The following are translations of excerpts from the Turkish press.
ONE FREE CHOPPER TO TURKEY
The Undersecreteriat of the Defense Industries (SSM), executed the penalty clause in the contract between Sikorsy Aircraft and the SSM, regarding the purchase of 24 S-70B SeaHawk choppers.
The delay in delivering the helicopters was the reason cited by the SSM for invoking the penalty clause. Therefore Turkey will get 25 S-70B SeaHawk choppers for the priece of 24.
TURKEY, QATAR FOREIGN MINISTERS HALT LEBANON MEDIATION
The foreign ministers of Turkey and Qatar said on Thursday they were suspending efforts to mediate Lebanon's political crisis following two days of intensive talks with the country's rival parties. Our "efforts resulted in a working draft that takes into account political and legal demands to resolve the current crisis in Lebanon based on the Syrian-Saudi initiative," a statement said.
"But given certain reservations, they decided to suspend their efforts in Lebanon for the time being and to leave Beirut in order to consult with their leadership," added the statement, issued in the name of Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jaber al-Thani. The Syrian-Saudi initiative reportedly calls for Lebanon to disavow a U.N. tribunal probing the 2005 assassination of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri against guarantees from the Shiite Hezbollah concerning its weapons arsenal.
According to political sources, the working draft drawn up by the two foreign ministers had been submitted overnight to the powerful militant group Hezbollah for approval.
Lebanon is mired in a deep crisis over a dispute between the U.S.-backed Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri — son of the slain ex-premier — and the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah over the U.N. probe.
On Monday, the prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon submitted a sealed indictment in the case, which is now being reviewed by a judge.
Hezbollah has said it expects party members to be implicated by the special tribunal, which it accuses of being part of a U.S.-Israeli plot. The Shiite party, the most powerful military force in Lebanon, forced the collapse of al-Hariri's government last week because of the dispute.
TWO IMPORTANT VERDICTS FROM COUNCIL OF STATE
The Ankara Bar Association has petitioned the Council of State to annul a controversial recent law governing consumption of alcohol and tobacco, saying the government "should protect people from alcohol addiction, not alcohol itself."
News of the petition was announced Wednesday, the same day the country's top administrative court issued a ruling on another topic subject to much heated debate: the headscarf issue.
The Council of State ordered a stay of execution blocking a decision by the Higher Education Board (YÖK) to allow headscarf-wearing female students to take the post-graduate education exam. YÖK President Yusuf Ziya Özcan said the board would object to the council's decision. The petition by the Ankara Bar Association called for the alcohol and tobacco regulations to be canceled in their entirety on the grounds that they are against the Constitution, basic law and the needs of the service industry, and that they give the government "an unlimited power of discretion" to "discipline the people by forcing a new way of life on them." Arguing that "the administration does not have such authority in democratic countries," the association said there is also no legal basis for grouping two different types of products together and regulating them with the same laws. "This relies on the assumption that alcohol is just as damaging as tobacco," the petition said.
The association also objected to regulations restricting alcohol advertisements and limiting access to alcohol for people under the age of 24. It said other articles harm catering businesses, "openly prevent consumers from obtaining alcohol" by regulating the size of alcoholic beverages that can be sold at markets and "obscures freedom" by banning the drinking of alcohol at places such as the seaside and picnic areas.
The Council of State's decision on the headscarf issue comes in response to the removal, in October, by the Student Selection and Placement Center (ÖSYM), which falls under the authority of YÖK, of a provision restricting women who wear headscarves from taking the Academic Personnel and Graduate Education Exam.
The move followed attempts during the same period by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to allow headscarves in universities.
The Education and Science Employee Union (Eğitim-İş) filed a complaint against YÖK at the Council of State later in October, arguing that the change contradicted earlier decisions issued by the European Court of Human Rights and Turkey's Constitutional Court and Council of State, as well as national regulations on the issue.
The court based its stay of execution decision on those precedents, saying also that the change would likely hinder exam safety and physical recognition of candidates.
The AKP reacted to the decision, calling it ideological.
TURKEY'S MAIN OPPOSITION SETS VICTORY BAR AT 40 PERCENT
With five months to go until the general elections, Turkey's main opposition is seeking to bolster its support through new proposals and outreach in an attempt to achieve its target of 40 percent of the vote. Key within this strategy is increasing its appeal to the electorate in Southeast Anatolia, a region where the Republican People's Party (CHP) has historically been weak.
"We want to embrace the people in this region. We don't say that we will have deputies from each province in the upcoming elections, but we will surely make it [happen] in future polls," Sezgin Tanrıkulu, the CHP deputy leader responsible for human rights issues, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. He said he believes the party has the potential to elect deputies this year from the provinces of Diyarbakır, Mardin, Şanlıurfa, Van and even Bingöl.
The possibility of the CHP creating a post-election coalition with the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has also been a subject of much debate following comments by CHP deputy leader Gürsel Tekin. He said the CHP could form a coalition government with the MHP if the two parties' total seats in Parliament following the June general election exceeded those held by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
"Our goal is to govern on our own. We clearly see an increase in our votes. But if we cannot make it [on our own], would it be the end of the world?" Tekin said Wednesday, responding to questions on his earlier remarks about a potential alliance with the country's main nationalist party.
"Coalitions exist everywhere democracy functions. I am not saying something new," Tekin said. "Turkey has been experiencing different coalition governments over the last 30 years. What I say is that we cannot know what will happen tomorrow."
The election in May of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu as the CHP's new leader has brought renewed attention to the social democratic party, which has been out of government since the mid-1990s. Though Kılıçdaroğlu has strengthened his position by creating a fresh party administration with many new faces, some public-opinion polls show the CHP still has a lot of ground to cover in order to beat the AKP, which has won two terms in government and is expected to get around 45 percent of the votes in June.
"We set goals. Our goal is to get 40 percent of the votes," Kılıçdaroğlu told the daily Cumhuriyet on Wednesday, without detailing how this target would be met. Other CHP officials have said that the initial target for the party, which received 28.2 percent of the votes in the 2009 local elections, is to pass the 35 percent threshold. Deputy leader Tekin believes the CHP can get "something between 37 and 40 percent."
Emphasizing that the preparatory work for shaping a strong election strategy is still underway, CHP deputy leader Erdoğan Toprak told the Daily News on Tuesday that "all branches of the party are very actively working to prepare a good [strategy]." With the party's primary purpose of reaching all segments of society in mind, he said, the issues of poverty, corruption, economic mismanagement and other socioeconomic concerns will top the CHP's election agenda.
"We will continue to reach out to the people in every corner of our country. We are having a very positive reaction wherever we go," Toprak said. "We hope to continue on this track and have a good result out of the elections."
The CHP expects its most important tool for attracting voters in Southeast Anatolia, a predominantly Kurdish region, will be the "Kurdish report" it plans to release in the coming months. "There is an expectation from the CHP. We are aware of it and we are planning to introduce [the report] soon," Tanrıkulu said. Noting that the party had prepared a similar blueprint in 1989 that was forward-thinking in defining the problem as the "Kurdish question," he said the CHP is aware of its responsibility in solving the problem. "I do not want to give an estimated vote [from the Southeast]," he said. "But I want to say that our approach to this region will not be limited to the election period."
The discussion of a possible alliance with the MHP is meanwhile seen by some party officials as a way to counter messages from AKP officials who insist the MHP will remain below the 10 percent electoral threshold for representation in Parliament. "The AKP's purpose is to pump negative messages to the nationalist voters to break their ties with the MHP," said a senior CHP official. "The message we give aims to prevent traditional nationalist voters from voting for the AKP or other parties that could keep the MHP out of Parliament."
TURKEY TO BE INVOLVED IN IRAN TALKS IF NEEDED
Another challenge to Turkey in balancing the interests of its Western allies and its Eastern neighbors is coming as Istanbul is set to host a second round of nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers. Although Turkey's role has officially been limited to hosting the talks, the possibility of active Turkish involvement in the facilitation of the talks should not be excluded, diplomatic sources say.
Turkey recently found itself squeezed between France and Iran while looking for a way to solve the government crisis in Lebanon. It is set to again face a similar challenge in balancing the interests of its Western allies and its Eastern neighbor, as Istanbul is set to host talks on Tehran's nuclear program.
Although Turkey's official role is limited to hosting the talks between the six world powers – the so-called P5+1 (the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France and Germany) – and Iran, the possibility of active Turkish involvement in facilitating the talks has not been excluded.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is expected to host a dinner Thursday night prior to the majority of the talks and Turkish involvement in the talks will be limited to strictly hosting the event, EU Foreign Affairs chief Catherine Ashton said last week when she was in Istanbul in preparation of the talks.
"The Turkish position is clear. Foreign Minister Davutoğlu will host the dinner and then go to his room and wait if there is a need for his intervention. He won't get involved unless he is asked to," a well-informed diplomatic source told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.
However, the likelihood of Davutoğlu's inaction is very slight. Few expect him to sit and wait in his room, not only because of his eagerness mediate but also because Iran wants greater Turkish involvement.
"We know that Iran wants to get us involved in their favor. But we will not fall into that trap," said a Turkish official. Davutoğlu, who hopes to make Istanbul a center for mediation, will be faced by the challenge of a fine balancing act.
Turkey, together with Brazil, brokered a nuclear swap deal with Iran last May that was ultimately rejected by the Western powers. Turkey's subsequent vote against sanctions being placed on Iran sanctions at the U.N. fueled speculations about the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), government's drifting away from the West.
Turkey's performance at the Istanbul talks will prove to be a new test case as more and more European states are questioning whether Turkey is an ally or not. As an EU candidate, Turkey needs to align its foreign policy with that of the EU, yet the alignment has been viewed as looser and looser since the AKP's rise to power.
Yet Turkey's recent assertive foreign policy posture is based on the postulate that it can not remain idle in the face of developments in its region. Turkey is one of the countries that will be most affected by the nuclear standoff between Iran and world powers.
Experts are not hopeful for a breakthrough in Istanbul. "There is no reason to believe there can be a breakthrough. The best result will be for the parties to agree to meet again," said a French expert.
"There is complete deadlock. Iran has not given any sign that it is ready to implement a U.N. Security Council resolution and the P5 plus 1 have not given any signs that they will back down," said Bruno Tertrais from the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research. While he said the Tehran nuclear swap deal is technically on the table, he also said the likelihood of reviving the deal was low.
"In any case the deal needs to be updated, as conditions have changed since then. For one thing, Iran has continued to produce enriched uranium."