Turkey has blocked an Israeli move to open a representation office at NATO headquarters, its foreign minister said Sunday, adding that data collected by a radar system in eastern Turkey would not be shared with Israel.

"Israel recently made an attempt to open an office at NATO [headquarters] in Brussels. We said we would veto this attempt and the issue was not even put on the agenda," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said in an interview with the CNNTürk news channel.

A Foreign Ministry official told the Hürriyet Daily News that Israel made the request under NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue program, launched in 1994 with seven Mediterranean countries.

Israel attempted to have its request approved earlier this month after Ankara downgraded ties with Tel Aviv over its failure to apologize for a deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship, the official said, adding that the issue could not even make its way onto NATO's agenda after Turkey threatened to use its veto.

Davutoğlu insisted that information gathered by a U.S.-led radar system, to be stationed in Turkey's Malatya province as part of a NATO missile-shield project, would be available for use only by alliance members, denying suggestions that intelligence would be shared with Israel.

"We will provide support only for systems that belong to NATO and are used solely by members of NATO," he said.

The minister dismissed as "manipulation" a newspaper report that quoted an unnamed U.S. official as saying that data collected by the radar would be used to help defend Israel, stressing that Washington had assured Ankara that no such official existed.

According to a Wall Street Journal report Friday, U.S. officials said they planned to fuse data from radars in Turkey, Israel and other sites to create a comprehensive picture of the missile threat to the region. Turkey, for its part, could also benefit from real-time data from radar the United States already operates in Israel, the report said.

Gaza Blockade Application

In his comments to CNNTürk, Davutoğlu also said Turkey was seeking support from the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the African Union for a planned application to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion on whether Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip was lawful.

"The process will probably reach a certain point in October and we will make our application," he said, adding that the application, which needs the approval of the UN General Assembly, is planned not as a Turkish initiative but as a joint move by regional countries. The move aims to secure a legal condemnation of Gaza's blockade and refute a recent UN panel report that declared the siege lawful. Davutoğlu was scheduled to fly to New York on Sunday for the annual gathering of the UN General Assembly.

Reluctance on U.S. Mediation

Davutoğlu on Sunday gave the cold shoulder to suggestions that the United States might attempt to mediate a solution to end the crisis, saying it was too late now and that mediation efforts usually aimed to produce midway formulas that required concessions from both sides.

"We don't mean that we have closed the door to diplomacy, but we have already been through this process over the past year," he said. "We will not accept any apology [for the flotilla raid] that does not formally and clearly include the word 'apology.'"

Meanwhile, Davutoğlu said that Turkey was not after "exporting a Turkish-type democracy or Turkish-type secularism" to the region, adding that Erdoğan's appeal in favor of secularism in Egypt referred not to hard-line laicism hostile to religion but to the equal treatment of all religious groups.


Turkey Refuses U.S. Mediation in Israel Crisis

Turkey does not need United States' mediation to solve a long-lasting crisis with Israel over a deadly 2010 flotilla raid, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Saturday.

"We do not need mediation ... for Israel in any way," Davutoğlu said during a televised press conference in the central province of Konya when asked to comment on the possibility of the U.S. helping to resolve their differences.

"There is no such situation in which mediation is needed. The demands of Turkey are clear" if its former ally Israel wants to improve relations, Davutoğlu said.

"No one should test our resolve on this matter," he said, adding that Israeli-Turkish relations might be on the agenda among other issues of a meeting between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Barack Obama next week on the sidelines of the UN general assembly.

Israel and Turkey have been locked in a bitter dispute since May 2010 when Israeli naval commandos stormed a convoy of six ships trying to reach the Gaza Strip in defiance of an Israeli naval blockade, killing nine people.

Earlier this month Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador and froze military ties and defence trade deals. Relations plummeted still further when Erdoğan threatened to send warships to escort any Turkish vessels trying to reach Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Obama will discuss the political crisis in Syria and wider turmoil throughout the Middle East in talks in New York on Tuesday with Erdoğan, deputy U.S. national security advisor Ben Rhodes said on Friday. Obama will also likely address the rift between Turkey and Israel.


Obama to Meet Turkish Prime Minister at UN

United States President Barack Obama will meet Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York next week.

Speaking to reporters, the spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, Ben Rhodes, said that Obama will call on Erdoğan to restore and improve relations with Israel.

Rhodes also said that Obama will also meet Israel's prime minister in New York.


Cyprus Drilling Rig to be Blocked

Tension between Turkey and Greek Cyprus is moving toward crisis in the eastern Mediterranean Sea with Ankara's announcement of plans to send an oil and gas exploration rig to the already unstable area, accompanied by a warship.

"We have accomplished all preparatory work. We are ready to finalize the agreement [with Turkish Cyprus] to begin the process and send our platform off the Cyprus coast," a Foreign Ministry official told the Hürriyet Daily News on Sunday.

The statement followed news that Texas-based Noble Energy, operating under license from the Greek Cypriot government, had moved its drilling rig into position over the weekend. It is expected to start work soon on a block southeast of the island.

The Greek Cypriot initiative pushed Turkey and Turkish Cyprus to announce their own action plan in retaliation. Under the plan, the Turkish Petroleum Corporation, or TPAO, will be licensed by Turkish Cyprus to launch exploration and drilling activities in the disputed area. A senior Energy Ministry official was in Nicosia on Sunday to review the current state of agreement, which will likely be signed within days if the Greek Cypriot administration does not retreat from its position.

"We will be very cautious in this process; all our steps will be taken as retaliation and [in response] to Greek Cypriot moves," the Foreign Ministry official said.

Noting that Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will meet with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York this week, the diplomat said Turkey will try all diplomatic channels to avert this crisis.

"If we cannot succeed, there will be no room left for us other than to retaliate," the official said.

The Greek Cypriot drilling plan will also kill off the UN's plan to reunify the divided island, Davutoğlu said Sunday.

"The Greek Cypriots are intending to sabotage the talks, to change the nature of existing ties by the way of provocation," he said, warning that such unilateral actions would doom the island to permanent division. "If they claim they have their own area where they can do whatever they want, then, by implication, they accept that the [Northern Cyprus] has its own area as well. This is a shift to a two-state mentality."

If the Greek Cypriots begin drilling, Davutoğlu added, Turkey and northern Cyprus will respond by signing a continental shelf delimitation accord to pave the way for their own exploration and "the two-state prospect will further deepen."

Davutoğlu said he discussed the latest tensions with the UN envoy in Cyprus, Alexander Downer, and was planning to hold further talks with Ban in New York this week. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay meanwhile said late Saturday that Turkey will freeze its relations with the European Union if Cyprus takes over the union's rotating presidency next year before a solution is reached on the divided island.

"If the negotiations [on Cyprus] do not end positively and the EU hands over the presidency to southern Cyprus, the main crisis will be between the EU and Turkey. Because then we will freeze our relations with the EU," the Anatolia news agency quoted Atalay saying.


Turkish Navy Could Escort Exploration Ships Off Cyprus

Turkey called on Monday for the Greek Cypriot government to immediately halt gas exploration work off Cyprus with Texas-based Noble Energy and said Turkish naval ships could escort Turkish energy exploration ships in the Mediterranean.

Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız told reporters that a planned agreement between Turkey and Turkish Cyprus setting out maritime boundaries would result in the Turkish Petroleum Corporation, or TPAO, effectively having a presence in the waters off of northern Cyprus. Yıldız said the agreement was ready to be signed, and added that TPAO could start gas exploration in the Mediterranean as early as next week.

Texas-based Noble Energy, under license from the Greek Cypriot government, is expected to start exploratory drilling imminently on a block southeast of the island, despite protests from Turkey, which say any reserves around the island belong not only to Greek Cypriots but also Turkish Cypriots.

Noble Energy's involvement, which has already sent a rig to the area, further complicates the problem for Turkey.

"Our wish is that we do not reach such a point, and that the work they are undertaking with Noble comes to an end before it even begins," Yıldız told reporters.

Turkey had discussed the issue with U.S. officials, but not with the company itself, Yıldız said, adding the risks for the company are considerable. "I do not think they will undertake such a work in such a risky area, from a technical and a feasibility point of view," Yıldız said.

Last week, Turkey announced it will sign an agreement on the delineation of the continental shelf with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, or KKTC, if Greek Cyprus moves ahead with its plans to drill for natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Greek Cypriot government is internationally recognized as representing the whole island, while the KKTC is recognized only by Turkey, which does not recognize Greek Cyprus.

Yıldız said the Greek Cypriot plans to begin gas exploration in Mediterranean were a "provocation," adding, "we will all see how we respond."


UN Urges Calm Over Cyprus-Turkey Gas Row

The UN stepped into calm tempers on Friday after Turkey threatened divided Cyprus to put off drilling for natural gas or it will press ahead with exploration plans off the island's Turkish-held north.

It should be understood that natural resources, if they are discovered, would be for the benefit of all Cypriots -- Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots -- under the framework of a federal united Cyprus," said UN Chief of Mission Lisa Buttenheim after officiating at peace talks between Demetris Christofias and Dervis Eroglu.

"The United Nations would appeal to all involved to resolve this matter in a peaceful manner and look beyond the issues to the potential benefits that a united Cyprus can bring," she told reporters.

The UN is worried that the energy row -- which also involves Greece and Israel -- could derail

Cyprus peace talks that have been faltering after three years of painstaking negotiations. On Thursday, Turkey threatened to sign a continental shelf delimitation agreement with northern Cyprus if the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government moves ahead with gas exploration plans, the foreign ministry said.

The announcement came after a technical meeting at the Turkish foreign ministry with a delegation from the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognized only by Ankara.

"As a result of the meeting, it has been agreed that Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus will conclude a continental shelf delimitation agreement if the Greek Cypriot administration proceeds with offshore drilling activities in the south of the island," the ministry said.

Officials from the Turkish energy and foreign ministries held further meetings in northern Cyprus on Friday.

A statement issued by the Greek Cyprus foreign ministry said any deal between Ankara and the TRNC would be "illegal and inconsistent with international law."

"The Turkish announcement is yet another provocative act which is contrary to international law, both customary and conventional, and, in general to international norms," said a foreign ministry statement issued Friday. "Instead of continuing with its threats and illegal acts, Turkey must convince the Turkish-Cypriot leadership to demonstrate goodwill at the negotiating table so that a solution to the Cyprus problem may be reached soon," it added.

Greek Cypriot government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said Nicosia had "strong" international backing for its sovereign right to search for hydrocarbon deposits and would proceed to do so despite the threats.

Turkey has repeatedly called on the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus to postpone its gas exploration, saying the Greek side has no right to do so while the island remains split, thus leaving the Turkish north out of the picture.

Cyprus says its hydrocarbon search is to the benefit of all Cypriots. It has also ratcheted up the rhetoric as Cyprus and Israel seek further cooperation in the exploration and export of natural gas.

On Tuesday, President Christofias accused Turkey of being a regional "troublemaker," saying it is hindering the Mediterranean island's search for undersea gas.

Cyprus has protested to the United Nations and the European Union over Turkey's behavior.

The U.S. energy firm, Noble Energy, is expected to start exploratory drilling before the beginning of October with its oil rig in place on block 12 off the island's southern coast.

Turkey to Freeze EU Ties if Greek Cyprus Assumes EU Presidency

Turkey, a European Union candidate, will freeze relations with the EU if Greek Cyprus is given the EU presidency in 2012, Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay told the Anatolia news agency late Saturday.

The comments could signal a new low point in ties between the EU and Turkey, which began accession talks with the bloc in 2005. They come at a time of heightened tension in the eastern Mediterranean where Turkey is locked in a row with Greek Cyprus over potential offshore gas deposits and Turkey's relations with one-time ally Israel are frayed.

"If the peace negotiations there [Greek Cyprus] are not conclusive, and the EU gives its rotating presidency to Greek Cyprus, the real crisis will be between Turkey and the EU," Anatolia quoted Atalay as telling Turkish Cypriot Bayrak Radio and TV at the end of a trip to Turkish Cyprus.

"Because we will freeze our relations with the EU. We have made this announcement, as a government we have made this decision," Atalay said. "Our relations with the EU will come to a sudden halt."

Officials at the European Commission in Brussels were not immediately available for comment.

Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, whose country staunchly opposes Turkey's EU membership bid, said a stalemate in Turkish-EU membership talks is an opportunity to discuss what he termed a "privileged partnership" with Turkey in some detail. His remarks were aired by Austria's state-run ORF TV channel on Sunday.

Turkey refuses any formula in its bid to become a member of the 27-nation club short of membership and strictly rejects what Germany and Austria earlier suggested as an alternative to full membership.

The internationally recognized Greek Cypriot administration is due to assume the six-month rotating EU presidency in July 2012. Greek Cyprus has been divided since a Turkish intervention in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. UN-sponsored peace talks between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots have stumbled since they were relaunched in 2008.

In July, Turkey's EU minister said freezing ties with the Greek Cypriot EU presidency was "an option." While Muslim Turkey started accession talks in 2005, progress has been slow, largely because of the conflict with Greek Cyprus.

The EU says Ankara must meet a pledge to open up traffic from the Greek Cypriot part of the island under a deal known as the Ankara protocol. Turkey says the EU should end its blockade of the Turkish Cypriot enclave. Adding to tensions is an escalating row between Turkey and Greek Cyprus over Greek Cypriot plans to launch gas explorations around the island. Turkey has voiced strong opposition to the plans, and on Saturday Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Greek Cypriot plans amounted to "provocation" and that it would consider carrying out its own offshore surveys with Turkish Cyprus if drilling went ahead.

The Greek Cypriot administration has said it would block Turkey's EU-entry talks if Ankara continued to oppose the plans. The United Nations has appealed for a peaceful resolution to the dispute, saying both sides of the island should benefit from any energy reserves.

The EU this month told Turkey not to issue threats against Greek Cyprus. Stoking tension in the eastern Mediterranean is a sharp deterioration in relations between Turkey and Israel following the May 2010 killing of Turkish activists in an Israeli raid on a ship bound for Gaza.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkish warships could be sent to the eastern Mediterranean at any time and Israel could not do whatever it wants there.

Greek Cypriots represent Cyprus internationally and in the EU, while Turkey is the only country to recognize the Turkish Cypriot state. Greek Cypriots say Turkey cannot join the bloc until the Cyprus conflict is resolved. The rotating presidency has lost some importance since the EU's Lisbon treaty, which established a permanent head of the European Council that groups national governments, and a new foreign and security policy chief. But a determined country can still shape the agenda.

Of the 35 "chapters" -- policy areas of EU law -- Turkey has completed one, and 18 have been frozen because of opposition by EU member states, including Greek Cyprus and France.

'Greek Cyprus Sabotaging Peace Talks'

In an interview with CNN Türk on Sunday, Davutoğlu said Greek Cyprus is trying to sabotage the peace talks aimed at reunifying the long-divided island by going ahead with oil drilling. Davutoğlu said he had expressed the same concern to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's special envoy to Cyprus, Alexander Downer, on the phone and that he will also discuss this issue with Ban during his visit to New York to attend UN meetings next week.

Davutoğlu argued that Greek Cyprus is deepening the division of the island by stalling the peace talks through plans to drill oil in the eastern Mediterranean, adding that Greek Cypriots might wait for the peace talks to come to an end and then exploit the natural resources with Turkish Cypriots. And if Greek Cypriots say they want to do whatever they want in the region, he said, then this situation is rapidly going toward two states. Davutoğlu vowed that Turkey would sign the continental shelf agreement with Turkish Cyprus in the event Greek Cyprus shrugs off Turkey's call to stop oil drilling.

The term "continental shelf" refers to the stretch of the seabed adjacent to the territorial waters of a coastal state. Most of the commercial exploitation of the sea, such as hydrocarbon extraction, takes place on the continental shelf. Turkey earlier said it will sign the agreement on the delineation of the continental shelf with Turkish Cyprus if Greek Cyprus moves ahead with its plans to drill for natural gas, a development set to escalate tensions in the region.

The decision emerged out of talks between Turkish and Turkish Cypriot officials in Turkey, according to a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry released last Thursday.

Sources said the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, or KKTC, government might identify some areas claimed by Greek Cyprus as part of its continental shelf in the eastern Mediterranean.


Turkish Foreign Minister Arrives in New York

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu arrived in New York on Sunday to attend the 66th term high-level meetings of the UN General Assembly.

Davutoğlu was welcomed by Turkey's permanent representative at the UN, Ertugrul Apakan, the Turkish Ambassador in Washington, Namik Tan, and the Turkish Consul General in New York, Mehmet Samsar.

Davutoğlu will participate in the delegation, which will represent Turkey in the UN meetings and led by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who will arrive in New York on Tuesday.

Davutoğlu will hold several bilateral and multilateral meetings at the UN.

The topics, such as Palestine's initiative for recognition by the UN as a state and a member, the situation in Libya and Syria, counter-terrorism on global scale, Cyprus talks, the "Alliance of Civilizations," prevention of proliferation of nuclear weapons, mediation, hunger in Somalia and Africa, desertification and the cooperation in Asia will be discussed at the UN meetings.

The UN General Assembly meetings will take place between September 21 and 23 as well as on September 26 and 27. Heads of state and government or high-level officials of 193 countries will each deliver speeches in the general assembly.


Ankara Restructuring Intelligence Service

Turkey's secret service is undergoing a silent but significant administrative and strategic transformation by focusing more on foreign intelligence under its new chief, Hakan Fidan, who hit the headlines over his controversial meetings with terrorists.

Fidan, the former deputy undersecretary of the office of the Prime Ministry, was appointed as the chief of the National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, a year ago, with plans to sharply split domestic and foreign intelligence. Within this plan, MİT's administrative body was amended last year to allow the intelligence organization to modify its structure.

The Hürriyet Daily News has learned that a senior on-duty ambassador has been appointed as the deputy undersecretary at MİT to deal with foreign intelligence and to provide coordination between the organization and the Foreign Ministry. Sources said the decision to appoint an ambassador was made before voice recordings were leaked of Fidan with senior members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

General directorates on strategic and open source intelligence will be subordinate to the diplomat-turned-intelligence officer. As part of the plan, MİT has begun to recruit new personnel able to speak regional languages. The plan also envisions intensified coordination between Turkey's embassies and intelligence organization.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu confirmed the plan Sunday in an interview with the private channel CNNTürk.

"We are living in a dynamic conjuncture. There are changes in our region. Why do we have to be dependent on other countries' intelligence organizations on these issues? Our intelligence can do it better," Davutoğlu said.

Praising Fidan's yearlong performance and decision to give more weight to foreign intelligence, Davutoğlu said he widened the scope of intelligence by improving the organization's capabilities. The minister emphasized that he was backing Fidan in the change and giving it his full support.

"Hereafter, Turkey's intelligence will be able to have its finger on the pulse in every corner of the world," he added.

According to Davutoğlu, the transformation at MİT is not different from other institutions like the General Staff and is the result of the growing influence of Turkey's foreign policy on the global level. He said the leak of a top-secret recording is part of a smear campaign against Fidan, hinting at the involvement of Israel, which did not hide its unease at the appointment of Fidan to head MİT, once a good ally of its intelligence service Mossad.

Following Fidan's appointment and Israel's raid last year of the Gaza-bound aid ship Mavi Marmara, killing nine Turkish activists, Mossad cut intelligence-sharing with MİT out of concerns that information could be passed on Iran, Israel's regional foe. That move was followed by intelligence organizations of some European countries that were mainly dependent on Mossad's capabilities.

Sources described this as a turning point in Turkey's shift to improving its foreign intelligence capacity.


President Gül Defends Secret Talks

Top state officials on Sunday defended secret meetings between the country's intelligence organization and senior representatives of an outlawed terror organization, describing them as a natural duty of the secret services.

The officials also praised the performance of Turkey's intelligence chief, Hakan Fidan, at the meetings.

"The purpose [of the meetings] is to end terror," President Abdullah Gül told reporters before his departure to Germany. "All means of eradication of terror have been running in the framework of a certain strategy. The intelligence organization undertakes its job within this framework."

Fidan's conversation with senior members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, was leaked to a website last week. Turkey has been fighting against the PKK for nearly three decades, a fight in which 40,000 lives have been lost, but due to the sensitivity of the issue, the government categorically denied negotiations with the PKK in the past.

"Every country has an institution dealing with these kinds of processes and meetings. This is the intelligence. Thus, it is only natural for our intelligence organization to be engaged with Turkey's most important problem and to be part of this process," Gül said.

Responding to Gül's remarks, the head of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, said the meeting did not take place between the National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, and the PKK but between the Prime Ministry and the PKK.

"Mr. President should know the difference. No one should misguide the people," CHP chief Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu told reporters Sunday.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also defended the meetings between MİT and the PKK members but clarified that the meetings took place after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan instructed MİT.

"What will MİT do if it does deal with this [terror problem]? The state functions upon the government's instructions. Of course, they have been given this instruction," he said.

Davutoğlu's words came in response to criticism from the opposition parties, which slammed the ruling party for allegedly deceiving the public opinion by saying that "it was not the government but the state who negotiated with terrorists."

When asked about the state of talks with the PKK, Davutoğlu said a nonviolent climate was the precondition for this kind of process.

"Unfortunately the ground for negotiations vanishes when there are terror acts," he said. "We only talk to those who want to talk and not those who flex muscles against the state. A state cannot remain idle to such challenges."

Linking the release of the MİT-PKK talks tape with Turkey's rising profile both in its region and in the world, Davutoğlu joined Erdoğan in casting suspicions that Israel could be behind the leak.

"Mr. Fidan is investigating the leak. A necessary retaliation would be made afterward," he added.


Turkey's First Cruise Missile "SOM" on Display in London

Turkey's first cruise missile "SOM" is on display at the "Defense and Security Equipment International" fair held in London, England.

The Turkish missile was developed by the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, or TUBITAK, and Defense Research and Development Institute of Turkey, SAGE.

Speaking to the AA, SAGE's Fatih Yasar said this was the first time that "SOM" was on display out of Turkey. "There is great interest in the missile. It shows how far Turkey has come in technology," Yasar said.

"SOM" is an air-launched high precision cruise missile. It was first revealed during the 100th year celebrations of Turkish Air Force at the Cigli Airbase in Izmir, on June 4, 2011.

Developed in 2006, the "SOM" cruise missile is Turkey's first domestic solution for destroying both stationary and moving targets at a standoff distance of over 180 kilometers.


Turkish Finance Minister Says EU Needs Turkey

Turkey's finance minister has said his country's accession to the European Union would give the 27-member-bloc means to preserve its importance at the international arena, adding Turkish membership would not come as an extra burden on the Union's shoulders.

"The EU needs Turkey if it wants to remain as an important actor. We won't become an extra burden for Europe, but instead help it ease its existing problems. Turkey will help the Union become a global economic player," Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek told a panel discussion in Birmingham on Turkey's economy and its role in the EU as part of the British Liberal Democratic Party's annual congress.

Simsek said Turkey's economy had shown a remarkable performance over the last couple of years as the country's GDP grew 9 percent in 2010 and 10.2 percent in the first half of this year. Simsek also said Turkey had a strong banking sector and a solid public finance, stressing, however, that certain structural problems still persisted such as "a big current account deficit."

Asked to describe the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, Simsek said: "In issues such as family we are conservative. In economy and relations with the world we are liberal. And in social justice and poverty we are socialist."


U.S. Diplomats Visit CHP Headquarters

United States diplomats paid a visit to the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, headquarters in Ankara on Sunday.

A party statement said a U.S. Embassy delegation including political attaché Ashbin Bizanky and political affairs adviser Suheyla Tayla met CHP deputy chairman Nihad Matkap.

The statement said Matkap replied to Bizanky's questions about the constitutional amendment, independence of justice, and planned amendments to election law and other current developments.


Turkey Expresses Strong Support for Libyan Council

Turkey on Monday reiterated that it considered the Libyan National Transitional Council as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan state and its people, expressing strong support to the new rulers of this North African country.

"The long hard struggle the Libyans have waged to secure the long-awaited freedom, justice and democracy has now come to a historic turning point after the NTC took control," said a statement released by the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

The statement also said it was fundamental that the natural resources of Libya should be returned to the Libyan people, adding that a recent resolution of the UN Security Council was considered as a step taken toward that goal.

The Security Council on Friday agreed to deploy a mission to Libya to support Libya's transitional authorities in their reconstruction efforts after the end of the conflict, including restoring the rule of law, drafting a new constitution, promoting reconciliation and preparing for elections.

The resolution was adopted unanimously.

The council also agreed to lift some of the arms embargo, assets freeze and no-fly zone that had been imposed by the Council earlier this year after forces supporting the Gadhafi regime began a brutal crackdown against many of its citizens.


EU Should Embrace Turkey, Council of Europe Head Says

The secretary general of the Council of Europe said on Saturday that the European Union should embrace Turkey.

Secretary General Throbjorn Jagland said he did not understand the EU's treatment of Turkey, saying a country like Turkey did not deserve that unjust treatment. Jagland also said it was time that the EU embraced Turkey.

Speaking at the Eighth Meeting of Yalta European Strategy in Ukraine, Jagland said Turkey was important for Europe, playing an important role, and that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan 's call in Cairo to create a secular constitution and order in Egypt and Middle East was of utmost importance.

The COE secretary general read the related part of Erdogan's speech, which received a huge ovation from participants, particularly Turkey's EU Minister and Chief Negotiator Egemen Bagis.

Also speaking in the same session, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko said the country's preference was the EU.

Turkey became an EU candidate country in December 1999. The union launched accession talks with Turkey on October 3, 2005. The EU has so far opened 13 of the 35 chapter headings to negotiations with Turkey.


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