Turkey has suspended talks with Syria and may impose sanctions on Damascus, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan said, the clearest sign yet that Ankara has parted ways with President Bashar al-Assad over his bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters.
Erdoğan's remarks came at a news conference after a nearly two-hour meeting with President Barack Obama in New York on Tuesday.
"I have cut all contacts with the Syrian administration," Erdoğan said. "We never wanted things to arrive at this point, but unfortunately, the Syrian administration has forced us to take such a decision."
Turkey is Syria's neighbor and an important trade partner and Erdoğan had cultivated a close friendship with al-Assad. But Turkish leaders have grown increasingly frustrated with Damascus over its refusal to halt the crackdown on opposition protesters and to carry our reforms.
Obama and Erdoğan agreed Tuesday on the need to increase pressure on al-Assad to stop the crackdown, the White House said.
Earlier this month, Turkey hosted a group of Syrian opposition figures who declared a 140-member Syrian National Council in an effort to present a united front against al-Assad. Erdoğan did not say what measures Turkey was considering taking. He did say, however, that the Turkish Foreign Ministry would work with the U.S. State Department to determine possible Turkish sanctions.
The United States "already has sanctions against Syria," Erdoğan said. "Our foreign ministries will jointly review what our sanctions might be." Washington, which has called on Assad to resign, has imposed sanctions on some Syrian officials, blocked assets they may have in the United States and banned any U.S. import of Syrian oil or petroleum products.
U.S Continued Support in Fight Against Terror
Erdoğan also submitted a list of requests for help from the U.S. to counter outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which has fought against Turkey since 1984.
"There is a list of requests we have conveyed to them regarding the fight against the PKK," Erdoğan was quoted as saying referring to the PKK, blacklisted as a terrorist group by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU.
Counter-terrorism figured high on the agenda of the Erdoğan-Obama meeting, just as two separate attacks in Turkey put pressure on Erdoğan's Islamic-rooted government.
Erdoğan said the U.S. offered Turkey continued support regarding the fight against terrorism. He added that Washington would continue to supply Turkey with intelligence regarding the activities of the PKK militants based in northern Iraq. The Turkish government earlier confirmed it was in talks with the U.S. to base Predator drones on its territory to operate against the PKK in northern Iraq. Erdoğan said this issue also came up in his meeting with Obama. "I believe that there will be no problem regarding Predators, they will try to solve the Predator issue," he said.
Meanwhile, Obama on Tuesday called on Turkey and Israel to repair their ties strained by a crisis over a deadly 2010 flotilla raid.
"The president underscored his interest in seeing a resolution of that issue between those two countries who are both allies of ours, and encouraged them to work towards that end," said a top White House advisor said.
National Security Council European advisor, Liz Sherwood-Randall, added Obama had raised the issue of the efforts to "repair their relationship in the aftermath of the tragic flotilla incident in May 2010.
Turkey, Northern Cyprus Clear Gas Drill Hurdle
Turkey and northern Cyprus on Wednesday inked a continental shelf accord to determine maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean Sea in which the Turkish state oil company will conduct exploratory drilling.
The deal, made in retaliation to Greek Cyprus's drilling operation in the disputed zones, was signed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Turkish Cypriot President Derviþ Eroğlu in New York, where both leaders are attending the United Nations General Assembly meetings.
Erdoğan said Wednesday companies that decide to work with Greek Cyprus in exploring for oil and gas would not be allowed to work with Turkey. The agreement will set the maritime boundaries in which the Turkish Petroleum Corporation, or TPAO, will conduct seismic surveys. Turkey says this will be done in partnership with a Norwegian company, whose exploration vessel will be escorted by Turkish navy and air forces in a show of force.
Norwegian Embassy sources told the Hürriyet Daily News on Wednesday they are trying to confirm the involvement of a firm from their country, but that they would not necessarily know if one was involved.
With Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias also attending the UN meetings, the signing of the agreement in New York gained symbolic importance along with its political effects. Turkey's main point of objection to the Greek Cypriot unilateral drilling moves was that they could negatively affect reunification talks, saying such projects should be delayed until a new Cypriot state is formed.
In this sense, the agreement signed between Erdoğan and Eroğlu could further hamper ongoing reconciliation talks while strengthening Ankara's argument that the best solution is a two-state formula. The delimitation agreement will also change the balances in the East Mediterranean.
The Turkish retaliation move came as Greek Cyprus geared up for the second stage of a controversial gas drilling operation. Turkey had already said the launch of its own exploration work in northern Cypriot waters was imminent.
In Nicosia, Greek Cypriot energy chief Solon Kassinis said the first phase of the drilling operation, which began Sunday night, was completed and the second stage would begin late Wednesday, Greek Cypriot radio reported. The targeted depth of 5,800 meters is to be reached within 73 days, Kassinis said.
In earlier remarks, Erdoğan described exploration plans by both Greek Cyprus and Israel as "madness," following a meeting with President Barack Obama. He said Turkey did not intend to hamper the Greek Cypriots but to retaliate by launching its own exploration drive together with the Turkish Cypriots.
"Our colleagues are making the preparations. The Turkish exploration ship will be speedily sent to the area," he said. "Our torpedo boats and frigates are already roaming there." Erdoğan claimed the Greek Cypriot sought to "sabotage" both the UN-sponsored peace negotiations with the Turkish Cypriots and an upcoming round of cooperation talks between Turkey and Greece.
Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister İrsen Küçük said Wednesday the areas in which the drilling would take place had already been determined, but the priority zones were yet to be decided.
Ankara has declined to name its Norwegian partners. In 2008, TPAO awarded a major contract to Norway's Wavefield Inseis for seismic surveys in the Black Sea. Shortly afterward the company was acquired by Paris-Based CGGVeritas.
With the row over drilling in the eastern Mediterranean Sea showing no sign of a let-up, British army chief David Richards, whose country is one of Cyprus' guarantor states, was scheduled to hold talks in Ankara with his Turkish counterpart Gen. Necdet Özel on Thursday. The issue was likely to be high on their agenda.
What is the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea?
Under the law of the sea, an exclusive economic zone is a seazone over which a state has special rights over the exploration and use of marine resources, including production of energy from water and wind.
Generally, a state's exclusive economic zone extends 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) out from its coastal baseline. Usually, any point within an overlapping area belongs to the nearest state.
Modern developments in the last century led to the international recognition of the 200-mile exclusive economic zone by the Third United Nations Convention on the law of the Sea in 1982. Part V, Article 55 of the Convention says: Specific legal regime of the exclusive economic zone: The exclusive economic zone is an area beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea, subject to the specific legal regime established in this Part, under which the rights and jurisdiction of the coastal state and the rights and freedoms of other states are governed by the relevant provisions of this Convention.
There is an ongoing dispute between Turkey and Greece over the extent of the continental shelf and exclusive economic zone each country can claim. Turkey has not signed the UN convention on the law of the sea. But at the end of 1986 it declared an exclusive economic zone in the Black Sea and concluded an agreement with the Soviet Union about states with coasts opposite or adjacent to the coasts of Turkey, using the method of the median line. Later Turkey etched agreements with Bulgaria and Romania, which were similar to the one it concluded with the Soviet Union.
Greek Cyprus ratified the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea in December 1988. Like Turkey, Israel is not a party to the convention. Some well-known examples of exclusive economic zone disputes included the Cod Wars between Britain and Iceland. Those were a series of confrontations in the 1950s and 1970s between the two countries over fishing rights in the North Atlantic.
Norway and Russia also dispute both territorial sea and exclusive economic zone with regard to the Spitsbergen archipelago. An agreement was reached in principle in April 2010 between the two states that promises to resolve this boundary dispute. The South China Sea is the site of an ongoing dispute between several neighboring nations.
President Gul Calls on PKK to Lay Down Arms
Turkish President Abdullah Gül has called on members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, to lay their arms down and return home.
"There is already a law in place that allows militants to return back to their families provided they have not killed anyone and that they surrendered their weapons to the authorities," Gül told reporters Wednesday during an official trip to Germany after he was asked whether he would issue a new amnesty for the group's fighters.
"There are those who rejoined their families by leaving their weapons and approaching the authorities," Gül was quoted as saying by Anatolia news agency. "We always say this. There are also those who behave as if these ways do not exist. For this reason, I would like to call on those who are unaware [of such an option]: Let them lay down their arms, return, come over and rejoin their families."
Gül's call comes at a time of increased terror attacks against various targets, including civilians. Three people were killed in a bomb attack in Ankara on Tuesday, followed by two separate gun attacks in eastern Turkey by suspected PKK militants that resulted in the deaths of one police cadet and four women.
A group of non-governmental organizations in the southeastern city of Şanlıurfa also called on the PKK to lay down arms on Wednesday.
"The scourge of terror which has caused misery for thousands of youngsters in the mountains and caused thousands more to lose their lives benefits only the enemies of this land. We condemn those who have committed this act and those who supported them," read a written statement issued by the provincial heads of the Chamber of Pharmacists, the Independent Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association, or MÜSİAD, and the Chambers of Engineers and Architects Union.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.
Germans Learned a Lesson After His Speech, Gul Says
President Abdullah Gül has said he taught Germany a lesson when he insisted on delivering a speech at a Berlin university despite a bomb threat.
"I doubt they will ever forget what I said there," Gül told reporters accompanying him on his visit to Germany, according to the daily Hürriyet. "I will not bow down to the threats of the terrorist organization that is taking advantage of the democratic environment in Germany, and that is why I did not back down from giving my speech," he said.
German security officials had suggested he cancel his scheduled speech following the bomb threat at Humboldt University in Berlin on Monday. Gül refused and eventually spoke at the venue after it was searched and declared safe.
Gül said the bomb alert was orchestrated by militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in a bid to overshadow his visit; he denounced the response of the German authorities.
Gül reportedly threatened to cut his visit short and return to Turkey if the speech did not proceed.
"It was a scandal. But they learned their lesson. Their system works like a clock. But when subjected to a stress test, it collapses. That is what happened there," Gül said. "The president of Germany was sad, of course. He said I was right not to leave."
Gül traveled to Stuttgart on Wednesday to meet with Winfried Kretschmann, minister-president of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg. Kretschmann said prior to the meeting that they were deeply saddened by the deadly bombing in Ankara and voiced support for Turkey's EU membership bid.
Turkish President Voices Criticisms Over Greek Cyprus EU Presidency in Germany
Turkish President Abdullah Gül voiced criticism over Greek Cyprus' upcoming rotating presidency of the European Union next year, accusing the 27-member club of contradicting its own principles by accepting a nation with border problems.
Gül criticized some EU member states for, he said, "hiding behind the Cyprus problem," in not allowing Turkey to become an EU member state; he said told the German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the Turkish side has always responded positively to possible reunification and that the Greek Cypriot side must not become the EU term president.
Cyprus has been split since the 1974 intervention, the aftermath of a brief Greek-inspired coup in Nicosia. Turkey maintains a military presence in the Turkish Cypriot state.
Peace talks between the two sides were launched in 2008, but progress has been slow-moving. The United Nations is tentatively eyeing a settlement before July 2012, when Greek Cyprus is due to assume the European Union's rotating presidency.
Turkey is the only country to recognize the Turkish Cypriot state, while the Greek Cypriot administration is internationally recognized and represents the island in the European Union.
If Greek Cyprus is given the role next July before a settlement over the island is reached, Turkey said it will freeze relations with the EU. He said he also told Merkel that the Greek Cypriot administration is representing the island without solving the border problem, recalling that he said this to her in July 2007.
"A country that has not solved its problems would join and preside over the EU. A half country would join and preside over the EU. This is a crisis," Gül said, stressing that it is not Turkey, but the 27-member bloc's duty to question this fact.
Gül hailed his visit to Germany as useful and spoke about the importance of carrying the relations into the future, urging that a positive atmosphere must continue.
Gül is currently in Germany for four-day visit to solidifiy Turkish-German relations.
Obama, Erdogan Agree to Ratchet Up Pressure on Al-Assad
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Barack Obama agreed during a meeting on Tuesday to ratchet up pressure on the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to produce results that would meet the Syrian people's demands, a senior White House national security aide said on Wednesday.
Turkish and U.S. assessments over the need to intensify pressure on the al-Assad regime overlap, which is very important, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, senior director for European affairs at the National Security Council, told reporters in response to questions over the meeting yesterday.
Sherwood-Randall also said Erdoğan and Obama had close consultations about Syria over the past few months. The important thing is that the two leaders shared a joint view that the al-Assad regime is harming the Syrian people and that their views to build up pressure on al-Assad are similar, said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser.
Rhodes said Turkey is an important partner for the U.S., especially to relay to the Syrian leadership the message that it should halt violence against its own people.
Turkey has given very clear messages over past days. Erdoğan has send very strong messages during his North African tour, Rhodes said and express belief that he is ready to devise ways to build up pressure on al-Assad.
Turkey's relations with Israel came up during the meeting, Sherwood-Randall said, adding Obama had voiced wish for a settlement to the tensions between the two countries. Both are important allies to the U.S. and their relations are crucial to the stability of the region, Rhodes said.
Israeli Opposition Leader Calls Davutoglu, Offers Condoloences for Ankara Blast
Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who was under fire by the Turkish government and the international community over her role in Gaza assault in early 2009, called Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to express her condolences over terrorist attack in Ankara that left three Turkish nationals dead.
The former Israeli foreign minister and leader of opposition Kadima party called Davutoğlu on Wednesday and expressed her solidarity with Turkish people over the terror act in Ankara on Tuesday, diplomatic sources said according to state-run Anatolia news agency.
Diplomats also said Davutoğlu reportedly told Livni that Turkey also expects from her to display the same solidarity with Turkish nationals who were killed as a result of terror acts elsewhere, without further elaborating if the foreign minister referred to the Mavi Marmara incident.
France Arrests Three Alleged Kurdish PKK Militants
French intelligence officers acting on a warrant from an anti-terrorism judge arrested three members of the Kurdish separatist group the PKK on Tuesday, an official told the AFP.
In an operation led by officers of the DCRI domestic intelligence agency, police targeted several addresses in the south of the country, including a Kurdish cultural center in the port city of Marseille, the source said.
Two suspects arrested in the south will join a third arrested in Paris, a judicial source said. They are suspected of sending fighters from France to join rebel ranks in Kurdistan. The arrests were authorized by Thierry Fragnoli, a Paris magistrate charged with investigating terrorist offences. The operation targeted half-dozen individuals.
Since 2009, there have been several raids against suspected PKK militants and financiers in southern France, where cities like Marseille often have substantial Kurdish expatriate communities.
MAIN OPPOSITION CHP PROTESTS NATO RADAR, CALLS IT 'SHIELD FOR ISRAEL'
The Republican People's Party, or CHIP, released a statement Wednesday reiterating earlier protests against plans to install a NATO early warning radar in Malatya's Kürecik district, saying the project made absolutely no contribution to Turkey's national security.
The CHP headquarters released the statement, which said that "the government, which appears to be in a row with Israel in front of the curtain, has turned Turkey into a shield for Israel behind the curtain."
The CHP said the statement was a joint declaration from all of the party's provincial branch leaders. The statement also claimed that the U.S. and Israel will be in charge of the radar.
In a separate statement released, CHP Ankara branch leader Zeki Alçın said: "It is hard to understand a government that is incapable of protecting its own citizens is attempting to protect the entire world," referring to the deadly terrorist attacks in three Turkish provinces in the past 48 hours.
Erdoğan has faced particularity strong criticism from Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who in a press conference yesterday said: "The intelligence that the radar will provide will be used for Israel's defense." Elaborating on his belief that information sharing was part of the agreement, he asked rhetorically, "Who is saying this? American officials themselves."
Erdoğan, meanwhile, has repeatedly dismissed claims that the radar system is being deployed to protect Israel, reminding the public that the Jewish state is not a NATO member country. At a press conference in Washington yesterday, he referred to "an announcement the Pentagon made to reporters, (in which) it was said that this radar will give information to Israel." Erdoğan asserted that both sides had agreed that information sharing would not occur, saying that the Americans have "corrected this and made announcements in connection to it."
Kılıçdaroğlu has also criticized the government for supposedly stepping in line with NATO orders without substantial debate.
"This is not a two sided agreement," the chairman said as he answered questions from reporters yesterday. "This is entirely oriented towards NATO, this is a NATO program. The agreement was not made a subject of negotiation with Turkey."
Against CHP criticism, Erdoğan has replied that the agreement is the result of a long and politically charged debate between Turkey and its alliance partners. Turkey initially rejected the terms for the radar agreement when it was proposed last year, stating that the agreement had to be subject to further changes. At the 2010 NATO summit in Lisbon, it succeeded in removing a statement in the treaty that labeled Iran as a potential threat to the alliance. Turkey objected to any wording that labeled its neighbor as a threat, wording which Erdoğan called the "old mentality."
Amid a nationally escalating campaign to resist the proposal, the CHP has also been busy rallying the residents of Kürecik. Head of the CHP Malatya branch Veli Ağbaba has denounced the agreement and demanded that the radar plan be put up for referendum. On Wednesday, Ağbaba raised further alarm bells by stating that the site might make the community a target for missiles and could even expose residents to heightened cancer risk.
NATO has long viewed the radar installation as crucial to expanding its defense strategy in Eastern Europe. According to the NATO plan, missile interceptors in Romania and Poland combined with the radar in Turkey will create a broad system of protection for every NATO country against mid-range missile attacks.