TURKEY ADVISES US TO GIVE AL-ASSAD MORE TIME FOR REFORMS
Despite growing international pressure on the Syrian leadership, Turkey believes Bashar al-Assad's regime should be given more time to make reforms, thereby giving a clear message to the United States that any untimely intervention would be unwelcome.
"We want a smooth transformation and an orderly transition," a senior Turkish Foreign Ministry official told the Hürriyet Daily News on Tuesday, after a meeting between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone.
The meeting came a day after a senior American military official held talks in Ankara and in İzmir with top Turkish generals. Syria was the key issue discussed during the meeting between Ricciardone and Erdoğan, according to Turkish diplomatic sources. They said the envoy conveyed messages to Erdoğan from U.S. President Barack Obama.
"The number-one issue was Syria, but all the regional developments were discussed," a Turkish diplomat told the Daily News on Tuesday. The diplomat refused to give more information on the content of the Erdoğan-Ricciardone meeting, which took place at a heliport in Ankara, but said Erdoğan also dispatched his messages to Obama.
The Ankara-Washington dialogue has coincided with growing concerns over regional stability in the wake of the growing uprising in Syria and the recent tension on Israel's borders with Syria and Lebanon, where operations during protests to mark the anniversary of Israel's founding claimed the lives of nearly a dozen people. Damascus became the focal points of criticism by the international community amid the ongoing "Arab Spring" when it opted to suppress mass protests through excessive use of force that has left more than 1,000 people dead. Turkey has been advising Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's government to immediately implement reforms to calm the situation, but has become frustrated at its recalcitrance.
The international community has voiced its intention to impose more pressure on Syria through financial sanctions. U.S. President Obama is also expected to outline his country's new Middle East strategy in the coming days.
"Turkey's, and in particular the prime minister's, initiatives in the region are always very important for us. That is why we are following them very closely. That is why I came here [to meet]," Ricciardone told reporters after his meeting with Erdoğan.
The importance of the Ricciardone-Erdoğan meeting was heightened by the fact that it came just a day after the visit to Turkeu of U.S. Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.. Cartwright held talks with Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner and visited the NATO Command in İzmir.
According to a diplomat, the primary focus of the talks was the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, but the military officials discussed various matters of common interest, including the NATO operation in Libya and general developments in the Middle East.
"Terrorism is a problem of the region [the Middle East]. We have talked in this frame," Ricciardone said, adding that Turkey and the United States are allies and are frequently holding similar talks to exchange views.
The U.S. ambassador has rebuffed Ankara's criticisms that Washington was not backing Turkey's fight against PKK terrorism at the same level as Turkey supported the U.S.'s global fight against al-Qaeda.
"Absolutely this [claim] is nonsense. This is disinformation, a myth, a lie. If there is any country that does more than we do to help Turkey in its fight against terror, I'd like to know [about it]," Ricciardone told the Anatolia news agency last week. He added that the financial cost of U.S. intelligence assistance to Turkey was nearly $400 million annually.
Both Cartwright and Ricciardone are also likely to have discussed with their Turkish counterparts Turkey's active participation in the NATO military operation against Libya. Although Turkey is part of the NATO operation, it has rejected strikes on Libyan targets.
Apart from the Libya operation, Turkish and American officials are believed to have discussed NATO's missile defense project, which envisions the deployment of a radar system on Turkish soil. Though Turkey has not ruled out such a deployment, it is continuing to negotiate its technicalities. The matter will be reviewed during a summit of NATO defense ministers in early June.
TURKEY WILL NOT WITHDRAW FROM UN'S GAZA FLOTILLA PANEL, FM SAYS
Despite its dissatisfaction with how a U.N. inquiry into an Israeli flotilla raid is progressing, it is out of the question for Turkey to withdraw from the panel, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Tuesday.
"Talks continue. However, our reaction will not be positive if a stance contradicting the U.N. report of last year is taken," Davutoğlu told a TV program.
"Currently, there is a norm in the United Nations on the issue. This norm will be damaged if some bypass this norm and approach [the issue] with a tone that says this incident is a crisis between Turkey and Israel and both parties have to be reproached," the foreign minister said. "The U.N. would contradict itself [if it does so]. We will not accept this."
Turkey has reportedly been threatening to drop out of the U.N. panel investigating Israel's deadly raid last year on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla led by the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara, upset with wording in a draft report that it sees as favoring the Israeli view. Ankara's strong reaction to the draft wording, which falls short of saying Israel violated international law in the raid, has delayed the announcement of the panel's findings.
Asked to comment on reports that Turkey could withdraw from the panel, Davutoğlu said this was out of the question. "This is not the first U.N. report [on the flotilla raid]," he said. "The U.N. Human Rights Commission released a report last year and said the embargo imposed by Israel [on Gaza] was illegal, Israel's killing of people [on the Mavi Marmara] constituted an international crime and that Israel violated international law."
According to Davutoğlu, Israel has perpetually delayed its report on the incident.
"Meetings of the commission and negotiations continue. I have also told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that this is not a commission to reconcile Turkey and Israel, but to serve justice," he said. "Why were nine civilians killed? Who dares to kill civilians in international waters? We want this to be described. We do not want a mediator with Israel."
An Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla killed nine Turks and wounded many others May 31, 2010. The U.N. Human Rights Council set up the international fact-finding mission June 2, 2010, to investigate violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human-rights law, resulting from the Israeli attack on the flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian assistance.
Davutoğlu said in the same TV program that Israeli Ambassador to Ankara Gaby Levy had been summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry and warned about recent developments. "What Turkey expects to prevent the repetition of similar incidents to the Mavi Marmara attack has been relayed to the ambassador," he said.
Asked whether the low Turkish participation in celebrations to mark the anniversary of Israel's founding, which no one from the Turkish Cabinet attended, was the result of a diplomatic boycott, Davutoğlu said it was not right to make that assessment.
"It is very meaningful that nobody went there although there was not a boycott decision," Davutoğlu said, adding that Israel should take this into serious consideration; he called on Israel to review its stance and show respect to the Turkish nation.
"Normally, we are careful about the national days of other countries. If they [Israel] want our friendship, the criterion for this is clear: Israel should admit its crime and compensate [us]for it," he said.
Asked about news reports that a second flotilla is preparing to set sail a short time before the anniversary of the Mavi Marmara attack, Davutoğlu said "there are demands from the United States and Israel to stop this flotilla. Israeli Ambassador Levy came to the Foreign Ministry and said stop the flotilla."
The foreign minister added that it was not right for Levy to come to the ministry to make such a warning. "No ambassador can come to the Foreign Ministry in Ankara to make such as warning," he said.
"On the contrary, Deputy Undersecretary Halit Cevik recalled the Israeli ambassador upon my directive, gave messages and made serious warnings over the recent developments," Davutoğlu said, calling again for Israel to first compensate [Turkey] for the mistake it made last year.
SURPRISE DEVELOPMENT IN "LIGHTHOUSE" CASE
German judge Horst Zimmerman says he is reluctant to file the second case on "Lighthouse" because he is quiet sure that Turkey will not arrest and extradite the primary suspects, Zahit Akman (former chairman and current member of the Radio Television High Council) and Zekeriya Karaman (owner of the private TV Channel 7) to Germany. The judge says the Franfurt Public Prosecutor's office sent a request for the second file on Lighthouse Case, but that he did not decide it yet because of his concerns about Turkey's approach.
ANOTHER BLOODY PROPHECY
Journalists Emre Uslu from the daily Taraf and Abdulkadir Selvi from the daily Yeni Şafak, who earlier correctly guessed where and when outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, terrorists would stage an attack, warned yesterday about the northern provinces of Bolu and Karabük. They said the target could be the Bolu part of the highway or the Bolu Commando Brigade.
MARCH 1 WAS A MISTAKE
The book The End of Terrorist Organizations, written by retired Gen. İlker Başbuğ, the former chief of General Staff, will make a great impression. Here are some important points from the book:
Turkey missed the opportunity to marginalize the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, terrorist organization when the March 1 motion was rejected in Parliament.
The PKK's founding target was to establish a great Kurdistan state. When this failed, its aim became to establish a democratic republic.
Europe saw that the PKK would not be successful with weapons, and thus did not object to the capture of PKK chief Abdullah Öcalan.
MERKEL MAY OPPOSE DERVIŞ'S IMF PRESIDENCY
After International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested on charges of sexual assault, a debate has begun on who could be the next IMF president. Among the candidates are Turkish Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek and former Turkish State Minister Kemal Derviş. The Wall Street Journal said in an article that Derviş could be a strong candidate for the IMF presidency if he wanted to vie for the job. However, the paper added that German Chancellor Angela Merkel may oppose Derviş's candidacy.
SYRIA 'OFFENDED' BY TURKISH PM'S STATEMENT, ENVOY SAYS
Syria is offended by some remarks by Turkish leaders that are seen as domestic political ploys ahead of the June 12 general elections, the Syrian ambassador to Ankara told the Hürriyet Daily News on Monday.
The envoy said that Syria had conveyed its displeasure to Turkish authorities in Damascus over Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's remarks comparing the Halabja massacre carried out by Iraq's Saddam Hussein with the Syrian administration's recent crackdown on protesters.
"What has happened that really did not go over very well in Syria is the linkage between what has been going in Syria and what happened in Halabja," Ambassador Nidal Kabalan told the Daily News.
"We never presume there is bad will on the part of Turkey. Maybe it was meant to convey a message; it conveyed a negative one. It was not a crisis. We said we did not like it," Kabalan said. The envoy suggested that the upcoming elections in Turkey might have impacted Turkey's attitude on the uprisings in Syria, which turned from support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at first to criticism of the regime's bloody crackdown on protesters.
"We understand there has been a change [in Turkey's approach to the Syrian turmoil] mainly for some local considerations. The elections are a key factor and it is putting everybody in an awkward position," he said.
Kabalan said Damascus understands that Erdoğan and the country's "Turkish friends have been worried about" what is going on in Syria due to concerns over regional security and stability.
"In Halabja, Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons to annihilate the whole population. What is happening in Syria is actually some small army units confronting gangs who are killing the police," the ambassador said. He added that Syria had expressed its discomfort to Ankara "within the framework of friendship," and can "differentiate between those who want to interfere in [our] internal affairs and those who criticize Syria because they love Syria."
While underscoring Turkey's special place as a friend, Kabalan also signaled disappointment with some critical statements from Ankara. "When Israel attacked the Mavi Marmara, al-Assad came to Istanbul and met with the Turkish president and prime minister," the ambassador said, referring to Israel's raid last year on a flotilla of Gaza-bound aid ships. "He said whatever action Turkey decides [to take] against Israel, we are with you all the way, including if Turkey decides to wage a war. This is the principle stance of a friend."
"The Syrian people do not like a lot of things that have happened in Turkey. They were expecting a completely different attitude," he added. "But we understand that the Turkish government is at a very sensitive juncture. You have the elections [coming] and everybody is tense."
Kabalan said what Syria would like was "a very clear Turkish commitment to the security [and] stability of Syria and a very clear commitment to preserve the historical achievements of the two countries in recent years."
"The conspiracy has finished in Syria," he added. "We could focus with Turkey once again on the joint interests that have brought us closer in recent years, putting what has happened behind us."
The Syrian administration has also been irked by the meetings of Syrian opposition figures in Istanbul in April. "I think Turkey has been trying to play a role, maybe which, in principle, has a good intention, but the Muslim Brotherhood, those who have taken part in armed operations against the Syrian army in 1980s, have Syrian blood on their hands," Kabalan said.
"For us, the Muslim Brotherhood is like the PKK is for Turkey," he said, referring to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. "The Muslim Brotherhood has been attacking the army. You have to understand that sensitivity."
Kabalan said the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood had been engaged in a dialogue with the Syrian government, but added that he was talking about the military wing of the group.
"At the gathering in Istanbul a press conference was held by Riad al-Shaqfa, a mentor of the Muslim Brotherhood. It was carried live on Al Jazeera – an unwelcome development, I have to be honest. We did not like it. You should not give a platform to people with blood on their hands," he said.
"The issue is who is meeting and what the decisions are. If it was a meeting to initiate a peaceful constructive dialogue with the country, it was not a problem," Kabalan added.
The meeting was organized under the auspices of the Independent Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association, or MÜSİAD, but the financer and the real organizer was Gazi Mısırlı, one of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and a Syrian who has been living in Turkey with Turkish citizenship, Kabalan said.
"When President al-Assad came to Istanbul [in 2009], Mr. Erdoğan introduced this guy and said, 'Please, my brother Bashar, help this man.' Mısırlı is the financer of most of the actions," the ambassador said. "He was welcomed by Bashar al-Assad personally to go back to Syria. This was a year and a half ago, and he did not give one single answer."
"We are very sorry for every single drop of blood that has been shed on Syrian soil. Syrian blood should be spread in Palestine, in fighting Israel, not in fighting in Syrian cities," he added.
Kabalan said the unrest in Syria was almost over and that the government had obtained confessions from arrested armed people of at least 11 nationalities, including those from Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Eritrea and Somalia.
Asked about criticisms that al-Assad's regime is slow in acting on reforms, the envoy said such changes take time, citing the Turkish government's efforts to change the constitution over the past four to five years.
Turkish experts who visited Damascus have contributed to legislation on a multiparty system, a new law for local administration and a law on peaceful demonstrations, he said.
TURKISH GOVERNMENT BLAMED FOR INCREASING VIOLENCE
Government "pressure and violence" are responsible for the recent tension in the Southeast, prominent pro-Kurdish politician Gültan Kışanak has said, ahead of a planned election-campaign visit to the region by the prime minister.
"Does the prime minister think he can solve the Kurdish issue by holding an election rally in the region for an hour surrounded by armored vehicles? The prime minister needs to ask himself how he can solve the issue through cruelty and pressure," Kışanak, the former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, told the Hürriyet Daily News.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is set to hold an election rally Thursday in the Southeast Anatolian province of Siirt, where Kışanak is running for Parliament as an independent candidate supported by a BDP-led coalition. Erdoğan is scheduled to hold election rallies Friday in Van, and Saturday in Hakkari.
"It's not even political anymore. This is a public outcry of people saying, 'Enough, we will not accept this cruelty anymore,'" Kışanak told the Daily News. "If the government continues with this stance, the people will resist with everything they have on hand."
Accusing the government of acting in order to win "a few nationalist votes in the west," Kışanak said that these remarks have increased "the level of pressure and violence" until the situation has now reached unbearable levels. "This is not a threat, it is an outcry," she said.
The parliamentary candidate also discussed her experience as part of a group of 300 BDP supporters that crossed the Turkey-Iraqi border Monday to retrieve the bodies of some of the 12 alleged members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, killed by the Turkish military during operations Friday and Saturday.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
The military blocked the BDP convoy carrying the bodies on its way back to Yemişli village; the military seized the corpses, which will undergo autopsies. The military also detained some of the people who crossed the border and entered Iraq.
"There was no border violation," Kışanak said. "The military guard post is beyond the border anyway. When we got there, the district governor, prosecutor, doctor and commander were already there. The government passed the border, and it's a problem when a minister goes there?"
The three-day struggle to reclaim the bodies of the alleged terrorists has met with no success, according to Kışanak, who said that relatives of the deceased want the bodies to be given to them or to be allowed to pick them up. She said the family members were met with violence when they tried to get the bodies from across the border.
"They open fired against thousands of villagers who wanted to retrieve the bodies of their relatives. I called the Şırnak governor and the interior minister. They told me to call the General Staff. If a woman hikes up into those hills with a 6-month-old baby in her arms in order to pick up a dead body, we have reached the final point," said Kışanak.
"The bodies were out in the field for four days, and then seized for autopsy after the villagers came to take them home. Villagers who resisted were fired upon," she said. "The prosecutor shouted for them to stop. Things could have turned out horribly if the prosecutor had not been there."
Saying that a mortar exploded 100 meters away from her during the cross-border mission, Kışanak added: "I witnessed villagers retrieving the bodies while under fire; 2,000 people were virtually taken into custody for hours. They see these people as the enemy. They see these people as slaves. This is not about crossing the border. This is the final point. We have had enough."
According to Kışanak, jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan spoke to the government from behind bars and agreed to extend the outlawed group's unilateral cease-fire until June 15, after the government agreed to stop the military operations. "The government is not keeping its promise," she said.
"The Kurdish people are in their own homelands, and they will not leave. We are not refugees. These are the lands of our ancestors. This is Kurdistan. This is a historical geographical definition," Kışanak said, speaking from the Southeast.
"The Kurdish people will not stop struggling until the cruelty ends," she added. "If the cruelty continues and our people tell us to withdraw from the elections, we will do it. We cannot hold a different stance from the people from whim we are re asking for votes. We are subjected to cruelty just for wanting our language and identity accepted."
Comments by BDP politicians are being regarded as threats, while the Kurdish people are the ones being shot at, Kışanak said. "We live in the shadow of weapons. We have lived under the threat of death for years. But we no longer accept what is being done to us," she added.
The heads of Turkey's 14 bar associations meanwhile expressed concern in a joint statement that operations that could not be initiated in such a manner under normal circumstances had taken place just ahead of the June 12 general elections.