A voice recording of an alleged meeting between Turkey's intelligence chief and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, was leaked to some Web sites Tuesday, purportedly depicting him as "negotiating" with senior PKK members.
National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, head Hakan Fidan and his deputy Afet Güneş met with senior PKK members Mustafa Karasu, Sabit Ok and Zübeyr Aydar, with the participation of a representative from a "coordinator country," probably in Oslo, according to the recording.
The meeting, called the "Oslo Talks," is claimed to be the fifth of its kind, and the first joined by Fidan, and was probably held between mid-April and May 2010, following his appointment to MİT.
The recording was first released by pro-PKK news agencies, but had been withdrawn from their Web sites by late afternoon. The agencies claimed it was planted by anonymous hackers.
"This is a very grave situation," main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu told the Hürriyet Daily News. "If the head of the intelligence service, whose job is to keep the state's secrets, is being tapped, it shows the rulers of this country. This is not an ordinary person. This is the chief of the intelligence."
Kılıçdaroğlu said he did not want to discuss the tape's content since "it would be to the advantage of those who leaked these recordings." He urged Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to take action against illegal wiretapping.
Muharrem İnce, the CHP's deputy parliamentary group leader, however, submitted a written question to Parliament asking Erdoğan about the veracity of the recording. "Did this meeting occur upon your instruction? What is the basis of Hakan Fidan's statement in which he says, 'I am the special envoy of the prime minister?'" İnce asked.
In response to a question on a CNNTürk program, EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış said he was sure the intelligence organization has worked for peace in Turkey but refrained going into detail.
Turkey Consideing Iraq Incursion, Minister Says
Turkey is negotiating with Iraq about a cross-border military operation to crack down on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, a move that could come "at any time," a senior government member said Tuesday.
"Discussions are underway for a land operation," Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin told reporters Tuesday after a meeting with visiting German Migration and Integration Minister Maria Böhmer. "A ground operation could be conducted at any time, depending on negotiations with the neighboring country [Iraq]," the minister added.
The PKK has training camps and command posts in northern Iraq.
Turkey launched a fresh diplomatic campaign targeting Iraq following a rise in PKK attacks since mid-July that has killed dozens of security forces as well as civilians and pushed Ankara to adopt a new anti-terror strategy. Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu paid a two-day trip to Iraq over the weekend, a visit on which Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu briefed Turkish civilian and military officials Monday at a security summit in Ankara.
According to diplomatic sources, Sinirlioğlu's messages to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and the head of the Regional Kurdish Administration in northern Iraq, Massoud Barzani, aimed to impress upon Iraqi Kurdish politicians Turkey's determination to end the terror threat posed by the PKK. The Turkish envoy reportedly made it clear that Turkey would not tolerate the militants' seeking of shelter in northern Iraq, from where they stage attacks on Turkish soil.
He also said Turkey would not hesitate to defend itself if there is no halt in the attacks by the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
"The Turkish delegation is still in Iraq and is still in talks with Iraqi top officials. I can't say what has been concluded from the meetings as talks are still going on," Naseer al-Ani, Talabani's chief of staff, was quoted as saying by Reuters on Tuesday.
One of Ankara's most important demands from Barzani, whose "peshmerga" force of nearly 100,000 fighters controls almost all of northern Iraq, is to cut the PKK's logistic channels.
In addition to the political moves, the Turkish military has been strengthening its forces along the Iraqi border accompanied by reconnaissance flights in the area. The PKK's deadly attack on a military convoy in mid-August pushed the government to launch an aerial campaign targeting terrorist hideouts in northern Iraq, prompting speculation that this could be followed by a ground operation. Turkey's last ground operation into northern Iraq was in February 2008.
A recent PKK attack in Şimdinli, part of Hakkari province on the Iraqi border, killed three civilians and two security force members, fueling anger in the capital. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan denounced these attacks late Monday, vowing that military operations against the outlawed group would continue.
A parliamentary mandate permitting the government to launch a military cross-border incursion into northern Iraq will expire Oct. 17. But the government and the main opposition parties have vowed to extend the mandate for another year.
Next month, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zabari, an Iraqi Kurd, will pay a visit to Ankara to review bilateral relations as well as ongoing the anti-terror fight.
Israel Blocks Peace in Middle East, Erdogan Says
Recognition of a Palestinian state is an "obligation" rather than an option, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in Egypt on Tuesday, calling on all Arab states to support Palestine's UN membership bid this month.
"Before the end of this year, we will see Palestine at the United Nations in a very different situation," the prime minister said. "It's time to raise the Palestinian flag at the United Nations. Let's raise the Palestinian flag and let that flag be the symbol of peace and justice in the Middle East. Let's contribute to securing well-deserved peace and stability in the Middle East."
Palestinians are seeking support for a UN membership bid they plan to launch next week despite U.S. and Israeli opposition. They are preparing to submit a formal request to become the 194th member of the United Nations when the General Assembly begins its meetings Sept. 20.
Erdoğan met the leader of the High Military Council of Egypt, Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and Arab League Secretary-General Nabel al-Arabi during his visit to Egypt on Tuesday before addressing the Arab League. He was scheduled to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later Tuesday night.
In his speech, Erdoğan also said Turkey supports the National Transitional Council of Libya and that the country should be represented in the United Nations with the members of the NTC. Referring to the Libya policies of some Western countries, he added: "The reason why I say all this is not because I think about the rich resources of Libya, unlike some other countries do. I say all this because of my love for my brothers in Libya."
Addressing Arab foreign ministers as he kicked off a three-nation "Arab Spring" tour, Erdoğan also referred to the uprisings that swept Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and continue to rock Syria.
"The legitimate demands of the people cannot be repressed with force and in blood," he said. "Freedom and democracy and human rights must be a united slogan for the future of our people."
Erdoğan, a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, and who has become a strident critic of longtime ally Israel, said Turkey and the Arabs must "work hand in hand with our Palestinian brothers."
"The Palestinian cause is the cause of human dignity," he said.
Commenting on Turkey's dispute with Israel, Erdoğan said it is "out of the question for Turkey to normalize ties with Israel" unless Tel Aviv apologizes for last year's deadly aid flotilla raid, pays compensation to the families of its victims and lifts a blockade imposed on Gaza.
"The biggest obstacle against peace in the Middle East is the mentality of the Israeli government. The Israeli people are under the blockade of the Israeli government," Erdoğan said.
Mentioning the nine Turkish people killed in Israel's attack May 31, 2010, on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, Erdoğan said five Egyptians killed by Israeli soldiers "have the same value for us."
"Israel sees itself above the law," he said, accusing the country of "turning a deaf ear" to Turkey's demands. Earlier this month, Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador and suspended all military ties and defense trade over Israel's refusal to apologize for the flotilla raid.
The Turkish prime minister was greeted by some 3,000 people at the Cairo airport when he arrived late Monday with his wife, children, six Cabinet ministers and a large business delegation to bolster ties with the most populous Arab nation.
Erdoğan's visit to Cairo is his first since the ouster of long-time president Hosni Mubarak in February, and the Turkish prime minister was to meet some of the young activists who spearheaded the popular uprising as well as the country's new authorities.
Around 200 Syrians carrying Syrian flags and pictures of Erdoğan meanwhile protested Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in front of the Arab League building during Erdoğan's speech, calling on the Turkish prime minister to "hang Assad."
Erdogan Calls on Arab Nations to Unite, Raise Palestinian Flag
Tuesday's Arab League meeting in Cairo rang in with a call from the Turkish prime minister for the Arab countries and Turkey to close their ranks so tightly that "even daylight shall not pass between."
"We are living through a turning point in history, and we are called upon to cooperate more closely than ever," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Tuesday at a gathering of Arab League foreign ministers in Egypt.
Speaking at the league's headquarters in Cairo, where he was visiting as part of a three-day tour of Arab countries, Erdoğan called on the Arab countries to strengthen their ties and raise the level of cooperation in the Middle East, as the region is going through a time of rapid transition, which will have a deep impact at the international level.
"It is time for us to take responsibility for our common future," Erdoğan said, adding, "We are entitled to meet the righteous demands of our people using any legitimate means."
He also warned, in clear reference to those leaders still resisting the Arab Spring, that those who choose to reciprocate the demands of the people with blood would face their demise "if not today, then definitely tomorrow." Erdoğan further added that it is time for the Arab countries to reunite and reorganize in a way that will bolster cooperation and support amongst each other, at this time when these nations have "developed a better understanding of one another."
Erdoğan's speech also summarized Turkish foreign policy, at a time when the country is outlining a clear roadmap for its stance toward the Arab Spring nations, as well as Israel, which has recently been facing increased pressure from its own region and strategic allies in other parts of the world.
Erdoğan repeated Turkey's stance against the Israeli administration's refusal to comply with Turkish demands to make amends in the aftermath of the May 2010 flotilla incident.
"While the Israeli administration tries to legitimize itself [in terms of its domestic policy], it takes steps that shake its legitimacy in the region," Erdoğan said, criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's administration for refusing a rapprochement with Turkey, so as not to fall out with opposition figures in the Israeli coalition.
Turkey and Israel were on the brink of reaching an agreement over their diplomatic obstacles when, according to the Turkish side, the Israeli administration withdrew from finalizing an agreement for fear of exacerbating the already hostile mood in Israel's domestic politics.
"The aggression of the Israeli administration has reached levels that threaten the future of the Israeli people," the Turkish leader said, listing again the recent Turkish sanctions against Israel, which was interrupted with supportive applause by the meeting's participants. He also touched on the Israeli blockade on Gaza, saying the Palestinian-Israeli crisis is an issue "that lies at the heart of the conflict in the region."
Erdoğan also suggested that Israel needs to act "reasonably, responsibly and with respect for human life" before the country will be able to break out of what Erdoğan called its "isolation" in the region. The leader ruled out a normalization of relations between Turkey and Israel, unless Israel complies with Turkey's demands: an apology, compensation for the loss of life during an Israeli aid of a Gaza-bound Turkish humanitarian aid ship last year, and the removal of the Gaza blockade that has long been a core issue of dispute between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Erdoğan also signaled in his speech that the dynamics regarding Israel in the region have reached a point of no return, saying that the "status quo is no longer sustainable," and reiterating that Turkey will be taking the issue of the Gaza blockade to the International Court of Justice, a move that could seriously cripple Israel's diplomacy with the rest of the world and prove it culpable for past Palestinian damages.
Trying to dispel speculation that Turkey is interested in aiding Libya for financial reasons, Erdoğan stated he is keenly interested in Libya "not like some, who are motivated by an interest the country's resources, but out of love and respect for our brothers in Libya." The leader also repeated his country's support for the National Transitional Council, or NTC, of Libya in uniting the diversity of the country and representing different voices under one roof.
Syrian People Don't Believe in Assad, Turkish PM Says
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Tuesday that he and the Syrian people do not believe President Bashar al-Assad anymore because he has failed to carry out reforms.
"As civilian deaths increase in Syria, we see that reforms have not materialized and they did not speak honestly. It is not possible to believe this. And the Syrian people do not believe in Assad, nor do I. We also do not believe him," Erdoğan said during a speech delivered in Cairo designed to lay out Turkey's vision of the Middle East.
Erdoğan, whose country has urged al-Assad repeatedly to end a crackdown against protesters, stopped short of directly calling for al-Assad's resignation, as have the United States and the European Union.
"Nobody can be a friend with or trust an administration that fires bullets at its people and attacks its cities with tanks," Erdoğan said. "A leader who kills his own people has lost his legitimacy."
Under Turkey's policy of "zero problems" with its neighbors, Turkey boosted its political and commercial ties with Syria, with whom it nearly went to war in the 1990s over members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, having found sanctuary in Damascus. Erdoğan, who earlier spoke at a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers but did not criticize Syria then, is in Egypt as part of a tour of three Arab countries to promote Ankara's blend of Islam and democracy as a model of "Arab Spring" uprisings.
He said Turkey had given every support and chance to al-Assad and strongly urged him to take steps for sweeping reform but he said it can now be seen that reforms are not realized. Erdoğan called on al-Assad to avoid using force and said it is useless to crush the transformation process in Syria with brute force.
Noting that it has a long border with Syria and that Syria's peace is also Turkey's peace, Erdoğan said Syria is moving toward a civil war.
Turkish Businesses Want Strong Trade Ties with North Africa
Turkish business organizations raised hopes on re-launching strong trade ties with Egypt upon Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's official trip to the country hit by political unrest.
The visit, joined by nearly 200 business people, is crucial for Turkish companies in terms of continuing their business and trade in North Africa, according to Erdal Bahçıvan, assembly head for the Istanbul Chamber of Industry, or İSO.
Erdoğan is scheduled to visit Tunisia on Wednesday and Libya on Thursday.
"These visits right after the [political] shift [in Egypt] will show that our relations with the region are for the long term," Bahçıvan said, noting that while the latest political developments in the region have slowed down economic activity, normalization has begun.
Erdem Çenesiz, chairman of the Turkish Enterprise and Business Federation, or Türkonfed, agreed that the timing of the visit was positive.
"Egypt is totally restructuring," he told the Anatolia news agency. "This visit headed by the prime minister and attended by a big group of businessmen is a sign of solidarity to a country that is restructuring and it is important for a country where the economic rules will be redefined, as it is both a show of force and an indicator of our interest in Egypt."
Çenesiz said Türkonfed members in the mission were to hold talks with counterpart organizations in the North African country.
Ali Kibar, head of Kibar Holding, which is active in several businesses including construction, logistics and industry, told Anatolia that the visit would contribute to improving commercial ties with the region.
"The prime minister's attendance along with six ministers marks the importance of the visit," he said.
Libya Grateful to Turkey, Transitional Council Head Says
Mahmoud Jibril, Chairman of the Executive Board of Libyan National Transitional Council, has said that Libya was grateful to Turkey for its great efforts.
Replying to questions regarding Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's upcoming visit to Libya, Jibril said Monday that Turkey was a very special friend of Libya; Turkey extended financial and humanitarian assistance to Libya during its tough days, he said.
Jibril said that many issues would be discussed during Erdoğan's scheduled visit to Tripoli this week.
Erdoğan is scheduled to visit Tripoli on September 15 and meet with Jibril. Erdoğan and Jibril are expected to discuss political transformation in Libya, as well as contributions that Turkey could make to restructuring and economic development process in this country.
CHP Leader Criticizes Government for Handling of 'Lighthouse' Case
Turkey's main opposition party leader has strongly criticized the government's interventions into the ongoing "Deniz Feneri" (Lighthouse) charity embezzlement case, describing the judiciary as "politicized" and the justice minister as untrustworthy.
"The point we are at investigating the Lighthouse corruption case is not promising. There is a politicized judiciary. This understanding is killing off people's trust in the judiciary's verdicts," Republican People's Party, or CHP, chief Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu told the Hürriyet Daily News on Tuesday.
His criticisms came on the same day Kırıkkale Mayor Veli Korkmaz was questioned by prosecutors in the investigation amid continuing accusations by the main opposition that the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, was involved in the scandal.
"The AKP spokesperson said Monday that no party member was ever called by the court, even as a witness. Now their mayor [Korkmaz] has been called to testify. What will they say?" Kılıçdaroğlu asked. Korkmaz has been accused of passing insider information to suspects in the case.
Earlier prosecutors of the case were withdrawn following a probe launched by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, or HSYK, into claims of illegal acquisition of the assets of the detained suspects. One of the detainees, Zahit Akman, was the head of the Supreme Board of Radio and Television, or RTÜK, and a member of the AKP ranks.
"The government's engagement in the case is aimed at protecting the suspects and the Lighthouse charity organization," Kılıçdaroğlu said. Managers in the Germany-based charity organization Lighthouse e. V. were investigated by German prosecutors for claims they had embezzled millions of euros. Three of its managers, all Turkish citizens, have confessed that they embezzled donated money and transferred it to Turkey.
"The AKP brass believes they have come to a point where they can navigate the [Lighthouse case] process. In their eyes, they are confident the AKP will not be negatively affected by the process. This is a very defective process for the Turkish judiciary," the CHP chief said.
Criticizing the recently elected heads of the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Council of State for their silence on these interventions into judicial processes, Kılıçdaroğlu said, "Their silence, for me, is to give consent to what happens."
The CHP leader also expressed pessimism over the possible outcome of the ongoing Lighthouse case.
"The probe into former prosecutors [of the Lighthouse case] was launched on the justice minister's instructions," he said. "This move could be understandable if he had done the same for earlier applications as well. I've made a similar application to the minister over an illegal wiretapping. He did not launch a probe into it. Why not? Because he is no longer a credible person [or] minister."
Kılıçdaroğlu also said the CHP would continue to chase the Lighthouse case despite the government's efforts to dilute it through political interventions.
Forum Aims to be International Platform to Combat Terrorism
The Global Counterterrorism Forum, or GCTF, to be co-chaired by Turkey and the United States, will be an international platform to fight against terrorism.
The forum would not undertake any military joint operation or contribute to any country without its consent or demand, diplomatic sources said Tuesday.
"The forum will not be a mechanism where intelligence is shared, but it aims to be an international platform to combat every type of terrorism, diplomatic sources said.
The Global Counterterrorism Forum will be an informal CT body comprised of 29 countries including Turkey and European Union members. One-third of forum members are Muslim countries, and five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council will also take part in the forum.
Turkey and the United States have undertaken the responsibility to prepare the directives of the forum that will set up its structure and working methods. The forum will be activated with a non-binding political declaration.
The Global Counter Terrorism Forum will consist of a strategic-level Coordinating Committee, co-chaired initially by the United States and Turkey; five thematic and regional expert-driven working groups; and a small administrative unit that the U.S. will host for the first few years.
Initial working groups will focus on the criminal justice sector and rule of law; countering violent extremism; capacity-building in the Sahel; capacity-building in The Horn Region; and capacity-building in Southeast Asia. Additionally, relevant non-GCTF member states and other relevant stakeholders, including the United Nations, regional and sub-regional bodies, and non-government experts, will be invited to participate in the appropriate working group(s) and/or working group activities.
Two preparatory meetings were held in Washington and Istanbul so far to launch the forum.
The GCTF will be launched officially in New York at the level of foreign ministers on the margins of the upcoming UN General Assembly meetings in Sept. 22.
The Cairo Declaration on Counterterrorism is expected to be adopted in the meeting.
Turkey attaches special importance on international cooperation and efficient fighting against every type of extremism and terrorism, particularly PKK terrorism, is among the countries pioneering this initiative.
French Nuclear Blast Not a Big Deal, Cabinet Minister Says
Monday's explosion at a French nuclear-waste processing plant may have invoked terrible memories of Chernobyl in the minds of many, but it did not faze a top French Cabinet minister.
The blast at the Marcoule nuclear site was only an "industrial accident," Eric Besson, the French minister in charge of industry, energy and digital economy, told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview Tuesday in Istanbul, downplaying the incident that killed one person and injured four.
"The accident was minor and caused no leakage or radioactive problem," Besson said, speaking on the sidelines of his talks with Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan during the G-20 Conference on Commodity Price Volatility.
"The blast happened at a furnace used to burn waste, including fuels that had been used in nuclear energy production. [The furnace] had very low level of radiation," the minister said, adding that the accident was "not nuclear, but industrial." Still, he said, France will start a new stress test for its nuclear plants soon.
Besson also told the Daily News that France is "interested" in Turkey's plans to construct two or three nuclear power plants, which he said he discussed with Babacan on Tuesday morning. "France is still interested in taking part in Turkey's nuclear plans. Of course, the final decision will be made by the Turkish government," the French minister said.
On July 29, Tepco, the Japanese operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, withdrew Japan's bid to build Turkey's second planned nuclear plant in the country's Black Sea region.
Speaking to the Daily News, Besson also commented on the debt crisis in the eurozone, which has been sending investors fleeing from French banks, including Societe Generale and BNP Paribas. The markets fear that these banks are holding significant amounts of peripheral eurozone debt, which remains on shaky foundations.
The minister said French banks were "safe," adding that they have been "victims of speculation" in the market. His statement comes as investors are expecting a credit downgrade of French lenders from rating agency Moody's. Regarding Greece's moves to deal with the crisis, Besson said Paris would continue to "support Greek policies, reforms and measures."
Babacan, meanwhile, reiterated that Turkey would be "minimally affected" by the global economic turmoil.
"We are ready for all the scenarios regarding the eurozone crisis," he told journalists, adding that the country should be ready for "a possible earthquake" related to the crisis. "If an earthquake happens to your neighbors, the shocks also affect you," he said.
U.S. Comments on Recent Statements by Turkey, Israel
The United States has said it was pleased with recent statements made by Turkey and Israel.
"We are pleased to see that some of the more extreme statements on both the Turkish and Israeli side, with regard to their relationship, seemed to have been walked back in recent days," Victoria Nuland, spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, said in a press briefing. "We are gratified by that. I think you know that we had been speaking to both sides on that situation. So, obviously, everybody in the region has a responsibility to be urging calm and to be promoting calm.
"I'm not going to repeat here statements made by those two governments. But there were statements made from Turkey with regard to security of the Mediterranean over the weekend. There were statements made by Israel with regard to Turkey's interests, particularly on its border, that were more reassuring than some of the more extreme ideas we'd heard previously," she said.
Replying to a question about a report in the Washington Post on a supposed Turkish request for U.S. basing drones in Turkish territory, Nuland said: "I know you wouldn't expect me to get into intelligence matters here. You know where we are on the PKK. We believe that Turkey has a right to defend itself, that the PKK is a terrorist organization, and we continue to urge and try to facilitate good dialogue between Turkey and Iraq."