Posted by Joshua on Thursday, October 29th, 2009
Turkey is following its “Zero Problem with Neighbors” policy during P.M. Erdogan’s visit to Tehran. It is worth noting that the Turkish border with Iran has not changed since 1639. Turkey has also been fixing its long troubled relations with Kurds, Georgia, Greece, and with Armenia, not to mention Syria. Turkey has embraced the spirit of Obama’s diplomacy of engagement.
Addendum: Turkey has signed an agreement with Russia, China and Iran to use each others currencies in their trade and not dollars. This is a big deal. China has just signed a deal with Russia to buy gas worth more than the total Russian export to Europe. This is to be in local currencies rather than dollars. Russia will not have to stockpile dollars. From the Turkish perspective, expanding the local currency deals is a big deal because they do not need to accumulate dollars or Euros. All of Turkey’s energy comes from Russia and Iran.
For the Nabucco gas pipeline Turkey’s changing foreign policy is also very important. Turkish friendship with Armenia and the Kurds is opening up new prospects for energy transport. It ensures that transit through Turkey will be inexpensive and secure. By fixing its Kurdish problem, regularizing relations with Armenia, and having good relations with Iran, the proposed gas pipeline bringing Azerbaijan gas through Turkey to Europe will be secure and reliable.
I am off to London for a conference soon and will not be posting for a week.
TEHRAN (ISNA)-Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said on Wednesday Iran-Turkey cooperation can strengthen security in the region.
Larijani in a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Tehran, pointed out to regional developments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine and said Iran and Turkey’s roles in the countries complete each other.
Ali Larijani (right) speaking with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
He also praised Erdogan’s stance on Palestine and Gaza issues and said taking these approaches improve Ankara’s position in the region and in the Islamic World.
Britain says Syria deal worth waiting for
Asia Times Online
by Sakhr Al-Makhadhi
Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband insists that efforts to strengthen Europe’s ties with Syria are not on hold, as Damascus calls for a delay in signing a long-awaited association agreement. …..Syria expert Professor Joshua Landis says Damascus wants to be sure the agreement will be a partnership of equals. “Syria remains a country that is deeply distrustful of ‘imperialism’ and anything that reminds it of imperialism,” he said. “It does not like to make itself vulnerable to the West.”
The deal will give Syrian companies preferential access to Europe’s markets. But it will also open up Syria’s economy to EU businesses. And that could be one reason for the delay – to assess the potential impact that the agreement will have on Syrian jobs. Syria would also get greater access to EU markets, increased aid and support for cultural, health and social programs. For the EU, promoting good governance, democratization and human rights are included in the treaty’s text….
Syria’s ambassador to Britain, Sami Khiyami, says his country wants to be at the center of a new regional understanding – bringing together Turkey, Iran and the Arab world.
And on that front, things are moving fast. Syria and Turkey have just created a visa-free zone. And in the space of a few months, Syria and Saudi Arabia have staged a dramatic reconciliation.
Miliband’s conciliatory approach appears to show that the EU realizes it cannot take Syria for granted.
I don’t think Iran will be too worried about Syria’s position on Yemen. You are right to say that Saudi is deeply involved in the situation there, but Iranian involvement is a product of Yemeni government imagination and nothing more.
To describe the Houthi insurgents are not ‘Shia rebels’ is only half the story. They are Zaidis, which is a different type of Shia from Iran. The Yemeni regime is also Zaidi, so this is not an ethnic conflict. Both sides are throwing accusations of foreign involvement around – the Houthis say that Saudi warplanes have bombed their areas, and the Yemeni government retaliates by saying the Houthis have Iranian funding.
As Ginny Hill (British journalist, researcher, and – if I may say so – the Josh Landis of Yemen!) says, foreign diplomats say any Iranian involvement is limited to private funding, rather than any Iranian government sponsorship. As far as I understand, the Yemeni government has not accused Iranian officials of getting involved either, just pointing their finger at an Iranian monster in the woods to tarnish the Houthis’ domestic reputation.
So would Iran be worried about Syria supporting the Yemeni government – probably no more than they would be worried about Syria and Saudi sorting out their differences. If anything, it gives Iran a new route to talk to unfriendly states.
Addendum: Aron Lund of Sweden writes:
I read the two posts dealing with Yemen on your blog, and I have to disagree. I can’t see what Syria’s role would be in Yemen, and I don’t think Abdullah’s visit had anything to do with that. The issue might have come up, of course, but Damascus couldn’t seriously hope to leverage its very marginal influence on Yemen to gain support on other issues where it does have a major role, like Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine.
There is one thing, though: Ali Nasser Mohammed, the former South Yemeni president, is in exile in Damascus. Apparently, he still has a minor following in southern Yemen. Since much of the south of the country is sliding back into secessionism, and strong leaders are much in demand there, perhaps his presence in Syria could give the government some little influence on the southern conflict. They could stop him from interfering, for example, or prevent him from going back, or pressure him to cooperate with the Saleh regime.
Apart from all that, I agree with Sasa’s characterization of the northern/Houthi war as not quite the Sunni-Shia dispute it’s being made out to be in much of the media There’s certainly ideological sectarianism on the Zeidi side, and among some Salafi forces fighting alongside the government. But the government is essentially patronage-based, tribal and pragmatic, and not very interested in whether you prefer Ali or Mouawyia. In fact, President Ali Abdullah Saleh is a secular Zeidi himself, so it’s hardly a religious battle for him.
“… The Yemeni central government has not commented but officials have long accused the rebels of receiving Iranian support, a claim Tehran denies. …Last week Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh alleged that captured rebels had confessed their funding came from Iranian dignitaries. But he said he did not accuse the Iranian regime itself.
The AFP new agency quoted a local Yemeni official saying that from preliminary enquiries, five of the Iranians captured on Monday were “instructors” who had planned to deliver weapons and then evacuate wounded Iranians.
The rebels, known as Houthis, say they want greater autonomy and an public role for their version of Shia Islam. They complain their community is discriminated against. They accuse Saudi Arabia of supporting Sanaa and last week said they had clashed with Saudi forces along the border between the two countries. ..”
Assad is in Croatia visiting with President Stjepan Mesic. With him are Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Abdullah al-Dardari, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, and Assistant Foreign Minister Abdelfattah Amoura.
Addendum: White Stream can De-Monopolize the Turkish Transit of Gas to Europe
Jamestown Foundation, October 29, 2009—Volume 6, Issue 199
Political risks to Caspian gas transportation have emerged westward of the Caucasus in Turkey, where such risks were least expected. Azerbaijan has become the first gas-exporting country to experience those risks, stemming from Turkey’s position as a transit monopolist. Turkey’s AKP government is practically blocking the transit of Azerbaijani gas to Europe and slowing down the Shah Deniz and Nabucco projects’ implementation.
Consequently, Baku is now seeking alternative export solutions for its gas. Possible solutions include Russia and Iran overland, as well as the proposed White Stream pipeline across the Black Sea to Europe (EDM, October 21, 22).
White Stream, a private venture, had never deliberately been intended to bypass Turkey. However, it can now be seriously considered for carrying Azerbaijani gas directly to Europe, without recourse to the Turkish route. Activating the White Stream pipeline project at the European Union’s level would demonstrate that Turkey cannot and must not behave as a transit monopolist on Caspian gas to Europe. The proposed White Stream is integrated, along with Nabucco, since November 2008 in the E.U.’s strategy for a Southern Corridor for natural gas to Europe.
Addressing the Azerbaijani government’s recent special session on gas issues, President Ilham Aliyev mentioned the possible export of Azerbaijani gas across the Black Sea. He referred both to White Stream and to liquefied natural gas (LNG) as possible solutions, currently under consideration (www.day.az, October 17).
White Stream is being promoted by a consortium of several small companies in London, currently including the White Stream Pipeline and the Pipeline Systems Engineering companies. It is the first fully private gas pipeline project in any of the former Soviet-ruled countries. The goal is to export Caspian gas via Georgia, the Black Sea, and Romania to markets in E.U. territory (Reuters, October 19)……
Addendum: I received this email:
This upcoming conference should be most interesting. Governments in Israel, Europe and the US are increasingly worried about what they see as a potential major Turkey strategic re-alignment towards the East. The latest developments seem to support that concern but I wonder if the concern is not a bit misplaced. Western reporting continually describes Turkey’s new direction as if the entire country was supporting it. I think this is a gross exaggeration which ignores internal Turkish dynamics. It is essential to discern Turkey as a nation from the AKP as the current governing party. In light of recent election’s returns, it cannot be said that the AKP is in a commending position politically. Although the influence of the military has been certainly curtailed, it is still there. Religious fervor has undoubtedly increased in some segments of society but there is still a broad secular base. In the energy sector, Turkey is concerned about White Stream by-passing them and cutting them off an important revenue source. It is clear that there are significant societal elements that do not share the AKP’s religious ideology nor its apparent rapprochement with the East. In other words,Turkey is not the problem, the AKP is the problem. In light of the significant consequences for the West (political/EU, military/NATO and economic/Nabucco/White Stream) of the emergence of a true Turkey-Syria-Iran axis, it is reasonable to assume that governments, the energy industry and intelligence agencies in Europe and the US are going to focus more closely on how to resolve the “AKP problem” with the aim of preventing the consolidation of any such axis in the first place.
Turkish Chief of the General Staff Struggles to Pacify Military Coup Controversy
by –Emrullah Uslu for Jamestown Foundation
On June 12, the liberal left Taraf daily published an unclassified document outlining an alleged action plan for the military to combat the “reactionary activities” against secularism. Allegedly the “Action Plan against Reactionaries (Irtica),” was prepared by senior staff Colonel Dursun Cicek and defined the ruling AKP and the Gulen movement as threats to the secular order in Turkey. The plan outlined various measures to undermine public support for the AKP and advocated a conspiracy against the Gulen movement to present it as an armed criminal group that could be construed as a terrorist organization. While the public debated whether the document was authentic, military prosecutors launched an investigation and declared that it was a forgery and was not prepared within the headquarters of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). Nonetheless, the debate continued and the Chief of the General Staff General Ilker Basbug held a press conference in which he forcefully denied the existence of such a plan and stated that the so-called document was nothing but a “piece of paper” (Taraf, June 12; EDM, June 15, 23).
An anonymous military officer, who appears to be working with Colonel Cicek at the headquarters of the TSK has now written a letter of confession and attached the original document. Regarding the document, a report prepared by three experts at the Istanbul Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) showed that the signature on the original copy belonged to Colonel Cicek (Hurriyet, October 24).
En route to Pakistan, the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that “the document is now in the hands of justice. We will do exactly what the courts ask of us. We will closely monitor developments. The armed forces cannot accept such a blemish [if the allegations prove to be true]” (Hurriyet Daily News, October 25). In response to the media coverage, General Basbug reacted harshly to the original document being leaked. In a written statement the TSK stressed that the tone of media coverage had varied widely. “It is very worrying that the developments over the letter and the document appear first in the media, in terms of the authority of the state,” Basbug commented (Hurriyet Daily News, October 25). Military prosecutors have launched yet another investigation into the issue and asked the civilian prosecutor to provide the original document and the ATK report (Hurriyet, October 27).
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc also commented on the issue saying that if there were claims that a similar document was prepared by a deputy, he would remove him from office and urged General Basbug to relieve those behind the plot of their duties (Today’s Zaman, October 28). The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) parliamentary group Deputy Chairman Suat Kilic, said the controversy would not have escalated had it been properly investigated when it first emerged in June. “If this plot was prepared with the knowledge of the top commanders, this is grave. It is even worse if it was prepared without their knowledge. The TSK should immediately take action to address suspicions over its role,” he said (Today’s Zaman, October 28).
Turkish intellectuals are questioning General Basbug’s leadership, because he initially misled the public when he claimed that the document was not prepared at the TSK’s headquarters and described it as just a “piece of paper” (Sabah, October 27, Hurriyet, October 28). Even anti-AKP intellectuals are criticizing the military for its involvement in civilian politics and asking General Basbug to act decisively (Cumhuriyet, October 27). Some went as far as to suggest that he should resign, since either he was involved in the plot to overthrow the government or he was unaware of it (Sabah, October 27).
Erdogan, during his visit to Pakistan and Iran, stated that he will ask General Basbug to meet him to discuss this issue, and said that neither the state nor the TSK can accept the present situation. Public pressure is mounting on both the government and the TSK leadership to act. For the military leadership it is even more difficult, despite the evidence in the ATK report, since military officers are convinced that this is not a plot against the AKP government conducted by the armed forces but the reverse.
Mohamad Bazzi analyses the methods and motivations of Syria’s attempts to rejoin the Arab political order after years of isolation.
En dehors de ces preoccupations universitaires, le ministère des transports continue la préparation de la construction de deux axes routiers. Il a notament repoussé au 3 décembre 2009 la date limite de l’appel d’offres concernant la conception, la construction, l’exploitation et la gestion de deux autoroutes internationales. La Société financière internationale, branche privée de la Banque mondiale, aidera ensuite le ministère à évaluer les soumissionnaires.
Il est prévu que la première route, longue de 432 kilomètres, coupe le pays dans toute sa longueur nord-sud, à partir de Bab el-Hawa, frontalière avec la Turquie, jusqu’à la ville de Nassib située à la frontière jordanienne. La seconde autoroute, quant à elle, devrait mesurer 351 kilomètres de longueur et permettre la jonction ouest-est entre Tartous et al-Tanaf, à la frontière irakienne. Le coût combiné de ces deux projets est estimé à environ 1,6 milliard de dollars, dont 1 milliard prévu pour l’axe nord-sud et 600 millions pour l’axe ouest-est.
Des dizaines de milliers de Syriens de la province de Soueida ont assisté le 16 octobre au transfert de la dépouille de Sultan Pacha El Atrache, chef de la Grande révolution syrienne (1925-1927), vers un grand mausolée dédié aux martyrs tombés au combat contre l’armée française.
U.S. says Syria should release 78-year-old dissident
Sat Oct 24, 2009 2:05pm EDT WASHINGTON (Reuters) –
President Barack Obama’s administration called on Syria on Saturday to release a 78-year-old former judge who was arrested last week and placed under official arrest despite international condemnation.
“We join the United Kingdom, France, and other concerned international parties in expressing our deep concern regarding the detention of human rights lawyer Haitham Maleh by Syrian security services since Wednesday, October 14,” the White House said in a statement.
“Syria should demonstrate its commitment to international legal norms by releasing Maleh and other Syrian citizens who have been imprisoned solely for seeking to exercise their internationally recognized political freedoms,” the White House statement said.
Lebanese militants fired rockets into Israel but the attack was stopped by the Lebanese mil
Feltman: “The United States hopes that Lebanon’s political factions will agree on a cabinet “in the coming days” and looks forward to working with the new government, a top US diplomat said Wednesday.
28 October 2009, JERUSALEM – Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak faced the possible breakup of his left-of-centre Labour party when a group of lawmakers threatened on Tuesday to break away protesting a lack of movement in peace talks.
Legislator Eitan Cabel of Labour said he was one of four of the party’s 13 legislators launching a movement to press Israel to renew stalled negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians.
Cabel told Reuters the group demanded “a lot more activism by Israel to advance the peace process” and could quit the party unless Barak heeded their message, a step that could weaken rightist Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
The threat introduced the risk that Netanyahu’s fractious seven-month-old coalition was vulnerable not only to pressures from ultranationalists against stopping Jewish settlement, but also to demands from moderates seeking more diplomacy.
Netanyahu commands the support of 71 of parliament’s 120 lawmakers, but his coalition comprises an uneasy alliance of unlikely partners as Barak’s Labour as well as far-right and religious factions.
Cabel, a veteran lawmaker removed months ago as party director after criticising the alliance with Netanyahu, accused Barak of “destroying the Labour party and now destroying the Left,” by failing to press further to renew peace talks.
In exile, Iraqis taste a life impossible at home
By OMAR SINAN (AP)
DAMASCUS, Syria — After fleeing their bloodied homeland, where violence and increasing conservatism confine their compatriots’ lives, some Iraqis in exile are taking the opportunity to enjoy living outside the box.
Around 1 a.m., five Iraqi women in tight jeans and tops giggled and exchanged high-fives with male friends they ran into the upscale al-Berjis restaurant in Damascus’ Old City, sitting down to smoke waterpipes and play cards before ordering a late-night meal.
“This is life. Outside Iraq, we are alive,” said Rana Sabah, 37-year-old blonde woman with blue colored contact lenses. She blew out a stream of smoke and threw a card on the table. “Believe me I have been all over the place, Iraqis in Iraq are buried alive.”…..
In Damascus, she and her two daughters and two sons go out nearly every night. One recent night — coming up on 2 a.m. they were at the city’s biggest mall, Damascino, playing at its amusement park. She pointed out the tank tops and tight jeans she and her teen daughters were wearing.
“We could never wear like this or experience such things, we have been deprived living freely in our own country, that is why we do all we can to make it up to ourselves outside Iraq,” she said.
On the other side of Damascus at al-Berjis restaurant, the group of women ordered their late-night meal, speaking to their waiter in the Syrian dialect of Arabic, which is notably different from the dialect of Iraq.
One of the women, Sundus Meshrif, says she finds herself speaking Syrian more and more and shunning the dialect of her homeland, which she fled after husband was killed in Baghdad by Shiite militants.
“We started doing it to avoid being ripped off,” said the 38-year-old Meshrif. “Syrian dialect is softer and frankly, its more feminine and it makes people want to giving you better service. And on top of that, it makes me feel I am another person, neither a refugee nor an Iraqi.”