The United States has asked Ankara to halt the operations of Iranian Bank Mellat in Turkey and to freeze the assets of Libya's leadership to support international efforts to impose financial pressure on these regimes.

"The most significant existing relationship between Iran and the Turkish financial system is through the Bank Mellat branches in Turkey," David Cohen, acting undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Tuesday.

Bank Mellat has three branches in the country located in Istanbul, Ankara and İzmir.

Cohen held meetings in Ankara with government officials on Tuesday, and convened with banking officials in Istanbul on Wednesday.

The undersecretary's visit was the third of its kind since last August and focused on the full implementation of sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council against Iran, whose nuclear program has caused international controversy.

Turkey's growing trade and economic ties with Iran have resulted in closer financial relations between the two countries – a development that concerns the international community.

"The global financial system has increasingly restricted Iranian access to major banks around the world, and Iran is increasingly turning to the branches of their banks abroad, including the Mellat branches here in Turkey. We are concerned about the continued operation of the Mellat branches here," he said.

UN Security Council Resolution 1929 identified Bank Mellat as a facilitator in hundreds of millions of dollars in proliferation transactions over a period of seven years, he said.

With the European Union delivering a strong blow to the bank's operation in Europe and tougher restrictions being imposed against it by South Asian countries, more financial transactions have begun to flow through the Iranian lender's Turkish branches, the Daily News has learned.

The U.S. believes that these banks are used as a stepping stone in transferring Iranian funds to Europe or elsewhere in return for materials that could be put toward the country's nuclear program.

Turkey aligns its position

Cohen said Turkey's position was "very much aligned in terms of the ultimate objective, which is to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapons capability."

The undersecretary, however, said the international community was still concerned about Turkey's relationship with Iran.

"One of the issues that concerns us is Turkey's effort to increase exports to Iran, which carries with it a substantial risk. If you increase trade and financial relationship with a country like Iran, you risk them taking advantage and abusing that relationship," he said.

"We've seen it here, and elsewhere, where Iran has trade and financial relationships. It is essential that Turkey increases its vigilance of this relationship," Cohen said.

According to Cohen, the Turkish government shares the international community's concerns about Iran's nuclear program for quite obvious reasons.

The U.S. figure also warned Iran's leadership that the West would not forget about it amid the ongoing protests throughout the Middle East.

"The spreading revolts in the Middle East and North Africa will not shift the U.S. and international community's focus on Iran," Cohen said. "It is exactly the opposite. We continue to work with our allies to ensure that sanctions are being applied while looking for additional steps to increase the pressure on Iran."

Freeze Gadhafi's assets

Another important subject raised by Cohen was the assets of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and his family, as well as the Libyan Central Bank's funds in Turkey; the U.N. Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973 call for all such assets to be frozen.

"I have no doubt whatsoever that the Turkish government shares the objective of the U.S. and the international community in applying financial pressure on Gadhafi as a means to encourage him to step aside," Cohen said. "The [Turkish] government has assured us of full compliance with the Security Council resolutions against Libya."

The Daily News has learned that Cohen encouraged the Turkish authorities "to communicate more directly with the financial sector on the obligation to freeze any assets in the Turkish financial sector."

The international media have accused Turkey of not freezing Gadhafi's assets in Turkey to avoid hurting the country's multibillion investments in Libya.

Washington believes that Gadhafi's family and Libyan investors have assets in Turkey, the Daily News has learned.

Turkey finds claims unfair

The Turkish government, meanwhile, does not share many of the criticisms raised by the American government. "We have never said that we won't abide by the U.N. resolutions. We implement them. In the case of Iran, we recently stopped an Iranian plane," a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

"On Libya," the official added, "there is great unfairness against Turkey. They should better answer how the Libyan leadership could transfer billions of dollars and pounds to the United States or to the United Kingdom during the strict embargo imposed on Libya."

President Abdullah Gul spoke on the fourth anniversary of the April 27 e-memorandum. Gul said, "April 27 has been relegated to the pages of history. There were lessons to be taken, and these lessons have been taken. Turkey has overcome the risk of military interventions." However, the article 35 of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) by-laws should be amended.


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday announced a massive project to construct a new water passage through western Istanbul province, broadcaster CNNTürk reported.

The new passage, named "Channel Istanbul," is planned to be built on the outskirts of the European side of the city, will connect the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea and is planned to be 45-50 km long, the prime minister said at a conference in Istanbul.

The project is aimed at reducing the amount of transit vessels passing through Istanbul's Bosphorus to zero, Erdoğan said. He did not mention the exact location of the channel or how much it might cost, but said, "There will be no problems financing it."

Preliminary studies of the project will take two years, Erdoğan added.

In 2008 Erdoğan announced he had a "crazy project" in mind for Istanbul and that he would unveil it when it was ready.

Renowned economist Prof. Dr. Nouriel Roubini said that the Turkish Central Bank should be supported by economic policies. Roubini said that the current account deficit and high domestic demand posed a risk to the Turkish economy.

ASAD: Reforms will continue
Turkey's warning to Damascus forced Bashar al-Asad to take steps. Al-Asad phoned Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and said that he was behind his promises. "Reforms in Syria will continue," al-Asad told Erdogan.

The United States is on alert for an intervention. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's envoy will go to Damascus to make a last warning to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. U.S. President Barack Obama has given 72 hours of deadline to al-Assad, and the deadline will end on Friday. Ankara will undertake a critical role to solve the crisis. The United Nations will convene for a special session on Syria and discuss the bloody incidents there.

Professional Turkish soldiers began serving in the southern border, Turkey's National Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said on Wednesday. More and more professional soldiers will begin serving in all corners of Turkey in the near future.


Turkey on Wednesday condemned Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's statement on the incidents of 1915, saying he was just looking after his political benefits and has dealt a blow to efforts to improve ties between the two countries.

ANKARA- The Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Harper expressed one-sided views in his message about the sad part of common history of Turks and Armenians, adding that "It is quite wrong and unfair. We condemn strongly and regretfully, and we reject it."

In his message, Stephen Harper said, "ninety-six years ago, the Armenian people experienced terrible suffering and loss of life. "We must never forget the lessons of history. Nor should we allow the enmities of history to divide us," he added.

In 2006, the Senate of Canada adopted a motion acknowledging the incidents of 1915 as "the first genocide of the twentieth century."

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said that Turkey had displayed significant efforts, especially over the past year, to improve relations with Canada, however, it added that Harper's statement dealt a blow to these efforts.

Turkey said it expected Canada to avoid steps that could have a negative effect on relations that Turkey had been trying to develop in its region, and adopt a stance which would earn trust in bilateral relations.


Turkish finance minister said on Wednesday that although the developments in North Africa and Middle East created some uncertainty for the business world, the region, the world and Turkey would benefit from those developments in long term.

Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek delivered a speech at the 6th Turkish-Arab Economy Forum in Istanbul, and replied to questions.

Turkey always did its best in regard to prosperity, stability and peace in Middle East and Africa, and it would keep doing so, he said. Simsek said that Turkey attached great importance to future of those countries.

"Several Arab countries export crude oil and gas as well as capital," he said. Simsek said that more cooperation was needed in the region and countries should do their best to improve the investment climate.

"Turkey has a customs partnership with the EU. It also has good relations with Russia and the Turkic Republics. Countries investing in Turkey will have several important opportunities," he said.

Simsek said that trade volume between Turkey and Arab world, which had been $6.9 billion USD in 2002 reached to $33.5 billion USD in the recent period.

Iraqi Finance Minister Rafi Hiyad al-Issawi said that the Iraqi government attached a great importance to investments by the private secto,r and especially to the sectors of energy and electricity.

Al-Issawi said that there were important opportunities in the areas of construction, infrastructure, transportation, ports and agricultural fields in Iraq.


Turkey's Parliament Speaker, Mehmet Ali Sahin, said on Thursday that interparliamentary union and solidarity would strengthen unity and brotherhood among nations.

Sahin attended the Second Plenary Session of Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic Speaking Countries (TURKPA), and defined the organization as a concrete reflection of brotherhood based on deep historical, cultural and humanitarian ties.

"I believe that initiatives we will carry out with cooperation and solidarity under this roof will enable us to create a huge prosperous area and to overcome all existing challenges in Eurasia," Sahin said.

The Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic-speaking Countries (TURKPA) was established on November 21, 2008, according to the Agreement signed by the Heads of parliaments of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, and the Republic of Turkey in Istanbul, Turkey.

TURKPA selected as its primary goals the principles of independence; sovereignty; territorial and state boundaries integrity; legal equity; mutual respect grounded on the the principle of non-interference in internal affairs of each other; strengthening political and economic security by refrainment from threats or use of force, or economic or any other pressure; growing national prosperity by means of full and rational use of natural resources; endeavoring to new progress in the spheres of parliamentary diplomacy, establishing new relations, and developing existing ones with parliaments and other international organizations of the countries in the region and all over the world.

Before the meeting, Sahin inaugurated an exhibition on new horizons for independence, development and cooperation of Turkic speaking countries, and visited a Turkic ethno-cultural and ethical world exhibition.


The Kyrgyz prime minister said on Wednesday that his country's future was with Russia and Turkey. Almazbek Atambaev said Kyrgyzstan wanted to establish a customs union with Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus."We will establish an economic union from Moscow to Ankara at the end, and of course the center will be Bishkek," Atambaev told a press conference in Ankara. Atambaev is paying a two-day visit to Turkey. He met Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and attended Turkish-Kyrgyz Business Forum in Ankara.


Turkish President Abdullah Gül returned from Serbia on Wednesday after attending a tripartite summit where he said that Ankara wanted to help the volatile Balkans turn into a stable region, on track to join the European Union and NATO.

Gül attended a tripartite summit between Turkey, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and met with Serbian President, Boris Tadic, and Bosnia and Herzegovina's Presidency Chairman, Nebojsa Radmanovic.

"We see the Balkans as a region at the heart of Europe. Our goal is for this area, once a scene of conflicts, to turn into a region of unity with good cooperation," Turkish President Gül said Tuesday after meeting Tadic and members of Bosnia's tripartite presidency.

"It is our wish that the three Balkan countries strengthen cooperation and move together toward solving ongoing problems. Once this is done, we hope we can all gather under a wider umbrella of the EU and NATO," Gül told reporters.

The leaders of Bosnia, Turkey and Serbia met in the former residence of former Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito in northwestern Serbia to discuss the situation in the Balkans, including the political impasse in Bosnia and the strained relations between Sarajevo and Belgrade.

The tripartite summit aimed at contributing to efforts to normalize the relations between Serbia and Bosnia, and to build confidence between the two countries.

Turkey mediated at a similar summit a year ago in Istanbul; it resulted in an agreement by Belgrade and Sarajevo to improve relations that had been significantly strained since the war over Serbia's support to Bosnian Serbs during and after the 1992-1995 inter-ethnic conflict in Bosnia.

However, several arrests of Bosnian officials on war crime warrants issued by Serbia as well as Belgrade's support for the Bosnian Serbs' plan to challenge central Bosnia's institutions in a referendum, have strained relations between the two former Yugoslav republics.

But Tadic said Serbia wanted the "best possible relations" with Bosnia, adding that Belgrade had no intention of meddling in the neighboring country's internal affairs. Serbia "would never support a referendum that would lead to the division of Bosnia," Tadic said.

"I will never repeat the mistakes of my predecessors, made here in Karadjordjevo," Tadic said, referring to the meetings held here in 1991, when the late Serbian and Croatian presidents Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudjman reportedly planned to divide Bosnia and attach its parts to their own states.

The meeting fueled the bloody interethnic 1992-1995 war in Bosnia which left some 100,000 people dead and almost half of the four-million pre-war populations displaced. "Some very bad and tough decisions have been made in this residence, which had painful consequences for all our citizens," Tadic said.

Zeljko Komsic, a Croat member of Bosnia's tripartite Presidency, which also includes Muslim Bakir Izetbegovic and Serb Nebojsa Radmanovic, said there was "hope" for new relations in the Balkans.

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