The following are translations of excerpts from the Turkish press.
TURKEY AND YEMEN ARE TO LIFT VISA REQUIREMENTS BILATERALLY
Five agreements were signed during President Gul's visit to Yemen. The agreements included commercial, cultural and economic cooperation as well as lifting visa requirements bilaterally.
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, Minister of Health Recep Akdag, Minister of Defense Vecdi Gonul and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Davutoglu were present at the signing ceremony.
MINISTER OF JUSTICE SHOULD APOLOGIZE
The Council of State's President Mustafa Birden responded to the remarks of Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin, who implied that the council of state was guided into creating precedents. Birden said the judiciary would not take orders from anyone. "In the Council of State, the decisions are made by people who have served as many years as his age. The minister should apologize," said Birden.
IF AN APOLOGY NEEDED, WE ALL OWE ONE
Minister of Justice Sadullah Ergin says that if any delay occurred in delivering justice, then both politicians and judges owed an apology to injured parties.
TRNC TO OPEN REPRESENTATION IN KUWAIT
Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), will soon open a diplomatic office in Kuwait. The issue of the TRNC was discussed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Kuwaiti officials on Monday.
TRNC's representation in Kuwait will function like a typical diplomatic entity.
3 PLANE LOAD BUSINESSPEOPLE AFTER $300 BILLION
Five hundred Turkish business leaders, accompanying Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on his official visits to Kuwait and Qatar, have their eyes on projects in the Gulf region. There are investments opportunities worth $130 billion in Kuwait and $150 billion in Qatar.
TURKEY URGES STRONGER COOPERATION WITH ARAB NATIONS
Turkey's prime minister called on Arab nations Tuesday to boost cooperation with Ankara and to brush aside disputes that weakened ties in the past.
"The Arabs are our brothers," Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a passionate speech at the opening of a two-day conference on Arab-Turkish relations in Kuwait City. "We must stand together... By joining forces, we can overcome all our problems. We can resolve the problem of Palestine and the problems of Iraq and Afghanistan," said Erdoğan. "Let's unite together... We can achieve a lot. We do not need a third party to reform and improve our ties. We in Turkey open all our hearts to you," he said.
Erdoğan 's Islamist-rooted government has boosted Turkey's image and popularity tremendously in the Arab world, especially after the premier's vehement criticism of Israel following its devastating war on the Gaza Strip two years ago.
Erdoğan said Turkey has come under strong criticism because of its new policy of exposing atrocities in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories. "Because we speak about Kabul, Baghdad, Gaza and Palestine, we have been strongly criticized ... Those critics said that we have no place in the European Union," Erdoğan said.
He called on Arab nations to forget the differences and disputes of the past as "these were based on lies." Erdoğan also blasted those who link Islam to terror, saying this was an insult to Muslims.
The Turkish premier is in Kuwait heading a 500-strong official and business delegation, looking to boost economic and political ties with this oil-rich Gulf state. On Monday, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on industrial cooperation.
Economic and political ties between the two Muslim nations have grown in recent years, with Kuwait Investment Authority raising its investments in Turkey to $1.7 billion.
Turkeu has been vying to boost its economic and political ties with the energy-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which groups Kuwait with Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
In September 2008, Turkey signed a memorandum of understanding with GCC states aimed at forging a strategic partnership in all fields. And at a meeting held in Kuwait City last October, the two countries established working teams to boost cooperation in the economic, cultural and political sectors.
The meeting heard that trade between the GCC and Turkey shot up from $1.5 billion in 1999 to $17.5 billion in 2008. In 2008, GCC exports to Turkey rose five-fold over 2007's figure, while the group's imports from Turkey increased a massive 15 times.
IRAN CONFIRMS NUCLEAR TALKS SET FOR JAN 21, 22
Iran confirmed on Tuesday that Tehran and the six world powers have agreed to hold another round of nuclear talks on Jan. 21 and 22 in Istanbul.
The talks are aimed at resolving a dispute over Iran's nuclear program, which world powers fear is masking a weapons drive but which Tehran insists is entirely for peaceful purposes.
"January 21 and 22 ... the first and second of [the Persian month of] Bahman ... has been agreed by the two parties," foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had confirmed the two dates on Saturday.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the six world powers — Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany — in the talks, had suggested Jan. 20 for the resumption of negotiations.
Ashton will visit Turkey on Thursday for preparations ahead of the talks, European sources in Turkey said.
The previous round of talks took place in Geneva on Dec. 6 and 7, ending a 14-month hiatus in negotiations focused on Iran's uranium enrichment program.
Iran's nuclear program has grown under the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, attracting four rounds of U.N. sanctions and other unilateral punitive measures from various countries, including the United States.
Russia on Tuesday said it was interested in Iran's invitation to inspect its nuclear facilities, saying the offer represented a step toward dialogue on the nuclear dispute.
In Russia's first official comments on the invitation, which was forwarded Jan. 4 to Russia, China, Egypt, Cuba and rotating EU president Hungary, a senior foreign ministry official called the offer a positive step.
"We received this initiative with interest," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying by Interfax.
The Iranian move was immediately dismissed as "antics" by the United States, which along with Britain, France and Germany, was not invited.
The European Union responded by noting that it was up to the International Atomic Energy Agency to carry out such visits.
EXPERTS WARN OF RISKS FOR TURKEY IN MEDIATING WITH TALIBAN
The recent push by some international actors in Afghanistan for Turkey to help mediate a possible reconciliation process with the Taliban has prompted experts to warn about the risks of undertaking such a mission.
"Unfortunately Turkey is being encouraged by Western powers to play a role in the reconciliation process," said Sinan Oğan, director of the Ankara-based Turkish Center for International Relations and Strategic Analysis (TÜRKSAM). He is among those who believe assuming such a responsibility would not be to Turkey's benefit.
Concerns about Turkish mediation have centered around the willingness of the Taliban to engage in reconciliation, as well as the domestic consequences, which could include criticism from secular circles and pressure on Turkey to start dialogue with the outlawed Kurdistan People's Party (PKK).
"Once you open the door to dialogue with a terrorist organization, you might have to face the repercussions. Using the same rationale, what would Turkey say if the PKK decided to open an office in a third country and asked to use a mediator to reconcile with Turkey," Oğan said, noting that the Taliban remains the foe of the coalition forces in Afghanistan.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said in December that he would welcome a Taliban office opening in Turkey, adding that such a development could help peace talks in his war-torn country. He made the statement at a press conference following a trilateral meeting in Istanbul with the presidents of Turkey and Pakistan.
The essential dilemma in any reconciliation process with the Taliban lies in identifying whom to reconcile with, as multiple factions claim to represent the group, according to Ahat Andican, an expert on Afghanistan. "The core of the Taliban has never confirmed the reconciliation process," said the former minister, whose responsibilities included Turks and Turkic communities outside of Turkey.
Karzai has been trying for many months to persuade Taliban leaders to join his government; his efforts intensified after U.S. President Barack Obama announced he would begin scaling back U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan in July 2011.
The head of Afghanistan's new peace council said in October that contacts with members of the Taliban had been made through mediators. "We are taking our first steps," said Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan president. The insurgent group has so far denied such meetings have taken place.
"Karzai's claims to having talks with the Taliban have never been confirmed by [them]. He is looking for legitimacy; that's why he has made the proposal to have the Taliban open an office in Turkey. He is trying to send a message to the Taliban by saying, 'I'll let you have these kinds of means if you reconcile with me,'" Andican told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.
Karzai said in Istanbul that figures close to the Taliban had previously shared the idea with him. "The idea was that Turkey would serve as a place where gatherings can take place, where representation [of the Taliban] could be established in order to facilitate reconstruction and reintegration," the Afghan president said.
Afghan expert Andican is not convinced that the core groups in Taliban are willing to reconcile. "The Taliban is gaining ground in the country, why would it sit down and talk?" he asked. "It wants to gain time. It is waiting for the Western forces to leave the country."
A foreign observer familiar with the region said Turkey is well placed to play a role in the mediation process since it has maintained its neutrality with all players in the country. While Turkey is actively taking part in NATO's military mission in Afghanistan, it does so on condition of not fighting the insurgent groups in the country's south.
Other observers say Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) might have special links to influential groups in Afghanistan. An often-cited photo shows a young Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey's current prime minister, kneeling next to Gulbuttin Hekmatyar, the leader of Hızb-e Islami, another important group that could play a role in the reconciliation process. Also supporting this belief is the fact that the son of Rabbani, the head of the peace council, was recently appointed ambassador to Turkey.
The peace council was set up in September by the Afghan government, formalizing efforts already under way to reconcile with top Taliban leaders. Turkey's warm relations with Pakistan, another influential player in Afghan matters also, reinforce the image of Ankara as a potential mediator.
Afghan expert Andican believes, however, that Turkey lacks any influence in the country's complex setting. "You can't solve the problem merely by getting Afghans and Pakistanis in trilateral meetings," said Andican, arguing that a bloody civil war will break out in Afghanistan after Western military powers leave the country.
"The war in Afghanistan cannot have winners. The Taliban cannot beat the coalition forces and the coalition forces cannot overcome the Taliban. There are attempts to find a third way. This could include incorporating moderate forces in the Taliban in the government," said TÜRKSAM director Oğan, adding that Turkey should not be part of that process. "If there is a need to talk to the Taliban, let Western forces do that. It is primarily their problem," he said.
Turkey has not yet made an official statement about a possible role in any reconciliation process. A Turkish official told the Daily News, however, that several international actors, including the United Nations, want to see Turkey involved in the process, as it has been in mediation between Syria and Israel, or Iran and Western powers.
TURKEY TO INCREASE ARMS SPENDING IN 2011
Turkey is scheduled to spend approximately $4.5 billion on arms procurement in 2011, up about 10 percent annually, while most European countries are slashing defense budgets, a senior procurement official said on the weekend.
"This year we have a major payments schedule for ongoing and starting programs," said the official on condition of anonymity. "An overall procurement spending of $4.5 billion is a reasonable figure for the year."
Last year, Turkey spent slightly more than $4 billion on procurement.
"We also expect procurement spending to rise gradually in the upcoming years," the official told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.
Turkey's major procurement programs spanning the next 10 years will include the purchase of around 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightening II aircraft worth around $15 billion, the purchase of 30 F-16 Block 50 fighters and the modernization of its fleet of F-16s, the acquisition of six modern U-291-type submarines costing $3 billion, the purchase of utility and attack helicopters worth over a total of $7 billion, the building of long-range air and missile defense systems worth several billion dollars and the development and production of a national battle tank worth several billion dollars.
Some smaller programs include the purchase of frigates, corvettes, armored vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles and trainer aircraft.
In late December the Turkish Parliament endorsed a budget of $11.3 billion for the Defense Ministry, up from last year's $10.5 billion.
The 2011 budget appropriations for the defense ministry account for 1.4 percent of Turkey's gross domestic product and 5.4 percent of the overall state budget, according to Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül.
The Gendarmerie was granted $3 billion for 2011, up from $2.7 billion in 2010, while Coast Guard Command was granted a higher figure than last year – $210 million, compared to 2010's $198 million. Both the Gendarmerie and the Coast Guard are part of the Interior Ministry but are commanded by the military.
Overall, the Turkish security forces will receive additional funds worth around $1.1 billion, bringing total spending to $15.51 billion, or a nearly 8 percent increase compared to last year. These figures exclude contributions from the country's special Defense Industry Support Fund, which helps finance arms purchases.
The fund, controlled by the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM) Turkey's procurement agency, contributed around $1.5 billion in 2010 and procurement officials anticipate a slightly larger amount from the fund this year—mainly because of the growing economy. The fund is financed by levies on alcohol, tobacco and gambling.
But Turkey's procurement budget will be smaller than that of the defense budget. Of the Defense Ministry's overall budget, $2.5 billion will go to arms acquisitions, according to Gönül. The lion's share of the ministry's budget will go to spending on personnel (nearly $6 billion) and operations and maintenance ($2.62 billion).
Furthermore, the Gerdarmerie is expected to spend nearly $500 million on weapons systems this year. As a result, with anticipated levels of funding from the Defense Industry Support Fund, Turkey is expected to spend a little more than $4.5 billion on procurement this year.
The Turkish procurement spending spree comes at a time when most European countries are cutting their defense budgets.
"The threats Turkey faces are multiple and varied compared to most European states," the procurement official said. "Our geopolitical and strategic realities more than justify the spending increase."
Some of the programs based on the acquisition of foreign technology, in addition to weapons systems, aim to provide the local industry with the capabilities Turkey needs to independently possess in the future, he said.
KURDISH GROUP EXTENDS OFFER OF FRIENDSHIP TO TURKISH HIZBULLAH
The co-head of a pro-Kurdish group in Turkey has extended the hand of friendship to the illegal organization Hizbullah as long as it lays down its arms and addresses Kurdish people's political status, news wires reported Monday.
The Democratic Society Congress (DTK) an umbrella organization of pro-Kurdish groups, is open to everyone following those principles, co-leader Ahmet Türk said in a press conference in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır.
Türk's comments came in response to a question about the statement of Abdullah Öcalan, the convicted leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) on the recent release from jail of Turkish Hizbullah members whose legal cases at the high court had not come to a conclusion in 10 years' time.
"These Hizbullah members can be talked to, if they do not aim to follow their former style. If they have [admitted their wrong-doing], if they have learned from their mistakes, if they [aim to operate] on legal grounds, they can be called and represent themselves in the [DTK]," a pro-Kurdish news agency quoted Öcalan as saying, based on the notes of his interview with his lawyers.
If Hizbullah members cannot meet these conditions, there will be no space for them in Diyarbakır, Öcalan said, adding that the legitimate self-defense of Kurds is his priority.
Hizbullah, unrelated to the Lebanese Hezbollah, is regarded as responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people during the mid-1990s, the worst years of the conflict between Turkish government forces and the outlawed PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Türk, and other representatives of the DTK, and pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) held the press briefing to address an ongoing case against the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) the alleged urban wing of the PKK. The DTK is a civilian organization that is open to everyone, is based on people's democratic rights and freedoms and respects all beliefs, differences and identities, Türk said, the Anatolia news agency reported.
Murat Karayılan, one of the PKK leaders based in the Kandil Mountains in northern Iraq, meanwhile accused the Turkish government of trying to resurrect Hizbullah. "Hizbullah should not be a tool for the state's and government's games anymore. What they should do is to make society forgive them," Karayılan said, according to the pro-Kurdish Fırat news agency. "Because from now on, having the role of a knife in [the heart] of Kurdish society is an attempt with no results."
Hizbullah came to prominence in the late 1980s in southeastern Turkey. Some experts say its aim is to destroy the secular order and spread "true Islam" throughout the country, by force if necessary. However, strong claims have surfaced that it was the state itself that established the organization to fight the PKK, through illegal means, such as summary executions.
While pro-Kurdish circles claim Hizbullah was used a weapon against the Kurdish political movement, the organization also became known after dozens of hogtied bodies were discovered in mass graves in the year 2000. The public relived those days of horror when five Hizbullah members, two of whom were allegedly leaders of the organization, were freed last week under a new regulation that came into effect with the new year.
Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-head of the BDP, said in the same press conference in Diyarbakır that it is not right to discuss the issue only in regard to the release of Hizbullah members.
"We consider it right to see the whole picture. No one in Turkey right now feels under the security of the judiciary," Demirtaş said. "The principle of having a fair trial is universal, but we see that no one in Turkey trusts the judiciary anymore. This is not only about latest releases."
The KCK case that was the subject of the press conference is set to resume Thursday after a break. Almost 200 people, including local Kurdish politicians and mayors of Southeast Anatolian cities are among the defendants and were under arrest for almost two years. Hearings last year focused on the demand of the defendants to defend themselves in Kurdish, their mother tongue, and the court's rejection of that demand. The DTK and the BDP jointly asked for release of defendants.