turkey.

Source: News agencies

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/07/turkey-accuses-germany-harbouring-terrorists-170720193753832.html

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Germany overhauls Turkey policy

Germany is sharpening its policy toward Turkey in response to jailings of journalists and human rights activists. The new tone together with an increased travel warning has been met with outrage in Ankara.

Germany’s foreign minister interrupted his vacation on the North Sea to return to Berlin to deliver the most strongly worded statement yet against Turkey’s imprisonment of German journalists and human rights activists.

“We want Turkey to be a part of the West, or at least remain in its current position, but it takes two to tango,” Sigmar Gabriel at a press conference in Berlin. “I cannot make out any willingness on the part of the current Turkish government to follow this path with us. For that reason Germany is forced to reorient its Turkey policy. The first consequences will be new travel advisories for German citizens in Turkey.”

Gabriel said that Germans traveling to Turkey were incurring “risks,” and the ministry website recommended Germans should exercise “heightened caution” when visiting Turkey since “consular access” to Germans detained in Turkey had been “restricted in violation of the obligations of international law.”

Read more: Germany reviews export credits to Turkey over blacklisted firms

Gabriel said that the measures were being taken after consulting with both conservative chancellor Angela Merkel and Social Democratic chairman and chancellor candidate Martin Schulz. Although they stopped short of a travel warning against Turkey, they do represent an increased frostiness between the two countries.

 Screenshot of 687performance.de website Peter Steudtner

Steudtner’s detention has prompted the latest crisis

‘Obviously unfounded accusations’

The re-calibration of Germany’s Turkey policy came after a court in Istanbul ordered six human rights activists, including Peter Steudtner from Berlin, to investigative custody on Tuesday. Turkey accuses them of supporting terrorism.  Gabriel specifically mentioned Steudtner.

“These accusations are obviously unfounded and have simply been dragged out irrationally,” the foreign minister said, adding that Steudtner had taken no position on current Turkish politics and was quite possibly present in the country for the first time.

The Amnesty International representative was arrested earlier this month at a conference in Istanbul while teaching Turkish colleagues about IT security and non-violent conflict resolution. German journalist Deniz Yucel has been held in investigative custody since late February. Seven other Germans are also currently in such custody.

Gabriel said that Germany had showed patience in the ongoing row with Ankara and hadn’t responded to incendiary comparisons between the Federal Republic and Nazi Germany. He said Berlin had tried to restart relations with Turkey, but had been “repeatedly disappointed.”

“The government and the coalition parties will be discussing further consequences,” Gabriel said, adding that a range of financial sanctions were also under consideration.

Access to German detainees

On Wednesday, Turkey’s ambassador to Germany was summoned to the German Foreign Ministry and warned that Berlin does not accept the detention of its citizens. German Justice Minister Heiko Maas has said that Germany must take a tougher stance towards Turkey, but cautioned that diplomatic relations also had to be maintained.

“We have to keep in mind that German citizens are sitting in Turkish jails, and we need access to them,” Maas told the DPA news agency. “I think it would be a mistake right now to give Turkey any arguments to deny us that access.”

Turkey has accused Germany of interfering in its internal affairs. There has been speculation that Erdogan is using the German detainees essentially as hostages in an attempt to force Berlin to deport Turkish citizens in Germany whom Ankara considers terrorists.

Other German politicians have called for a range of measures to punish Turkey from general economic sanctions to a cancellation of the deal between the EU and Turkey on refugees.

Türkei Protest an der Uni Ankara (Getty Images/AFP/A. Altan)

There have been mass arrests since the failed attempt to bring down Erdogan last July

Turkish non-delight

The Turkish government criticized Gabriel’s remarks and the announced change in the German position. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu meanwhile reacted by accusing Germany of harboring terrorists:

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

As a country providing shelter to PKK&FETO terrorists in its own territory, statements by Germany are just double standards&unacceptable.

Cavusoglu said on Twitter said on Twitter that “As a country providing shelter to PKK and FETO terrorists in its own territory, statements by Germany are just double standards and unacceptable,” referring to the outlawed, militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the religious-inspired network of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen that Ankara blames for the July 15, 2016 failed coup.

Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, meanwhile said: “We strongly condemn statements that German citizens who travel to Turkey are not safe and that German companies in Turkey should have hesitations and concerns.”

The Chairman of the Commission for Foreign Affairs Taka Ozhan, a member of Erdogan’s AKP party, repeated Turkish accusations that Germany is harboring Turkish citizens who are trying to overthrow the government – in particular, Kurdish separatists and members of the Gulen movement.

“What we’re seeing in Germany at the moment is a crisis of principals,” Ozhan said in a statement to Deutsche Welle’s Turkish division. “The question is whether terrorism is supported or not…The Terrorists think ‘Once we get to Germany, we’re home safe.’ That has to change.”

The number of Turks applying for asylum in Germany dramatically increased last year amidst a government crackdown after the failed Turkish coup on July 15, 2016. Since then, tens of thousands of people have been arrested and more than 100,000 have lost their jobs in Turkey.

http://www.dw.com/en/germany-overhauls-turkey-policy/a-39766611

Germany takes aim at Turkish tourism as rights dispute escalates

July 20, 2017

By Madeline Chambers
Reuters

July 20, 2017

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany warned its citizens to take care when traveling to Turkey and threatened to end corporate investment guarantees, steps which could hurt the Turkish economy, in a sign of growing impatience with a NATO ally after the detention of rights activists.

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel broke off his holiday to return to Berlin and deal with the crisis after Turkey arrested six human rights activists including German national Peter Steudtner, the latest in a series of diplomatic rows.

Image result for news for German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, photos

Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel

“We need our policies towards Turkey to go in a new direction … we can’t continue as we have done until now,” Gabriel told reporters in unusually direct language.

“We need to be clearer than we have been until now so those responsible in Ankara understand that such policies are not without consequences,” Gabriel told reporters.

Gemany’s DIHK chambers of commerce said that in the current environment investing in Turkey was hard to imagine.

The most concrete measure was to step up warnings to Germans intending to visit Turkey. Bookings from Germany account for around 15 percent of Turkey’s tourists.

“Until now there was guidance for certain groups but we’re saying that now applies to all German citizens, not just for those with certain jobs …. Everyone can be affected. The most absurd things are possible,” said Gabriel.

Last year, the number of foreign visitors to Turkey fell to 25.4 million, the lowest in nine years. The travel sector contributes some $30 billion to the economy in a normal year, the country’s tourism minister told Reuters earlier this year.

In its latest guidance, the foreign ministry said: “People who are traveling to Turkey for private or business reasons are urged to exercise increased caution, and should register with German consulates and the embassy, even for shorter visits.”

Crackdown

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel addresses a news conference in Berlin, Germany, July 20, 2017, after he has interrupted his summer vacation and returned to Berlin to discuss a deepening crisis in relations with Turkey over the arrest of human rights activists.Fabrizio Bensch

The six rights activists arrested are among 50,000 jailed pending trial in Turkey in a crackdown that followed an attempted coup a year ago. Turkey accused EU countries of failing to give prompt support to Ankara when the coup, that killed over 240 people, was in progress.

Foreign and domestic critics accuse Erdogan of using a state of emergency declared after the coup to root out all opposition, not least in judiciary and police.

Gabriel also said he could not advise companies to invest in a country without legal certainty “and (where) even completely innocent companies are judged as being close to terrorists”.

“I can’t see how we as the German government can continue to guarantee corporate investments in Turkey if there is the threat of arbitrary expropriation for political reasons,” he said.

“We need to talk about how we can develop our Hermes guarantee framework and how we deal with investment loans and economic aid.”

On Wednesday the newspaper Die Zeit reported that Turkish authorities had several weeks ago handed Berlin a list of 68 German companies they accused of having links to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. Turkey accuses Gulen of masterminding the coup attempt, a charge he denies.

The list included chemicals giant BASF BASFn.DE, which confirmed it was on a list that had been passed to it by German police, but declined to comment on the allegations.

Turkish deputy prime minister Mehmet Simsek said on Thursday the reports were completely untrue

Gabriel said the situation also affected how the EU dealt with accession programmes for Turkey and said Germany would speak to European colleagues about that in the coming days and weeks.

He also said he could not envisage talks on expanding the customs union to Turkey.

Speaking about two months before a federal election, the Social Democrat minister said the new stance had been agreed with conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Germany’s Merkel Backs Foreign Minister’s Measures Against Turkey

July 20, 2017

BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel views a series of measures targeting Turkey that were announced by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Thursday as necessary and unavoidable, her spokesman said in a tweet.

“Merkel: The measures announced by the Foreign Minister against Turkey are necessary and unavoidable,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeted.

Earlier, Gabriel cast doubt on Turkey’s aspirations to join the EU. He also said Berlin could no longer guarantee German corporate investment in Turkey and issued new travel advice warning of risks to German citizens there.

(Reporting By Thomas Escritt; Editing by Madeline Chambers)

Related:

Another Cuba? — Trump administration vows “strong and swift economic actions” if Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro proceeds with his plan to rewrite the nation’s constitution

July 20, 2017

By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN, ASSOCIATED PRESS

CARACAS, Venezuela — Jul 19, 2017, 5:58 PM ET

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, closeup

President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela. Photo credit AP

The Trump administration is threatening to take “strong and swift economic actions” if Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro proceeds with his plan to rewrite the nation’s constitution and consolidate power over the few remaining institutions outside the control of the ruling party. A senior administration official said Tuesday that “all options are being discussed and debated,” implying that Trump could use Venezuela’s dependence on oil exports to the U.S. as a means of pressuring Maduro to halt the July 30 constitutional assembly.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

Oil-rich Venezuela has been plunged into political and economic turmoil as petroleum prices plummet, nationalized farms and factories halt production and corruption runs rampant. More than three months of street protests have left at least 93 people dead.

Maduro has called for the election of the special assembly to rewrite the country’s 1999 constitution. Opposition members fear any branch of government that doesn’t fall in line with Maduro will be left powerless, creating a single-party, authoritarian state along the lines of the system in Cuba, a close Maduro ally.

A coalition of opposition parties organized a symbolic vote against the assembly on Sunday that it said garnered more than 7.5 million votes, a number that could not be independently confirmed. The United States, European Union, Germany, Brazil, Canada and Mexico are among countries that have called for the constitutional rewrite to be canceled.

A member of the riot security forces (R) points what appears to be a pistol towards a crowd of demonstrators during a rally against Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas, Venezuela, June 19, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Veron

WHAT IS TRUMP THREATENING?

President Donald Trump said in a statement Monday that “the United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles. If the Maduro regime imposes its Constituent Assembly on July 30, the United States will take strong and swift economic actions.”

A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in a briefing for reporters Tuesday that “the President told us to consider all options, so options are on the table” but declined to provide any details of what actions might be in the works.

Sen. Marco Rubio, who has worked with the Trump administration on Latin American issues, has indicated several times on Twitter that he believes the U.S. is preparing to take action against Diosdado Cabello, the powerful vice president of Venezuela. Rubio and other U.S. officials accuse him of involvement in drug trafficking. Cabello denies the charge.

WHAT CAN TRUMP DO?

In February, the Trump administration imposed sanctions against Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, accusing him of playing a major role in international drug trafficking — a charge he denies. Then in May it imposed sanctions on eight supreme court justices who voted to strip the opposition-led congress of many of its powers earlier in the year.

Rubio’s tweets indicate the administration may be thinking of doing the same for Cabello and other high-ranking Venezuelans. The individual sanctions freeze targets’ assets in U.S. banks, bar travel to the U.S. and make it illegal for Americans to do business with them. Venezuelan experts say it’s not clear if top officials are vulnerable to such measures, but said expanding the list of targets throughout the army hierarchy could force some military officials to reconsider the cost of supporting Maduro’s government.

A more powerful and risky weapon is cutting back on U.S. imports of Venezuelan oil, a measure with the ability to severely damage Maduro’s government and create broad chaos in Venezuela.

VENEZUELA, THE U.S. AND OIL

The United States is the primary source of hard currency keeping the Venezuelan government afloat.

Venezuela exports an average of 700,000 barrels of oil a day to the U.S., about half its total exports. Because much of the other half serves as payment of debt owed to China, a total cut in exports to the U.S. would slash Venezuelan government income by 75 percent, Angel Alvarado, a member of congress and economist, told The Associated Press.

Venezuelan oil accounts for about 10 percent of U.S. oil imports, meaning a cut in oil from Venezuela could have an impact on consumer gasoline prices and on U.S. refineries.

Miguel Tinker Salas, an expert in Venezuela history at Pomona College in California, said U.S. officials likely fear that any disruption in the oil market would increase prices in the U.S. There is also skepticism over whether economic sanctions are an effective means of encouraging a political opening.

An opposition supporter throws back a tear gas canister during clashes with riot security forces at a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas, Venezuela June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

“There has been a lot of talk about raising the stakes of Venezuela but the one thing they have not touched is oil imports,” he said.

Three refineries in Texas and Louisiana process Venezuelan crude. Last week, the chairman of the port of Corpus Christi, Texas, said in a letter to Trump that putting restrictions on Venezuelan crude could have a “significant” impact on those refineries.

But Antoine Halff, an oil-markets expert at Columbia University, said because crude imports from Venezuela are down and there are large inventories of crude in the U.S. and worldwide, a ban on Venezuelan crude wouldn’t have a major effect on prices at the pump for U.S. motorists. “A ban would not cause any supply shortfall,” he said.

While starving Venezuela of oil revenues could debilitate the Maduro government, it could also produce something resembling state collapse in Venezuela, where armed men already roam with impunity and tens of thousands have been fleeing the country.

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Fabiola Sanchez in Caracas, Christine Armario in Miami and David Koenig in Dallas contributed.

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Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein

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A government supporter holds a National flag while clashing with people outside Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly, in Caracas, Venezuela July 5, 2017. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
Reuters
JUL 19 2017, 10:50 PM ET
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Venezuela Could Go the Way of Cuba, Members of Congress Say

WASHINGTON — Members of Congress denounced Venezuela’s government Wednesday, echoing harsh criticism from the White House and likening the political situation there to Cuba under Fidel and Raúl Castro.

Speaking at a briefing at the Capitol, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro has consolidated power, corrupted the courts and removed checks on his executive authority while silencing political opposition. He has “condemned his own people to poverty, starvation and immense suffering,” while amassing wealth and power, Menendez said.

“His actions are straight out of the play books of Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro and other brutal dictators,” the senator said the briefing held by the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute, a non-partisan group with connections to the Republican-dominated Congressional Hispanic Conference.

Many of the members of Congress who are focusing attention on the situation in Venezuela are of Cuban descent. Many are from Florida, where the largest Venezuelan population can be found, followed by Texas and New York.

But making the comparisons can be somewhat dicey in a Congress that is split over relations with Cuba and the push to end the more than 50-year-old embargo of U.S trade with Cuba.

Related: Venezuela Crisis: 7.2 Million Reject Maduro Plans in Protest Vote

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the vote this past weekend by millions of Venezuelans in the country and around the globe against Maduro was a vote against going the way of Cuba.

“Millions of Venezuelans have said, ‘We don’t want to be Cuba,’ for good reason. ‘We don’t want to be a Cuba-style government,'” Rubio said.

Maduro plans a July 30 election to select members of a “constituent assembly” that could make changes to Venezuela’s constitution.

“How tragic would it be if on July 30 of this month that constitutional order was overthrown and what would take it’s place is no less than a Cuban style government?” Rubio said. “It is not an exaggeration to say that. They are basically taking the the Cuban model of government and imposing it on Venezuela.”

What is happening in Venezuela “is 1970s stuff,” he said. “How truly tragic it would be for one of the richest countries in the world … and one of most Democratic societies in the hemisphere to become Cuba … a place that millions of families have been forced to flee, just so they can feed their family and speak their mind.”

President Donald Trump has promised strong and swift economic sanctions against Venezuela if Maduro and he goes forward with the election.

The plan has been seen as another grab for power by an administration that has nullified its National Assembly. The country has spiraled into political and economic chaos as inflation has spiked and the country has experienced food, medicine and other shortages of basic goods.

Maduro’s opponents are trying to drum up support for opposition to the government. A national strike was planned for Thursday.

But Maduro’s government has thumbed its nose at the Trump administration threats. It has cracked down on the continual protests that have left more than 90 people dead.

Eduardo Gamarra, director of the Latino Public Opinion Forum at Florida International University, said there is some political benefit for Republicans and Trump for taking up the Venezuela cause.

In his 2016 re-election bid, Rubio did not win Doral, Florida, where many of the state’s Venezuelans are found and lost in Miami-Dade, said Gamarra, citing his institute’s research. Also many Venezuelans in Doral, Florida voted for Hillary Clinton, he said.

“Post-election, the Venezuelan leadership has been moving more so in the direction of Rubio, and Rubio has done a good job of trying to court that leadership,” Gamarra said.

He said the lawmakers are correct that there is a very large Cuban presence in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, and what is happening in Venezuela, “probably has some kind of Cuban footprint on it.”

Related: More Venezuelans Immigrate to Lebanon as Crisis Escalates

But Democratic political strategist José Aristimuño, a Venezuelan-American who founded NOW Strategies, said the U.S. Congress’ potential effect is limited because of Venezuela’s oil resources.

More is likely to come of negotiations that are happening behind closed doors in the country between the opposition and government, Aristimuño said.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., said it was important for more members of Congress and the U.S. government to recognize the rejection of Maduro by Venezuelans in last weekend’s vote. He said the U.S. needs to isolate the “illegitimate” dictatorship of Maduro and be prepared to “derecognize” Maduro’s government and to recognize the National Assembly as the legitimate and elected government.

He dismissed suggestions that folding in criticism of Cuba would dilute support from others in Congress for a strong anti-Maduro position.

“More and more people understand that this cancer that is killing Venezuela was born in Havana,” Curbelo said.

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/venezuela-could-go-way-cuba-say-u-s-congressional-members-n784566

EU eastern states say bloc must show more support for Israel — Netanyahu said, “I think Europe has to decide whether it wants to live and thrive or it wants to shrivel and disappear.”

July 19, 2017

Reuters

Marton Dunai and Jeffrey Heller.

July 19, 2017

BUDAPEST/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Europe should better appreciate Israel’s key role in Middle Eastern stability, leaders of four central European nations said on Wednesday in a joint attack with Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu on Brussels’ current policy toward the state.

The comments were the latest example of divergence between west and east Europe, where questions of national sovereignty, migration and civic freedoms have also stirred friction. U.S. President Donald Trump lent support this month to Poland, target of criticism by the EU he has disdained, with a visit to Warsaw.

Netanyahu met the Visegrad Four leaders of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, who backed Israel and called for an improvement in the EU’s relations with the state.

“I think Europe has to decide whether it wants to live and thrive or it wants to shrivel and disappear,” Netanyahu told the leaders of the eastern EU states behind closed doors in Budapest.

In an audio recording of the remarks obtained by Reuters, Netanyahu goes on to say: “It’s a joke. But the truth is the truth, both about Europe’s security and Europe’s economic future. And both of these concerns mandate a different policy toward Israel.”

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing and text

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, listens to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban during a press conference held after the talks of Netanyahu with heads of government of the Visegrad Group or V4 countries in the Pesti Vigado building in Budapest, Hungary, Wednesday, July19, 2017. Netanyahu is staying on a four-day official visit in Hungary. MTI via AP Balazs Mohai

Israel has often been criticized in Western Europe on matters such as its settlement policy. The recent closeness of Netanyahu with leaders like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been viewed with suspicion in the European Union.

Support in Brussels

Netanyahu asked the four premiers point blank to support his country in Brussels.

“If you, as the Visegrad group, can begin to advance this conception, I think this would be… beneficial to you but I think it would actually be beneficial to all of Europe.”

“We’re part of European civilization. You look at the Middle East – Europe stops in Israel. That’s it.”

At a later press briefing Netanyahu repeated the statements in a more diplomatic language, saying Israel “serves a unique function in being the one Western country in the region, the one country that is able to limit and fight from within the region this great danger to all of us.”

“We’re often criticized by Europe, (more often) than any other place in the world… It’s time to have a reassessment in Europe about the relations with Israel.”

Image may contain: one or more people and people standing

 Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd L), Visegrad Group (V4) Prime Ministers, Czech Republic’s Bohuslav Sobotka (L), Hungary’s Viktor Orban (C to R), Slovakia’s Robert Fico and Poland’s Beata Szydlo attend a news conference in Budapest, Hungary, July 19, 2017

Hungary’s Orban, himself often accused in Brussels of flouting liberal democratic values such as press freedom, said he and other Visegrad leaders would support better relations between the EU and Israel.

The group will meet in 2018 in Jerusalem at Netanyahu’s invitation.

“The Visegrad Four shares the Israeli view that external border defense is key,” Orban told a press briefing. “Free movement of people without controls raises the risk of terror.”

Orban has been criticized in the EU for erecting a razor wire border fence and refusing to accept migrants under EU agreements, preferring “ethnic homogeneity”.

But he backed down from a recent rhetorical overture toward far-right groups amid accusations of anti-Semitism.

“The EU should appreciate the efforts Israel makes for the (Middle East) region’s stability, which serve Europe as it spares us from newer and newer waves of migration,” he said.

Additional reporting by Robin Emmott in BRUSSELS; editing by Ralph Boulton