The following are translations of excerpts from the Turkish press.
CRITICAL NUCLEAR SUMMIT STARTED
The second round of the P5+1 countries, meeting on Iran's nuclear file, started with the attendance of the U.S., Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom and Germany. Catherine Asthon, High Representative of the EU Foreign Relations and Security Policy, is chairing the P5+1 delegation. The secretary of Iran High National Security Council Said Celili is representing Iran at the summit. Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu says: "We are just hosting the conference. We do not have any intention to mediate the discussions."
THE WORLD IS WATCHING ISTANBUL
As representatives of Iran and six world powers gather in Istanbul for talks on Tehran's controversial nuclear program, opinions are divided as to the meeting's potential outcome. Turkey remains optimistic about a solution emerging while outside experts say the talks are merely symbolic.
Turkey is optimistic about the outcome of nuclear talks in Istanbul between Iran and world powers, saying a modified version of the "Tehran Declaration" it brokered with Brazil would be a "happy ending" for the meeting.
"We still think [the Tehran Declaration] is an opportunity to build confidence [among parties] and could be used in a new form, in a positive way, [if the parties will wish to do so]," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Thursday following a meeting in Istanbul with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.
If a decision is made to reactivate the declaration, Turkey will be ready to help with the process, Davutoğlu added.
The new round of talks on Iran's controversial nuclear program has only symbolic weight, a senior expert said, echoing the comments of several observers and diplomats who expect no breakthrough from the Istanbul negotiations.
The world powers currently see no need for active negotiation with the Islamic republic of Iran– or for Turkey to take a role in the process – according to Bruno Tertrais, a senior research fellow at the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research who focuses on Iran and nuclear issues.
OCALAN BARGAINS WITH STATE
For a long time, Abdullah Öcalan has been in talks with a delegation that visited İmrali on behalf of the state. However, it was said that the talks became deadlocked as Öcalan insisted on being under "house arrest." Öcalan said: "We may start to talk about a cease-fire and laying down arms only if a period of house arrest starts. Otherwise, I will not attend the talks after March."
Öcalan wants to serve his imprisonment terms in a "safe house that will be determined by the state."
Under the law regarding execution sentences, those over the age of 65 and those who were sentenced to imprisonment terms not more than 6 months may make use of house arrest.
Öcalan does not bear the conditions for house arrest as he is 61 years old and sentenced to a life sentence for serious crimes.
MY APPROACH AGAINST ALCOHOL BEVERAGES IS CLEAR
Prime Minister Erdogan has rejected allegations that his government is taking action that intervenes in people's lifestyles, a claim most recently made amid a furor of criticism over new regulations on alcohol sales and consumption.
"We never intervene in anyone's lifestyle and we'd never allow anyone to do that. All the worries on this point are baseless," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Thursday, adding that he and his party have themselves been the target of such attempts, the Anatolia news agency reported.
Speaking to the general assembly of the Turkish Industry & Business Association (TÜSİAD), the prime minister said distrust is pumped into society on issues such as democracy and secularism and that the government has been continuously tested for its sincerity on those issues.
"We are a conservative democratic party. Our personal attitude and stance is clear on certain issues. But we say that imposing personal attitudes and understandings on the rest of society is cruel and unfair," Erdoğan said.
The prime minister specifically criticized reactions against a new regulation that limits where alcohol can be sold and consumed. "I might have a certain attitude against alcohol in my personal life and within my family, but as we are democratic, in addition to conservative, we are very sensitive about not imposing our personal judgments on society," he said.
Erdoğan said the constitution orders the protection of youth from alcohol, bad habits and other addictions, adding that the new regulation is in harmony with practices in the European Union and United States. "Our job is doing this," he said. "We know that freedom should not breach others' freedoms."
In a speech at the same event, TÜSİAD head Ümit Boyner said she is worried about deepening polarization in Turkey due to different lifestyles, something that can also be seen in election results.
Erdoğan also said efforts to prepare a new constitution would be launched immediately after the general elections in June. He added that the new constitution should not be prepared only by constitutional experts, but with contributions from the media and academia as well as other fields. TÜSİAD will announce the conclusions of its work on a new constitution March 22, Boyner said, adding that the group has been discussing constitutional reform on five topics with a group of 25 experts since September. The TÜSİAD head said the group would not declare a new constitutional text but aims to create sensitivity within society by putting forth the views of experts from different perspectives. The five topics TÜSİAD is addressing are the method for making a constitution, fundamental principles and institutions of the constitution in the 21st century, identities, freedom of religion and the separation of powers.
The need for judicial reform that would satisfy people's hunger for justice and give them faith in the law is crucial and deeply felt, Boyner said in her speech. She also emphasized the unsolved murders in Turkish history, such as the murder of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink and journalist Uğur Mumcu. "[Those murders] remind us that justice never fulfilled," she said.
Addressing Boyner's comments, Erdoğan said his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was not in power when Mumcu was killed, but arrested the suspects in the Dink murder within 36 hours after his death. The prime minister also stressed the need for judicial reform, criticizing judges for not concluding cases on time and leading them to be forfeited, and adding that his party would like to reform the judiciary but has encountered impediments. He also criticized the decision by the Council of State, the country's top administrative court, to halt the Higher Education Board (YÖK) decision to allow headscarf-wearing students to take post-graduate exams. During the referendum process for the government-led constitutional reform package in September, Erdoğan had criticized TÜSİAD for not taking sides in the referendum. "Those who do not take sides become disposed," he said.
A statement from TÜSİAD responded by saying it would not make a call for its members to vote yes or no in the referendum.
SOLUTION TO CRISIS IS UP TO LEBANON, TURKEY SAYS
Turkey and Qatar announced Thursday that they have suspended their efforts to break the deadlock between rival parties in Lebanon's political crisis, saying it is time for the Lebanese groups to discuss a solution. Despite the announcement, Turkey remains engaged with the crisis that erupted after the collapse of Lebanon's national unity government, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said at a press conference Thursday.
"After two days of intensive talks with the parties in Lebanon ... we realized there were still reservations [from the Lebanese side]. That is why we [the foreign ministers of Turkey and Qatar] decided to return home," Davutoğlu said after meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, at Istanbul's Çırağan Palace.
The announcement by Turkey and Qatar came a day after Saudi Arabia abandoned its efforts in Lebanon, saying it would no longer attempt to mediate in the crisis and warning that a dangerous situation could lead to the partitioning of the multi-faith country.
Speaking after two days of talks in Beirut with Lebanon's political leaders, Davutoğlu repeated his support for the Syrian-Saudi initiative to resolve the current crisis in Lebanon. The initiative reportedly calls for Lebanon to disavow a U.N. tribunal probing the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in return for guarantees from the Shiite militant group Hezbollah concerning its weapons arsenal.
Lebanon is mired in a deep crisis over a dispute between the Saudi- and U.S.-backed caretaker Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri – son of the slain ex-premier – and the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah over the United Nations probe.
Political sources said the working draft drawn up by the foreign ministers of Syria and Saudi Arabia had been submitted overnight to Hezbollah, according to an Agence France-Presse report.
Turkish and Qatari foreign ministers met separately Tuesday with al-Hariri, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and parliament speaker Nabih Berri. They also met Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, who lives in hiding for fear of assassination.
"We did all we could and presented them with a draft [on how to resolve the crisis], but the final decision depends on Lebanon's side," Davutoğlu said, adding that Turkey was ready to keep contributing to the process should the parties come up with a new approach to a solution. He also said they had consulted other world leaders, including those from the United States and the European Union, on the issue ahead of the talks.
"However, [we believe] that the parties in Lebanon must think over [and look for a solution], rather than us looking for more ways [to contribute]." Davutoğlu said. The Turkish foreign minister added that finding a solution was crucial not only for Lebanon, but also for the entire region. "We hope the crisis does not expand regionally and a solution in accordance with all constitutional and democratic parameters is found," he said.
The Russian foreign minister said his country appreciated Turkey's efforts to help Lebanon solve the crisis. "The parties in Lebanon have proved they can reach a consensus in the past," Lavrov said, adding that the consequences of not agreeing on a solution now would be bad for the country.
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 some of its members to be implicated by the tribunal, which it accuses of being part of a U.S.-Israeli plot, the Associated Press reported. The Shiite party, the most powerful military force in Lebanon, led to the collapse of al-Hariri's government last week because of the dispute.