European Union member Greek Cyprus vowed on Wednesday to keep Turkey's entry talks on hold as long as Ankara challenges the island's rights to launch offshore gas drilling, in an escalating row among east Mediterranean neighbors over hydrocarbon reserves.
Rhetoric over ownership of speculated oil and gas deposits has sharpened after a deterioration of relations between Turkey and Israel, the discovery of massive gas fields by Israel and plans by Greek Cyprus to drill as early as next month.
Greek Cyprus, an EU member since 2004, has blocked the opening of several negotiating chapters in Turkey-EU entry talks. One of those is energy.
"The position of Cyprus has not changed. Turkey must make a formal commitment to the EU that it will end its provocations towards the Republic of Cyprus and stop obstructing Cypriot efforts in the field of energy," said Stefanos Stefanou, the Greek Cypriot government spokesman.
Stefanou's remarks came after the EU Commission, the 27-nation bloc's executive arm, urged the member states for progress in accession talks with Turkey on energy chapter. In a document outlining the EU's energy policy, the Commission said progress in this area will help advance Turkish-EU cooperation and create a solid legal framework for the transfer of natural gas from eastern suppliers to European markets, Turkey's semi-official Anatolia news agency reported on Tuesday.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said last week Ankara was ready to deploy its navy across the Mediterranean in a dispute with Israel over an Israeli sea blockade of Gaza.
Greek Cyprus falls under the radar of the warning since it coincides with its drilling southeast of the island, a right Turkey contests, and possible cooperation with Israel, whose rights to offshore reserves has also been questioned by Ankara.
Turkey says any hydrocarbon reserves do not only belong to Greek Cypriots, but also to Turkish Cypriots, who run their own state in the north of the island.
Turkish Cypriots have not been part of any Cypriot government since 1963, when there was a constitutional breakdown just three years after independence from Britain.
The row could complicate peace talks launched between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides in 2008, while the drilling coincides with a major push from the United Nations to resolve the Cyprus conflict by mid-2012.
"The unilateral actions undertaken by the Greek Cypriots for oil exploration and to determine areas of maritime jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean constitute a serious risk," said Beşir Atalay, a deputy Prime Minister of Turkey.
"If you are sincere about a solution, then you should refrain from doing these things and not create new problem areas," he was quoted as saying by the state-run Anatolia news agency prior to leaving Turkey for Turkish Cyprus for a four-day visit.
Timing of the drilling itself, however, is unrelated to the Cyprus talks and stipulated in contractual obligations between Greek Cyprus and Noble, the U.S. company poised to launch an exploratory drill in one offshore sector southeast of Cyprus around the beginning of October.
Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias on Tuesday denounced what he said were Turkish threats and said the island would press ahead with drilling as its sovereign right.
Noble reported a massive gas discovery off Israel, close to the Cypriot field, last year.
Malatya Set to Host Missile Shield Radar
An early warning radar that Turkey is planning to host as part of NATO's missile defense system will be deployed at a military base near Malatya in eastern Turkey, the Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.
Turkey and the United States have concluded a deal to station an early warning radar system in the eastern province of Malatya as part of a NATO missile defense program to counter threats mainly from Iran.
"The site surveys and relevant legal arrangements have been finalized, and, accordingly, a military installation in Kürecik [in Malatya province] has been designated as the radar site," a Foreign Ministry statement said, adding that the base had been used in the past for similar purposes. The Hürriyet Daily News was the first to identify the location of the radar system in its earlier reports.
The Pentagon has said the radar will be operational by the end of 2011 and will be linked to ballistic missile defense ships operating in the Mediterranean Sea. A high-ranking Turkish military officer is expected to be posted to a NATO anti-ballistic team stationed in Germany.
A document on the deployment of the radar system in Turkish territory has been signed by U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone and Turkey's Undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry Feridun Sinirlioğlu. Though it is a NATO project, the memorandum of understanding was signed between Turkey and the U.S. as the radar will be deployed by Washington.
NATO's new strategic concept, approved last year in Lisbon, calls for the development of an anti-ballistic missile defense system in response to growing threats from Iran and North Korea. Turkey pushed its allies not to single out Iran as the sole threat against NATO and gave its approval to the concept only after its pre-conditions were met. Turkey's announcement early Friday came hours after the Wall Street Journal broke the news on Ankara's decision to join the project.
Turkey's decision to host the radar system caused reaction from Iran, who said the system would create tension and lead to "complicated consequences."
"We expect friendly countries and neighbors ... not to promote policies that create tension, which will definitely have complicated consequences," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in remarks carried by the state television Web site.
Romania Sign Missile Deal
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed an agreement Tuesday to base anti-missile interceptors in Romania under the same NATO missile defense plan that has angered Russia. Clinton signed the agreement with Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi, saying the U.S. expected to deploy the interceptor missiles at a Romanian air force base in approximately four years. President Barack Obama also on Tuesday held unscheduled talks with Romania's President Traian Basescu, to seal the newly signed accord.
Russia has agreed to cooperate on the initiative, but disagrees over its implementation, saying it should be a single integrated shield rather than two separate defense systems. The U.S. originally planned to install its anti-missile shield in Poland and neighboring Czech Republic, aimed at countering Iran. But that plan, which angered Russia after it saw itself as the target for the shield system, was scrapped by Obama in September 2009.
Erdogan's Speech Praised by Egyptians
When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addressed a vibrant crowd at the Opera House in Cairo, his speech was welcomed with great enthusiasm, interrupted many times with cheers, chanting and applause from the crowd in the hall.
The hall was packed with an audience consisting mostly of politicians, former diplomats and activists of the revolution. Edoğan spoke mainly in Turkish, but many times he used Arabic words and sayings.
Erdoğan, who spoke harshly about Israel in his speech, received most of the cheers from the crowd during these statements. He also spoke harshly of the Syrian government, saying he didn't believe al-Assad anymore. His words on al-Assad were also applauded, especially by the members of the Muslim Brotherhood in the hall.
Retired Egyptian diplomat Nagui Elghatrifi, who was one of the audience members, said Erdoğan's speech was "rather sensational." Erdoğan knows how to manipulate the feelings of Arabs in Egypt, Elghatrifi said.
"It was a sensational speech, and what he said will provoke the public. He knows very well how to manipulate Egyptians' popular sentiments. This is very clever of him. He also touched on the Israeli issue in a very clever way. It is clear that the status of Turkey in the Arab world after Erdoğan's tour will be quiet considerable," Elghatrifi said.
Member of the Muslim Brotherhood and associate professor in the engineering faculty at the Al-Azhar University, Aleh Hamudeh, who listened to Erdoğan's speech at the Opera House on Tuesday, said Erdoğan is a trustworthy person.
"We like him and trust him. His fight for the Muslim people in Gaza will always be applauded by Egyptians," Hamudeh said.
Turkish Energy Minister Talks Cooperation in Egypt
Turkey has imported natural gas from five countries and it plans on adding Egypt as the sixth country, Turkish Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Taner Yildiz said.
Yildiz, who is currently in Egypt to accompany Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, told reporters:
"We have signed two agreements with Egypt about energy cooperation, as well as renewable energy resources. I had the chance to hold talks with Egyptian minister of petroleum & metallurgical wealth and minister of electricity and energy," Yildiz said.
"Turkey is working on a master plan for interconnection in the south of Mediterranean including Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Algeria. We attach great importance to this project. Also, we have a system in the north of Mediterranean extending from Spain to Turkey. These projects enable us technically to transmit electricity in the north and south of the Mediterranean.We import natural gas from five countries and oil from eleven countries. Egypt can be the sixth country that exports natural gas to Turkey," he said.
Yildiz told reporters that nuclear energy was also high agenda of his talks with Egyptian ministers.
Erdogan Says Efforts to Legalize Gaza Blockade Illegitimate
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Tuesday that any effort to legalize Gaza blockade was illegitimate, but that Turkey did not have any enmity against Israeli people.
"There is no other remedy than recognition of a Palestinian state in the current stage," Erdoğan said during the International Law Forum organized by Economic and Political Sciences Faculty of the Cairo University.
Erdoğan said the region was undergoing significant changes on one hand, and on the other there were still threats against security and stability.
"The illegitimate and inhumane behaviors of the Israeli government are the most important obstacle before permanent peace and stability in the region," he said, adding that Israel's aggressive policies and rejection of laws and rules could no more be tolerated, and Israel was losing opportunities given to itself.
"It is high time that Israel perceived that the game will not go on this way," he said.
Erdoğan referred to the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara aid ship May 31, 2010 that killed nine Turkish citizens and wounded 70 people from different countries, saying Turkey had given many chances to Israel to compensate for this crime.
"Israel wasted all these chances, and the biggest price Israel paid for this crime is to lose its relations with Turkey, the biggest democracy in the region," he said. Erdoğan said Turkey would continue its measures against Israel unless Israel officially apologized, paid compensation to the families of the victims and end the inhumane blockade on Gaza.
The Turkish premier said a United Nations report clearly showed Israel's crimes and the UN panel's efforts to legalize Israeli blockade on Gaza were unacceptable.
"This fact makes the report invalid for us," he said.
Erdoğan said the report prepared by an independent fact-finding mission of the UN Human Rights Council was essential, and this report clearly stated that blockade was against international law.
"We consider every effort to legalize Gaza blockade as illegitimate," he said.
UN Divided on Gaza Strip Blockade
Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip violates international law, a group of human-rights experts reporting to a UN body said Tuesday, disputing a conclusion reached by a separate UN probe.
Earlier this month, the UN's Palmer Report on Israel's deadly May 31, 2010, attack on a Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship said Israel had used unreasonable force in the raid, but that its naval blockade of Gaza was legal.
A panel of five independent UN rights experts reporting to the UN Human Rights Council has rejected that conclusion, however, saying the blockade has subjected Gazans to collective punishment in "flagrant contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law."
"In pronouncing itself on the legality of the naval blockade, the Palmer Report does not recognize the naval blockade as an integral part of Israel's closure policy toward Gaza, which has a disproportionate impact on the human rights of civilians," the experts said in a joint statement.
Referring to the effects of the four-year blockade, experts said 1.6 million Palestinian people were being deprived of their fundamental human rights and subjected to collective punishment.
"Israel's siege of Gaza is extracting a human price that disproportionately harms Palestinian civilians," the statement said.
Contrary to the Palmer Report's conclusions, the rights experts urged an immediate end to the blockade and called on Israel to "defend the dignity and basic welfare of the civilian population of Gaza, more than half of whom are children."
Anand Grover, one of the special rapporteurs on the rights panel, said some patients in Gaza are unable to get hospital treatment because their permits to travel are denied or delayed. "Israel's obligation to respect the right to health means that it must not deny or limit equal access to health services."
"The Palmer Report was aimed at political reconciliation between Israel and Turkey. It is unfortunate that in the report politics should trump the law," said Richard Falk, another special rapporteur.
About one-third of Gaza's arable land and 85 percent of its fishing waters are totally or partially inaccessible due to Israeli military measures, said Olivier De Schutter, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, adding that at least two-thirds of Gazan households lack secure access to food.
"People are forced to make unacceptable tradeoffs, often having to choose between food or medicine or water for their families," he said.
Speaking in Cairo on Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reiterated that Turkey "consider[s] every effort to legalize the Gaza blockade as illegitimate" and said Turkey would take every measure to ensure freedom of the seas in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
Every settlement Israel established in areas it has invaded is a wall built before a lasting peace, the Turkish prime minister said. He added that he hoped the Israeli people would see where their government's inhuman and illegal policies were taking them, and become aware of the isolation walls their own administration was building.
Israel's public diplomacy minister said Wednesday that he hoped "common sense would prevail" in former friend and ally Turkey over the diplomatic crisis in which the two governments have become embroiled.
"Despite the attempts on the Turkish side to provoke an escalation, we are acting with restraint," Yuli Edelstein told public radio. "We are not pouring gas on the fire, in the hope that common sense will prevail."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to convene a meeting of his eight senior ministers Wednesday afternoon to discuss the serious deterioration in relations with Turkey as well as the diplomatic and legal campaign Turkey is planning against Israel in the near future. Netanyahu intends to calm the situation, but the Cabinet members are also due to consider steps Israel could take in response to the Turkish sanctions.
Muslim Brotherhood Debates Turkey as a Role Model
Renewed debate over the applicability of Turkey as a model for Egypt and other countries in the region has been sparked by the Turkish prime minister's remarks on secularism during a speech in Cairo.
"Turkey is a model for the other countries [in the region]," Mohammed Badie, the general guide of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview Wednesday after meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
"There are very emotional ties between the Turkish and Egyptian people. These ties have been stressed during our meeting with Erdoğan. And we felt that these sentiments are mutual," Badie said, adding that they are very proud of the Turkish presence and the way the Turkish economy is booming in the region.
Other factions in the group, however, criticized Erdoğan's televised remarks in which he called on Egyptians to adopt a secular constitution and said they should "not be wary of secularism."
"We welcome Turkey and we welcome Erdoğan as a prominent leader, but we do not think he or his country alone should be leading the region or drawing up its future," said Essam el-Erian, deputy leader of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party, Reuters reported.
"Arab states do not need outside projects. This has to come from the new internal systems of the Arab countries, which after the revolutions … will be democratic ones," said Erian, who was jailed under former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak.
During his visit to Egypt, the first stop in an "Arab Spring" tour that is also set to include Tunisia and Libya, Erdoğan met with representatives of different political groups in Egypt, ranging from the Muslim Brotherhood to liberal revolutionary youth in Tahrir Square. The Turkish prime minister also held separate meetings with the candidates who will run for the Egyptian presidency in November, including Arab nationalist Hamadein Sabbahi, former Muslim Brotherhood leader Ebul Futuh and former Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa.
PM's Message: 'Be United'
Diplomatic sources said Erdoğan conveyed the message "be united for Egypt" to the different political groups that he met, and demonstrated Turkey's evenhandedness to all the political wings vying for Egypt's presidency by meeting almost all of them separately.
During his visit, Erdoğan showed Turkey's goodwill and intention to support Egypt in the transition process and gave the message of "unity and solidarity for the stability of Egypt" to the parties he met, sources said.
The Muslim Brotherhood's Badie said the group felt very positively about the efforts Turkey has made for Egypt.
"The prime minister has already met the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Egyptian prime minister and they have signed a number of agreements as part of our strategic cooperation," he said. "We hope this cooperation will bear fruit in the future."
Demand of Support from AKP
While in Cairo, Erdoğan also came together with representatives of the different political groups, nongovernmental organizations and academics at a dinner Tuesday.
Representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood asked Erdoğan if his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, can give them support in their politics. Erdoğan replied by saying they are in contact with all the political entities in Egypt and Turkey is ready to help anyone who asks for help.
Turkish Prime Minister Leaves Egypt for Tunisia
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has left Egypt for Tunisia, the second stop of his four-day tour of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.
In Cairo, Erdoğan held a series of talks with Egyptian authorities including Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Abdel Aziz Sharaf and Minister of Defense Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and signed a Joint Political Statement with his Egyptian counterpart about the establishment of a High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council.
Erdoğan also held talks with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Araby and addressed the Arab League Foreign Ministers' Council Meeting as part of his visit to Cairo. Erdoğan attended the Turkey-Egypt Business Forum before proceeding to Tunisia.
In Tunisia, Erdoğan will hold talks with Acting President Fouad M'Bazaa, Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi and leaders of the political parties.
On September 15, Erdoğan will proceed to Libya to meet Chairman of the Libyan National Transitional Council Mustafa Abdel Jalil. Their talks will focus on Turkey's future contributions to Libya's political transition, rebuilding process and economic development.
Erdoğan is accompanied by a delegation of ministers, high-level bureaucrats and businessmen.
U.S. Praises Turkey for Religious Tolerance
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Turkey for its religious tolerance Tuesday.
Speaking at a press conference at the release of the 13th Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, Clinton said:
"We have seen Turkey take serious steps to improve the climate for religious tolerance. The Turkish government issued a decree in August that invited non-Muslims to reclaim churches and synagogues that were confiscated 75 years ago. I applaud Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's very important commitment to doing so."
Senate Committee Approves Obama Nomination for Turkey Ambassador
The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has confirmed President Barack Obama's nominee, Francis Ricciardone, as the country's ambassador to Turkey. The confirmation by the 19-member committee on Tuesday came with a majority vote, while three members voted against Ricciardone's nomination.
Obama bypassed the Senate in December 2010 to appoint Ricciardone to Turkey. Ricciardone can serve without Senate confirmation until the end of the current session of Congress.
Ricciardone's nomination will now go to the full Senate for confirmation. In order to be able to serve as an ambassador in Turkey for the usual period following his one year of temporary service, Ricciardone's confirmation needs to be approved by the full Senate.
The reason for objection by the three senators to Ricciardone -- namely Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Jim Risch, R-Idaho -- was Ricciardone's remarks suggesting that most of the Christian churches in Turkey functioning prior to 1915 were still operating as churches.
The votes cast by these three senators against Ricciardone do not necessarily mean they will also try to block his confirmation at the full Senate, the Anatolia news agency reported, suggesting that the senators might have solely wished that their objections be on the record.
Turkey on Right Side in Israel Crisis, Poll Determines
A recent survey showed that most Turkish people believe Turkey is on the right side in the ongoing crisis with Israel, though only roughly half support the government's policies on the issue.
According to the survey conducted by SONAR, 84 percent of Turks chose their own country when asked "Do you think Turkey or Israel is right in the Mavi Marmara incident and the developments that followed?" Only 3.3 percent said Israel was right.
But support dropped when it came to the government's Israel policy. Support for the ruling Justice and Development Party's, or AKP, policies concerning Israel was 48.5 percent, while 37 percent said they did not approve of the government's stance.
The survey was conducted by means of face-to-face interviews with 3,000 people of different age groups in 30 villages in 26 provinces.
The participants were also asked about their political preferences. The ruling AKP would receive 52.8 percent of the votes if there were a general election today, according to the survey results. The main opposition followed with 22.4 percent; the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, was third with 14.1 percent.
According to the survey results, 70.8 percent of Turkish people thought the most important problem in Turkey was terror, followed by unemployment and problems in the economy.
EU Highlights Importance of Turkish-Iraqi Cooperation
The European Union on Tuesday underlined the importance of Turkish-Iraqi cooperation in combatting terrorism.
The spokesperson of the EU's High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, said the EU was supporting Turkey's fight against terrorism and would continue to make bilateral and multinational cooperation with Turkey in combating every type of terrorism.
In this context, the union highlighted importance of dialogue and cooperation between Turkey and Iraq, spokesperson Michael Mann told AA correspondent. Mann also said countries should respect to human rights in their fight against terrorism.