Posts Tagged ‘Turkey’

Russian FM Lavrov says US using sanctions as blackmail against Turkey over S-400 deal

April 20, 2018

Daily Sabah

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File image of Russian S-400 Triumf air defence system. (Reuters Photo)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that the U.S. was openly blackmailing Turkey with its threats, commenting on the latest S-400 comments of Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchel.

Mitchell said Wednesday that if Turkey is to purchase the Russian S-400 missile defense system, the U.S. would respond with sanctions under the the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

“We have also been very clear with regard to the consequences for potential participation in an F-35 program and more broadly our military-industrial cooperation with Turkey,” he added.

“The statements of Mr. Mitchell are an example of blackmail. Washington is trying to provide an atmosphere of unfair competition for American companies,” Lavrov said.

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (at right) with Iran’s FM Zarif

Lavrov reminded that NATO Secretary General Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act previously said that Turkey’s decision to purchase the Russian S-400 system was a national one.

“The United States, as a member of NATO, should give heed to the collective opinion expressed by the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Alliance,” the Russian foreign minister added.

Aiming to address its growing defense needs, Turkey decided to purchase the S-400 missile defense system from Russia. Turkey will be the first NATO member country to acquire the system.

With the S-400s, Ankara aims to build Turkey’s first long-range air and anti-missile defense system to guard against threats in the region.

Moreover, Turkey seeks to build its own missile defense systems as the deal also involves the transfer of technology and know-how.

The S-400 system, which was introduced in 2007, is the new generation of Russian missile systems, and so far Russia has only sold them to China and India.

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It’s time for Turkey, EU to face reality

April 19, 2018

By Emre Gönen
Daily Sabah

The Turkey Progress Report covers September 2016 to February 2018 and was prepared by the European Commission concerning Ankara’s accession negotiations. This year’s report was released on April 17.

The Turkey Progress Report covers September 2016 to February 2018 and was prepared by the European Commission concerning Ankara’s accession negotiations. This year’s report was released on April 17.

Europe fears it is losing Turkey, although it is not so eager on negotiations as the newly released European Commission progress report shows

The long-awaited Turkey Progress Report prepared by the European Commission concerning Ankara’s accession negotiations has been made public. It is worth remembering that Turkey, as a potential candidate and associate country, has been closely monitored through annual reports since 1989. After Turkey filed the application in 1987 to start accession negotiations immediately, as was the case for Greece in 1976, the EU has been preparing different evaluation reports for Turkey. The first modern evaluation report is the Emerson report, so called because of the rapporteur’s name. It was published in December 1989. This first report stressed that Turkey at that time was not fulfilling enough of the conditions to become a member state. At the same time, it pointing to Turkey’s economic potential, which it found very promising.

Turkey was told to follow the path drawn by the Ankara Agreement and the Additional Protocol to the Agreement, which foresaw the completion of a customs union before contemplating full-fledged membership. Turkey succeeded in forming a customs union before becoming a member, which is extremely rare in EU enlargement history.The political eligibility for membership was granted in December 1999, and Ankara has since been struggling to become a member without much success. I have had ample occasions to point to the irresponsibility and short-sightedness of some EU countries, which have been sabotaging this process. Now we have attained a point where the EU can look like the good guy, because of huge shortcomings in Turkey’s democratic functioning.

The EU report covers September 2016 to February 2018. It is based on input from a variety of sources, including contributions from the government of Turkey, EU member states, European Parliament reports and information from various international and nongovernmental organizations. In that sense, it can be seen as a pertinent evaluation of the developments in social, economic and political areas. However, this is a report written not by an independent assessment body, but by a political entity, which is vested with the power to accept or reject Turkey as a member into the club.

Two major vectors can be discerned underlying the Progress Report evaluations. First, there is a fear to see Turkey moving away from the EU and ultimately from Western alliances. The report starts with an important sentence that sounds like a motto: “Turkey remains a key partner for the European Union.” It also stresses a positive evaluation pertaining to the migration issue: “Turkey sustained its outstanding efforts to provide massive and unprecedented humanitarian aid and support to more than 3.5 million refugees from Syria and some 365,000 refugees from other countries.”The second vector is a deep-running criticism regarding the harmonization of Turkey with the EU values. There, the evaluation is as bad as it is possible to phrase in an official document: “The Turkish government reiterated its commitment to EU accession but this has not been matched by corresponding measures and reforms. On the contrary, Turkey has been moving away from the European Union. The Presidency conclusions of December 2016 stated that under the currently prevailing circumstances, no new chapters are considered for opening.” This has the merit of being crystal clear that there are no new steps to be taken regarding accession negotiations so long as Turkey is not normalized concerning democratic functioning.

The threat of an official, indefinite suspension of accession negotiations is not visible. However, the EU report emphasizes the shortcomings in the functioning of the judiciary, barely hiding the threat likely to be posed by the Council of Europe in the coming weeks or months.

So here we are, the Ankara Agreement entered into force as of Dec. 1, 1964. Sixty-four years have passed and we are still at the threshold of the EU, owing our position to our strategic importance, realpolitik and nothing more. This is a very sad analysis. We have seen the limits of our relations with neighboring Russia and Iran during the last attack performed upon Syrian chemical sites by the U.S., Britain and France together. Our Western alliance is vital for us and our partners in Europe and in the United States. How to mend these relations seems to be another story altogether.

Putin’s Bluff Is Finally Being Called and Russia Is Running Out of Options in Syria

April 18, 2018

After proving powerless to prevent the airstrikes on the Assad regime, how can Putin restore deterrence?

Russian President Vladimir Putin crosses himself as he attends the Easter service in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, early Sunday, April 8, 2018.
Russian President Vladimir Putin crosses himself as he attends the Easter service in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, early Sunday, April 8, 2018. Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

Saturday morning’s combined attack by the United States, Great Britain and France on the Assad regime’s chemical warfare bases in Syria may have been, as U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis described it, “a one-time shot,” but it also proved an important point.

Russia does not have the military capabilities necessary to prevent the U.S. and its allies from destroying targets that are ostensibly under its protection in Syria.

This should not come as a surprise. The United States Armed Forces – and, to a much smaller extent, those of Britain and France – have long been built to work on a global scale, with the capability to quickly deploy land, sea and air battle forces, backed up by electronic warfare aircraft and aerial tankers.

Russia’s army is still built around defensive-minded Soviet doctrines and is designed to protect the homeland, at the most fighting small local battles on its borders. The Russian force currently based in Syria consists of a couple of dozen bombers and attack helicopters, which can pulverize civilians in rebel-held enclaves but lack the sufficient equipment, or experience, to fight an adversary with cutting-edge capabilities.

Russian and Syrian sources boasted that 70 percent of the missiles fired at regime targets had been shot down by the air defense systems Russia supplied to the regime. Just as they made a similar claim the previous week after the attack on the T4 air base, attributed to Israel. The Pentagon denied these claims and the Syrians have produced no evidence to back them up. They are unlikely to be true.

A satellite image showing the Barzah Research and Development Center after being struck by U.S. and coalition operations in Damascus, Syria, April 14, 2018
A satellite image showing the Barzah Research and Development Center after being struck by U.S. and coalition operations in Damascus, Syria, April 14, 2018.\ HANDOUT/ REUTERS

Russia, of course, remains a formidable military power, but that is largely when it is fighting on its own borders. This was the second time in just over two months that its limitations in fighting abroad were exposed. In February, at least 200 Russian “mercenaries” were reported killed in U.S. airstrikes, called in when the Russian force took part in an attack on the U.S.-backed, mainly Kurdish, Syrian Democratic Forces.

That may have been a one-time shot as well, since U.S. President Donald Trump intends to end the U.S. presence in northeast Syria in support of the SDF soon. But the fact that his forces, and those of his Syrian and Iranian allies, are exposed will not have been lost on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Until now, Putin has had one major advantage in Syria: His was the only country, besides Iran, that was prepared to deploy its own significant contingent. In the vacuum left by then-President Barack Obama’s decision not to get involved in the Syrian war, beyond a belated air campaign against the Islamic State, Russia’s intervention was decisive.

But now the bubble in which Russia has been operating has been punctured again and again. When it was only Israel doing so, in pinpoint attacks on Hezbollah and Iranian targets (according to foreign sources), it was one thing. Israel rarely acknowledges its attacks and has an efficient “deconfliction” process with the Russian headquarters at the Khmeimim air base.

Russia’s appearance of omnipotence in the Syrian arena has been shattered. Appearances of power count for a lot in this region.

For now at least, the U.S.-led alliance doesn’t seem to be planning any further attacks on the regime beyond that one-off retaliation to the April 7 Douma chemical weapons attack – Trump after all tweeted “Mission Accomplished!” on Saturday. But Putin will feel he needs to somehow restore Russia’s deterrence.

His options are limited. Russia doesn’t have a military option to restore its deterrence in Syria. Its forces there are insufficient to take on any of the other nations who have operated, and may operate again, in Syria. Working together – and probably also individually – the United States, Britain and France, as well as Israel and Turkey, can all deploy larger and more capable forces to the region much faster than Russia can.

Another option already being exercised is the cyber one. Even the most casual Twitter user following foreign affairs will have noticed the “bots” out in force in recent days, simultaneously claiming that there was no chemical attack in Douma and a chemical attack had been carried out by Western-supported rebels. The Pentagon assessed “a 2,000-percent increase in Russian trolls” within 24 hours.

But after all we’ve learned in the last two years, the effectiveness of trolls – whether fake ones manufactured in Russia, or real far-left and far-right mouthpieces who can be relied upon to parrot the Kremlin’s line – is no longer as devastating as it was during the U.S. presidential election.

A more ominous cyberthreat was contained in the warning issued Monday by the U.S. and British governments of a concerted campaign by Russian hackers to take control of internet routersused by government and critical infrastructure networks. If successful, such a hacking operation could have devastating results, but if linked to Russia – and the warning spoke of “high confidence” that it is – that could lead to a serious escalation of tensions between the West and Russia. But would it make future Western intervention in Syria less likely?

Another possibility is a concerted military push inside Syria against the rebel-held areas near the Turkish border, perhaps with some form of coordination with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with the aim of provoking another major flow of refugees through Turkey into Europe. Russian Foreign Minster Sergey Lavrov warned last week of such an outcome to the West’s “adventures.”

While this wouldn’t directly threaten the United States, Britain or France, a similar exodus of Syrian refugees through Turkey, and across the Aegean into Greece, to the million refugees who arrived in Europe in 2016 would seriously test the European Union’s members and have wider shock waves. But would Erdogan, who supported Friday’s airstrikes, partner Putin in such a move? The EU has so far succeeded in buying him off and keeping the Aegean floodgates closed. What can Putin offer him to break the deal to keep the Syrian refugees out of Europe?

Two and a half years after Russia deployed its aircraft to Syria, Putin has yet to achieve the sort of leverage he was hoping for. His control of Syria and ostensible partnership with the West in fighting ISIS there hasn’t translated into concessions on sanctions or carte blanche to act in Ukraine. The opposite has happened, with enhanced sanctions.

Another attempt by Russia to exert pressure on the West, by singling out Britain for an assassination attempt on former spy Sergei Skripal using a nerve agent, resulted in a united Western response: the mass expulsion of Russian diplomats. And now the United States, Britain and France have got together to attack the Assad regime.

Putin’s bluff is finally being called. After years of inaction under Obama and despite Trump’s obvious reluctance, the United States and its allies are now challenging him and he’s running out of options.

Iran Vows to Make, Buy Any Weapons Needed to Defend Against ‘Invading Powers’

April 18, 2018

Fighter jets and bombers fly overhead on National Army Day as Rohani tells Tehran crowd and a live TV audience on Wednesday that Iran’s forces posed no threat to its neighbors

A display featuring missiles and a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is seen at Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran, September 27, 2017.
A display featuring missiles and a portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is seen at Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran, September 27, 2017.\ Reuters Photographer/ REUTERS

President Hassan Rohani said Iran would make or buy any weapons it needed to defend itself in a region beset by “invading powers,” as the military paraded missiles and soldiers in front of him on National Army Day.

Fighter jets and bombers flew overhead as Rohani told the Tehran crowd and a live TV audience on Wednesday that Iran’s forces posed no threat to its neighbors.

>>Iran’s threat of revenge overshadows Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebrations | Analysis

“We tell the world that we will produce or acquire any weapons we need, and will not wait for their approval … We tell our neighbouring countries that our weapons are not against you, it’s for deterrence,” Rohani said.

Iran President Hassan Rohani in Tehran, April 9, 2018.
Iran President Hassan Rohani in Tehran, April 9, 2018./AP

“We are not living in a normal region, and we see invading powers have built bases around us. Disregarding the principles of international law, they intervene in regional affairs and invade other countries without UN permission,” Rohani added.

U.S., British and French forces pounded Iran’s ally Syria with airstrikes early on Saturday in retaliation for a suspected April 7 chemical weapons attack, which they blame on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.

Britain, France and Germany have proposed fresh EU sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missiles and its role in Syria’s war, in a bid to persuade U.S. President Donald Trump to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.

Trump has delivered an ultimatum to the European signatories to fix what he saw as the “terrible flaws” of the deal, threatening to refuse to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran.

U.S. sanctions will resume unless Trump issues fresh “waivers” to suspend them on May 12.

Erdoğan, Iranian counterpart pledge to maintain alliance with Russia on Syria

April 18, 2018
Daily Sabah
emAP File Photo/em

AP File Photo

The presidents of Turkey and Iran on Tuesday vowed to press on with their alliance alongside Russia over Syria, the Turkish presidency said Tuesday, after Ankara backed strikes by the U.S. and its allies against the Assad regime.

“The two leaders emphasized the importance of continuing the joint efforts of Turkey, Iran and Russia… to protect Syrian territorial integrity and find a lasting, peaceful solution to the crisis,” a Turkish presidential source said following telephone talks between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani.

The two leaders also discussed bilateral relations, said the source, who refused to be named due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

Stating Turkey’s clear stance against the use of chemical weapons, Erdoğan said it is important to not allow tensions to escalate and evaluate the incidents within its context.

The leaders spoke about Syria’s territorial integrity, adding that it was important to continue the joint efforts by Turkey, Iran and Russia for a lasting political solution to the Syrian crisis as part of the Astana peace process.

Also, the leaders expressed their desire to boost bilateral economic relations.

The phone call came after the U.S. in coordination with France and the U.K. conducted on Saturday a series of military strikes targeting the Assad regime’s chemical weapons capabilities in retaliation to a suspected chemical attack in Douma, eastern Ghouta, earlier this month.


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Trump tweets in support of American pastor facing terror charges in Turkey

April 18, 2018

emAFP Photo/em

AFP Photo

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted early Wednesday in support of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who is held in Turkey on terror charges for his links to the PKK and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ).

“Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason,” Trump claimed.

The pastor, imprisoned in the city of Izmir, is accused of espionage and aiding two terror groups, charges carrying up to 35 years in prison.

“They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is,” Trump said in his tweet.

Donald J. Trump


Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason. They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!

In his first appearance before the court in Izmir’s Aliağa district, the pastor, in fluent Turkish, denied all charges against him, including his alleged contact with Bekir Baz, a senior member of FETÖ.

Only a few days ago, reports said that the local law enforcement officers following up on the case uncovered new evidence of contact between Brunson and the top FETÖ official of the region, Bekir Baz.

While Brunson rejects claims that he ever met Baz, investigations into both individuals GSM signals showed that they were at the same place or at least very close to each other on 293 occasions. Baz currently remains a fugitive from law.

The report, which was submitted to the court, traces five GSM accounts registered to Brunson and two GSM accounts belonging to Baz between April 4, 2011, and Aug. 19, 2015. The report also claims that Brunson’s GSM accounts were also at the same place as the GSM accounts of Baz’s deputy Mustafa Safa. Baz is known as one of the select few who were able to directly contact Fetullah Gülen, the leader of FETÖ, who has lived in Pennsylvania for close to two decades.

The case of Brunson, who was a pastor at the Diriliş (Resurrection) Protestant church in Izmir, is a thorny issue between Ankara and Washington. Washington has repeatedly called for the release of Brunson, claiming he was “unjustly detained.”

Brunson also took part in organizing the 2013 Gezi Park riots, the indictment said, claiming that he was in possession of lists containing the names of “gas station workers in Turkey’s southeast,” “railway employees,” or “soldiers to get in contact with,” with whom he exchanged information through close contacts. In Monday’s hearing, the pastor dismissed allegations as “lies.”

The indictment also noted that the suspect was charged with being in contact with retired soldiers, special warfare officers and high-ranking leaders of the PKK and FETÖ, which is understood through two secret and five open witness statements, along with evidence such as digital data, documents, phone conversation and wireless tower records provided by Brunson himself, witnesses and authorities.

Erdogan, Rouhani agree to maintain Turkey, Iran, Russia cooperation in Syria

April 17, 2018

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ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani agreed on Tuesday to maintain the cooperation between Turkey, Iran and Russia for a political solution to the conflict in Syria, a source in Erdogan’s office said.

Erdogan also told Rouhani in a telephone call that actions to increase tensions in the region should be avoided, after U.S., British and French forces carried out air strikes on Syria over the weekend.

Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by David Dolan

Turkey seeks peace, Macron in search of heroism in Syria

April 17, 2018


By Mehmet ÇELIK

Daily Sabah

French President Macron said on Sunday that he had convinced U.S. President Trump to stay in Syria, a claim the White House has rejected.

French President Macron said on Sunday that he had convinced U.S. President Trump to stay in Syria, a claim the White House has rejected.

Ankara and Paris have different motivations in Syria, analysts say, arguing that while French President Macron’s moves on Syria are attempts to overcome challenges in domestic politics, Turkey works to establish peace in Syria

Turkey and France have different agendas regarding Syria, as President Emmanuel Macron is in search of a heroic story abroad to counter the challenges he faces in domestic politics while Ankara has been utilizing diplomatic and military energy to establish peace in the war-torn country. On Sunday, 40-year-old Macron, who is completing his first year in office, appeared on French television in an interview with two experienced French journalists.

“With these strikes and this intervention, we separated the Russians and the Turks on this issue. … The Turks condemned the chemical strike and supported the operation that we conducted,” Macron told BFM TV, referring to the U.S.-led airstrikes on Syrian regime chemical weapons facilities in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons in the Damascus suburbs of Eastern Ghouta and Douma on April 7.

Macron also said that he had convinced U.S. President Donald Trump to change his Syria policy and launch the airstrikes. “Ten days ago, President Trump wanted the United States of America to withdraw from Syria. We convinced him to remain,” he said. Not long after Macron’s remarks, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement quoted in the media: “The U.S. mission has not changed – the president has been clear that he wants U.S. forces to come home as quickly as possible.” Macron’s claims about the Russian-Turkey split did not get a response from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan or Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım during their speeches yesterday. However, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu both addressed Macron’s remarks harshly.

“In its Syria policy, Turkey is not siding with anyone nor against anyone,” Bozdağ said during his visit to Qatar yesterday. He added that both the U.S. support to PKK affiliated People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Russia’s support to Bashar Assad are problematic for Ankara. Bozdağ also said that Turkey will come together with any actor that is in line with the policies Ankara finds to be right for Syria’s future, which Turkish leaders and officials have said are to establish permanent piece in Syria, without Assad and without supporting terrorist groups. Çavuşoğlu said that many of Ankara’s allies are “far from being serious, and they choose populism. … We expected presidential statements.” Çavuşoğlu was speaking at a joint press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg yesterday.

Çavuşoğlu also said that Turkey’s ties with Russia are too strong for Macron to break. A statement also came from Russia that rejected Macron’s claim. “No, these strikes did not split us. It’s no secret that the positions of Moscow and Ankara differ on a number of issues. At the same time, this does not prevent us from continuing to exchange views, to continue discussing this difference in positions,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said yesterday.

Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, Ankara has urged that Assad must be ousted from power in Syria and a political solution must prevail to bring the war and the killings of thousands of Syrians to an end. In addition, Turkey also argues that all terrorist groups such as Daesh and the YPG must be eliminated to secure Syria’s territorial integrity and ensure Turkey’s national security. Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield to clear Daesh from its border on Aug. 24, 2016, and ran until March 2016. The Turkish military and Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions also launched Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 to eliminate the YPG in northwestern Syria, as it also constituted a national security threat for Ankara.

Erdoğan yesterday called for a new initiative for peace in the world, one where countries are no longer bombed with random justifications.

“Let’s lay down a new foundation for peace in the world and let’s not let rain down bombs on these countries at random, not allow the pounding of barrel bombs,” Erdoğan said at an entrepreneurship congress in Istanbul. Turkish leadership has long argued that political transition must happen in Syria for the humanitarian tragedy and regional instability to come to an end. Turkey has taken in nearly 4 million refugees from Syria, which has created a social and economic burden for the country. Ankara says that the re-establishment of an inclusive political order will enable the safe returns of refugees to their homes and bring an end to refugees crossing into European countries. Ankara also argues that Western support for the YPG in Syria further complicates the situation. Aside from U.S. military support and worsening ties between Ankara and Washington, Ankara also did not welcome Macron’s recent meeting with senior YPG figures at the Elysee Palace in which he offered the group support. Macron offering to play a mediator role between the YPG and Ankara was harshly criticized by the Turkish government, which said: “Turkey does not negotiate with terrorists.”

Maxime Gauin, a French historian with particular focus on Turkey, said that Macron has made a historic error by siding with the YPG. “If I had a suggestion to make to Emmanuel Macron, it would be give new guarantees to Turkey regarding the PKK such as a systematic ban on demonstrations in support to this terrorist group and its Syrian branch and a new step in the improvement of the fight against the funding networks of the PKK in France,” Gauin said. Commenting on a possible French-Turkish cooperation in Syria, Gauin said given “realities of geography, the legacy of history and the necessity for cooperation,” it would be an effective option for France to strengthen diplomatic ties with Ankara.

Syria moves an exit strategy against domestic problems

Some have interpreted Macron’s recent moves in foreign policy as an exit strategy by the French president from the internal political chaos he has been facing at home.

Saadet Oruç, a columnist for Daily Sabah and an advisor to Erdoğan, told Daily Sabah that Macron is facing internal disorder in domestic politics and so he is looking for an exit strategy. “Macron is showing a heroic stance by saying he convinced the U.S. in changing policy in Syria, but the White House said otherwise.” Oruç also commented on Macron’s claims about a Russian-Turkish split: “Macron takes one step forward, two steps back” in his diplomatic moves. “Macron should make more responsible statements.” Responding to a question about Ankara’s position on Marcon’s desire to be involved in Syria diplomatically, Oruç said: “When it comes to Syria policy, Turkey sets its agenda based on principles, not countries.”

During the interview, Macron said France wants to involve Western powers, Russia and Turkey in a new diplomatic initiative for a political solution in Syria. The French president, who is scheduled to visit the U.S. next week, and Russia next month, has also voiced his willingness to play a key mediator role between the U.S. and Russia, who have come to a brink of military confrontation over the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. Russia and Iran are staunch backers of Assad.

Jana Jabbour, a research associate at Sciences Po Paris and a professor at Saint Joseph University in Beirut, said: “Macron is trying to divert public attention from domestic politics to foreign politics by seeking to play a role in the Syria crisis.”

Macron’s government began to implement plans to tax retirees more and employees less, cut jobs in some hospitals, reorganize the justice system and apply a new university admissions system, all of which have prompted protests. Jabbour added: “A growing role for France in Syria is used as an exit strategy from domestic problems and as an instrument to embellish the political outcome of Macron’s presidency after one year in power.” Jabbour also said that Macron has an attempt to re-establish France’s reputation on the international level, but he can only be successful in the international arena, as in the Syrian civil war, only if “he closely coordinates with Ankara, Moscow and Tehran and brings them on board.”

Bashar Assad, Iran just reached point of no return in Syria — Trump administration should consider more cooperation with Turkey and Russia

April 16, 2018

Assad has to be removed… Iran prefers to sew sectarian hatred rather than encourage cooperation.

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Daily Sabah

On Friday evening, U.S. President Donald Trump stood before television cameras to announce that he had ordered the U.S. Armed Forces to launch “precision strikes” against regime positions in Syria. The announcement came a week after Bashar Assad carried out a chemical attack against innocent civilians in Douma, a small town near the Syrian capital Damascus, claiming dozens of casualties. Turkey welcomed Washington’s decision, which, it said, “eased humanity’s conscience.”

In light of the most recent developments in Syria, it has become clear that the Assad regime should not survive. Nor can the Syrian dictator, who has killed hundreds of thousands of his country’s citizens, play any role in the future of Syria.

In recent years, the Syrian regime repeatedly misled the United States and Russia, along with others, into believing that it would abandon its chemical weapons program. At the time, the international community was so eager to believe that it was making some progress in Syria that the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for its “extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons.” To nobody’s surprise, it turned out that the Syrian regime indeed had a large amount of chemical weapons at its disposal.

In retrospect, the fact that the same people thought U.S. President Barack Obama, whose inaction encouraged Assad to massacre innocent people, deserved a “peace prize” should have been telling.

At this point, Assad offers little and does significant damage to his allies. To be clear, it makes no sense for the Syrian regime’s protectors to continue their support. For the Russians, it is time to abandon the criminal in Damascus and work with Turkey and others to shape the country’s future. There are many opportunities in the Middle East that Moscow could seize – but only if it stops carrying the dead weight of Assad and his atrocities.

But the problems in Syria are not limited to the regime and their solution requires the support of Western countries as well. France, for instance, could play a constructive role in Syria. In addition to working toward the preservation of the country’s territorial integrity, Paris can build on its historical relations with the Syrian Arabs to promote a political solution. The obvious obstacle before France’s efforts to maximize its interests in Syria is the French government itself. If French President Emmanuel Macron opts to protect the terrorist organization PKK and its Syrian branch, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed People’s Protection Units (YPG), because he wants to get back at Daesh for the Paris and Nice terror attacks, his country will pay a heavy price. Fighting a terrorist organization and addressing the threat posed by returning foreign fighters is a serious challenge – which France could address by helping to restore peace and stability in Syria and cooperating with the international community instead of having a knee-jerk reaction.

It is time for the United States to present the world with a coherent Syria policy – right after U.S. President Donald Trump, the Pentagon, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), the State Department and National Security Adviser John Bolton sign off on the same plan.

Until now, Washington has put a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. The Obama administration’s decision to partner with non-state actors instead of making actual decisions was doomed to fail. Retaliating against the Assad regime’s chemical attacks is not an actual policy either. Nor did attempts by the United States to sabotage the Astana process and the Sochi talks amount to a policy.

Washington’s lack of a coherent policy hurts its reputation in the Middle East. People around the world know that last weekend’s retaliatory strikes amounted to nothing but a facade. There are a number of smart and result-oriented steps that the Trump administration could take in cooperation with Turkey and Russia – including in the fight against Daesh terrorism. By tapping into Turkey’s vast diplomatic experience, Washington could address tensions with Russia and keep its eye on the prize. Although President Trump made an important point in his announcement, developing long-term solutions is the ultimate answer. The United States has a responsibility to ensure that innocent civilians are not killed – with chemical or conventional weapons.

There is a way the U.S., Russia and France can join Turkey to make peace possible in Syria. However, there is one factor that all parties concerned need to take action against and that is Iran’s sectarian expansionism. It has become the main source of instability and violence in the wider region. Particularly due to its long-standing conflicts with the West and regional powers, Tehran’s involvement in any attempt to resolve the Syrian crisis makes things complicated and causes unnecessary suffering for the people of Syria. Iran prefers to sew sectarian hatred rather than encourage cooperation. Tehran has exploited the goodwill of Turkey and a handful of other countries, which want to avoid unnecessary violence and polarization in the region.

What Syria needs is an end to Iran’s sectarian policy and this can only happen if the remaining actors cooperate in instituting a new government in Syria without Assad. The Syrian people deserve the commitment of the international community to ensure the end of bloodshed and the introduction of peace. They have suffered enough.



Turkey: We Differ From Iran, Russia, U.S. on Syria and Middle East

While Turkey is working with both Russia and Iran to decrease the use of violence in Syria, Ankara has long demanded that President Bashar Assad must go and has backed rebels against him

Turkish soldiers atop an armored personnel carrier in Afrin, Syria, March 24, 2018.
Turkish soldiers atop an armored personnel carrier in Afrin, Syria, March 24, 2018.Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

Turkey does not stand with or against Syria, and its policy on the region differs from that of Iran, Russia and the United States, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Monday.

Bozdag’s comments were in response to a reporter’s question about an earlier remark from French President Emmanuel Macron, who said Turkey’s support of missile strikes against Syria showed it had “separated” from Russia.

The United States, Britain and France fired more than 100 missilesat Syria on Friday in a “one-time shot” that the Pentagon said followed evidence that Syrian President Bashar Assad was responsible for a chemical weapons attack using chlorine gas.

“Turkey’s Syria policy isn’t to stand with or against any country. There is no change to the policy Turkey has been carrying out,” Bozdag told reporters in Qatar.

“We do not have a united policy with the United States on the YPG issue, and Turkey’s stance has not changed. We are also against the unconditional support for the (Syrian) regime and we are at odds with Iran and Russia on this,” he said.

While Turkey is working with both Russia and Iran to decrease the use of violence in Syria, Ankara has long demanded that President Bashar Assad must go and has backed rebels against him. Assad’s main supporters are Moscow and Tehran.

Turkey has also been at loggerheads with Washington over U.S. support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara considers a terrorist organization linked to Kurdish militants waging a decades-long insurgency in Turkish soil.

Turkey supported the airstrikes by U.S., British and French forces, saying the move sent a message to Assad.

Bozdag said Turkey did not hesitate to work with any country that defended “correct principles” on Syria.

Putin’s support for Assad paints Russia into a dangerous corner

April 16, 2018

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Insouciance after allied strikes fails to mask vulnerable position

Kathrin Hille in Moscow

After the chemical weapons facilities of Bashar al-Assad’s regime were hit by more than 100 missiles fired by the US and its allies, it was left to Russian politicians to respond on the Syrian president’s behalf.
“President al-Assad is in absolute positive spirits. He is in a good mood,” Natalia Komarova, governor of the Russian region of Khanty-Mansiysk, told Russian newswires after a meeting with Mr Assad in Damascus on Sunday, the day after the attacks.Dmitry Sablin, a Russian lawmaker who led the delegation to the Syrian capital, added that Mr Assad had agreed to visit Ms Komarova’s region and that last year his children had been on holiday to Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

On Russian television, this show of insouciance served to underline Moscow’s claim that the western missile strikes had not achieved anything. But, to outside observers, the unwavering support for Mr Assad has pushed Russia into an increasingly dangerous corner.

“They cast themselves as the protector of Syria’s sovereignty, the fighters against western schemes to push for regime change and partition that country, but they risk becoming partners with Assad in being international outlaws,” said a diplomat from a European country whose government is usually seen as Russia-friendly. “They are beginning to look like a pariah state, and more and more they are behaving like one,” he added.

Donald Trump orders precision strikes against Syria

Since the alleged chemical weapons attack in the Syrian town of Douma on April 7 which killed more than 70 people, Moscow has fiercely hit back at accusations against the Syrian military, and even denied that chemical weapons were used at all.

Those denials were the latest in a series of Russian steps to block the extension of a 2013 inspection regime for Syrian chemical weapons and shield Mr Assad from international pressure.

[Putin] has waded in so deep now that he has become Assad’s hostage

European diplomat

This staunch support for a dictator whom almost all countries in the region except for Iran view as an obstacle to a political solution to the Syrian war has frustrated many diplomats working on efforts for a peace process.
Now Moscow’s position appears set to create immense new risks for Russia both economic and political: The US said it was preparing further sanctions against Russia over its support for Syria, little more than a week after Washington triggered a sell-off in Russian markets with punitive measures that pushed the country’s largest aluminium maker to the brink of collapse.Meanwhile, the US has pledged not to pull its troops from Syria until its goals there are accomplished, while Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has sharply warned against further strikes.

It’s no longer about reason, it’s about guts, who has the stronger will. They might bluff — but we will all die …But maybe then, when they look into the abyss, like after the Cuban missile crisis, they’ll say gosh, and change the momentum

Russian experts said that although Moscow and Washington avoided a direct military clash in Syria at the weekend, their hardened positions on the Assad regime and its use of chemical weapons has pushed them into the most dangerous stand-off since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

“It’s no longer about reason, it’s about guts, who has the stronger will. They might bluff – but we will all die,” said Andrei Kortunov, director of the Russian International Relations Council, a state-backed think-tank. “But maybe then, when they look into the abyss, like after the Cuban missile crisis, they’ll say gosh, and change the momentum.”

And yet, observers in Moscow believe Mr Putin may well keep up his support for Mr Assad.

“He has waded in so deep now that he has become Assad’s hostage,” said a European diplomat.

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Mr Putin’s plan for Syria was a swift transition from armed conflict to economic rehabilitation and reconstruction. Despite the fact that three different initiatives for negotiating a political transition have failed to produce progress, Moscow continues to believe it can force a political transition accompanied by Russia, Iran and Turkey in which Syrian opposition groups would be forced to acquiesce to elections in which Mr Assad would once again run and win.

“That remains the only reasonable option because the US-led coalition is bent on dismembering the country,” said a Russian former ambassador involved in Moscow’s talks with Syrian opposition groups.

“Russia’s military tactics were driven by the idea that saving the Assad regime from complete collapse was the only way to prevent Syria from going the way of Libya and Iraq,” Nikolay Kozhanov, an expert on Russia’s Middle East policy, wrote in a recent paper.

Financial Times (FT)
Latest strike called “soft option”