With only two months left before United States troops pull out of Iraq, Ankara and Washington are set to launch talks to discuss security conditions and potential regional complications in the post-withdrawal period.
A senior delegation from the U.S., led by Assistant Secretary of the Department of Defense Alexander Vershbow, is expected to meet with officials from the foreign and defense ministries, as well as military officials Thursday.
"The U.S. has announced it will pull out its troops from Iraq at the end of this year. We have so many legitimate questions and demands from them, like re-allocation of some of their military equipment," a senior Turkish diplomat told the Hürriyet Daily News on Wednesday. "We will therefore discuss these issues at the greatest extent possible."
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Barack Obama mandated the meeting during a phone conversation in the aftermath of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, deadly attack against Turkish troops in the southeast that killed 24 soldiers and injured 18.
Both countries are concerned that the PKK could increase its activities in northern Iraq following the withdrawal of the U.S. troops and their intelligence capabilities, a development that could potentially ruin the relative stability in the area.
"We have to think about this possibility. The PKK has already escalated its attacks and our troops launched an efficient offensive against them. We believe our operations in northern Iraq should be supported," the diplomat said without further elaborating.
Turkey's main request from the U.S. is the deployment of a fleet of its Predators to the İncirlik base, a continuation of their surveillance along the Iraqi-Turkish border to trace terrorists and their hideouts and the relocation of some high-technology devices, which could be used in Turkey's fight against the PKK.
Officials will also discuss holding a trilateral meeting with the participation of Turkish, Iraqi and American officials on the elimination of the PKK. Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Regional Government, is expected to arrive in Ankara in mid-November.
Technical talks with Vershbow will continue next week during bilateral meetings between foreign ministers Ahmet Davutoğlu and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Istanbul Nov. 2.
Parliament Debates Terror behind Doors
Parliament met in closed session Wednesday to discuss the Kurdish conflict amid claims by the prime minister that the main opposition's criticism of the government amounted to "virtual support" for terrorists.
The session was scheduled last week following simultaneous attacks by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, that killed 24 soldiers in the eastern province of Hakkari.
But following Sunday's deadly earthquake in Van, the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, suggested rescheduling the session, despite support from the other parties. The bid to switch the date failed because of strict parliamentary regulations.
Speaking ahead of the debate, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the fight against terror should be a national cause and urged the opposition to put aside their differences and extend support to the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government.
"The terrorist organization is clearly targeting the AKP and the government. Unfortunately, the opposition parties, especially the CHP [Republican People's Party], have fallen for the trap and are virtually supporting the terrorist organization's attacks, whether intentionally or not," Erdoğan said. "Just hours after the attack [in Hakkari], CHP leader [Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu] told reporters that the government was responsible and should resign. Do they realize that they are supporting and encouraging the terrorist organization?"
The prime minister pledged that the escalation of violence would not diminish the government's commitment to democratic reform.
"We will continue our fight against terror while furthering our National Unity and Brotherhood Project. We will never give up democracy and human rights," he said. Erdoğan did not personally attend the debate as he had flown to Saudi Arabia to convey his condolences for the death of the kingdom's crown prince.
Foreign Minister Tells Syria Not to Stir Up Turkey
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has sent a stern warning to Syria's government, telling Damascus to not even think about seeking to raise tensions in Turkey by inciting the country's Kurdish citizens.
"They should think about the past and not even think about playing such a card. Everyone will see the results of such an act," Davutoğlu said during an official visit to Doha on Oct. 25.
Davutoğlu met the Libyan National Transitional Council, or NTC, Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil as part of his talks in Doha. Speaking about the death of former Libya leader Moammar Gadhafi, Davutoğlu said he was sorry about the violent nature of the colonel's end.
"Even though it may be explained through social and psychological reasons, I was sorry [to see this end]. I watched for a while and then could not watch more," Davutoğlu said. "It is saddening that a political and biological life has ended in this way for a leader who was present for almost the entire time during and after the Cold War."
'Can't Survive Without Legitimacy'
Davutoğlu refuted recent reports that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad could share Gadhafi's violent end, saying the two countries had different structures.
"Syria's ethnic structure is different than Libya," Davutoğlu said. "It is located in a more critical political region. [Syria] has unsolved problems with Israel. It [is close to] sensitive places like Lebanon and Iraq."
Jalil, meanwhile, offered his condolences to Turkey following the massive earthquake that killed hundreds of people in the eastern province of Van while also saying Libya would never forget Turkey's support during his country's hard times.
Davutoğlu countered that Turkey's assistance to Libya would continue and added that Turkey hoped to help restore Libya's political, economic and security systems while also improving cooperation with the North African country.
During his talks in Doha, the Davutoğlu also met with Nabeel al-Arabi, the head of the Arab League, as well as Qatari Amir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Crown Prince Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Premier and Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani.
Davutoğlu proceeded to Jordan Wednesday, where he was scheduled to meet with King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.
Turkey Won't Change Position on Israel, Despite Aid
Despite Israel sending aid to help cope with the earthquake that wreaked havoc in eastern Turkey, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Turkey will not change its "principled position" with respect to Israel, stressing that Ankara's political conditions for reconciliation remain intact.
Davutoğlu is the latest Turkish official to claim that the intense political climate between Israel and Turkey does not affect both countries' determination to help each other on humanitarian grounds. While speaking to a news conference with his Jordanian counterpart, Davutoğlu dismissed claims that Turkey initially rejected international offers for aid and said Turkey has never considered the aid offers with "[political] prejudice."
On Monday, Turkey asked dozens of countries, including Israel, to send aid for earthquake victims. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed the military to promptly send aid to Turkey as requested. The Israeli aid was scheduled to arrive in Ankara Wednesday afternoon.
The earthquake in eastern Turkey also presented a window of opportunity for Turkish and Israeli leaders to bury hostilities as leaders of both countries had phone conversations after a long hiatus. Turkish President Abdullah Gül and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke by phone with their Israeli counterparts, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But Davutoğlu rejected any reconciliation between Turkey and Israel, saying aid provided by the Jewish state would not translate into a change of Ankara's position.
"Political conditions remain," Davutoğlu said, referring to Turkey's demands for restoring ties.
Israel, geographically close to Turkey, with each country situated on opposite sides of Syria and Lebanon, has sent equipment and rescue teams to Turkey following past earthquakes as well. Last December, Turkey sent fire-fighting planes to help Israel battle a brush fire that killed 41 people.
Tensions between the two United States allies increased last month when Turkey expelled the Israels ambassador after the country refused to apologize for nine Turks killed in an Israeli raid on a flotilla bound to break Israel's blockade of Gaza last year. In clashes with the pro-Palestinian activists aboard the vessel, Israel said its marines acted in self-defense and refused to apologize.
Turkey Ends Military Operation Against PKK
Turkey's defense minister said Thursday a major operation launched against Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, rebels in retaliation for an attack that killed 24 soldiers had ended, the Anatolia News Agency reported.
"Other than our normal routine struggle against terror, the operation in Kazan valley that was started after the Cukurca attack is over. But our normal struggle against terror is ongoing," http://www.afp.com/afpcom/fr/taglibrary/thematic/politic
Looting in Turkey as Quake Survivors Seethe over Aid
Desperate survivors of Turkey's devastating earthquake looted truckloads of aid supplies as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan acknowledged failures Wednesday in the relief effort.
As night-time temperatures dropped to below zero and snow was forecast to fall overnight, authorities were in a race against time to provide some form of shelter for the thousands of people who faced another night out in the open.
Weather reports said temperatures in Van province would dip two to four degrees Celsius on Thursday, with further snow expected at night. Officials raised the death toll to 481, with more than 1,600 injured, but the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has said that "hundreds, possibly thousands" of people are still trapped under the rubble in the eastern region.
While a 27-year-old teacher was plucked to safety in the early morning, hopes of finding more people alive were fading fast. Rescue teams on Wednesday night recovered the body of a two-year-old child in the town of Ercis, which bore the brunt of the quake.
Excavators in Van, meanwhile, began clearing rubble on Wednesday evening as rescue workers estimated that no survivors were left beneath the debris. With complaints about the pace of the relief effort mounting, the government finally agreed to accept help from abroad, although Erdoğan insisted that things were now coming under control after a tricky beginning.
"We accept that there were some failures within the first 24 hours," the prime minister said in remarks on Turkish television, in particular acknowledging problems with the distribution of tents. However, he also said it was understandable that there would be teething problems given the scale of the disaster and that he had sent a number of ministers to oversee the relief efforts.
"Almost a quarter of the cabinet is there now. We have brought the situation under control in the last couple of days," he said. While the government initially refused outside offers of help it reversed that decision late Tuesday.
A Ukrainian plane landed in Erzurum airport Wednesday evening, close to Van province, bringing four tents with a 20-man capacity and a heating system, the Anatolia News Agency reported. Planes carrying aid from France and Italy were also expected to land in Erzurum, it said.
There have been frequent complaints among residents of the mainly Kurdish region that the Ankara government would have acted faster if disaster had struck elsewhere.
"We did not discriminate between Turks, Kurds or Zaza people. We said that they are all our people," Erdogan said.
But the revelation from the Turkish Red Crescent that 17 aid trucks had been raided highlighted the sense of despair among survivors.
Ahmet Lutfi Aker, the national head of the organization, told the AFP that the trucks had been looted both in the provincial capital of Van and in Ercis. Locals in Ercis recounted seeing the driver of one of the trucks assaulted before his attackers made off with food and blankets.
There was uproar among the crowds on Wednesday when they learned that the local governor's office had stopped distributing tents, instead transferring responsibility to village headmen.
"Yesterday, I waited here until midnight and I received nothing. I came back this morning at 3:00 a.m. and have been waiting since then and now the distribution is canceled," said 29-year-old Erdal Bayram, a construction worker. "I need a tent for myself and for my father. We made a makeshift tent to sleep under, but it rained last night and the wind was blowing."
In the village of Guvecli, locals said they had to recover the bodies of their loved ones by themselves.
"We had to do it by our own means, by shovels and digging tools," Guvecli resident Ahmet Yayin told the AFP as he clustered around a fire to keep warm.
As well as the offers of help in the relief effort from abroad, there have also been other shows of solidarity. Israel's foreign ministry said that it had been asked to help, despite the recent deterioration of ties between the two countries. And during his weekly general audience in St Peter's Square, Pope Benedict XVI called on the world's Catholics to pray for those who had lost their lives and "be spiritually close to many who are in distress."
Turkey Not Discriminating on Earthquake Foreign Aid
Turkey is not discriminating between countries that have offered help in the wake of the devastating earthquake in Van, President Abdullah Gül said on Wednesday, as Israel announced it would send prefabricated houses to the disaster-struck area after Ankara gave the green light for foreign aid.
"There are many countries offering assistance. The Turkish Foreign Ministry made an announcement for specific assistance at the moment the need emerged," Gül told reporters.
Gül said that not only Israel, but other countries were also sending aid when asked about his phone conversation with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Israel's assistance for Van.
"There is no discrimination against any country," he said, adding that Azerbaijan and Iran had sent assistance immediately after the quake without giving prior notification to Ankara.
The president announced plans to visit the disaster areas in Van on Oct. 28.
"We are making evaluations as we don't want to disrupt the relief work there," he said, adding that the presidential reception for Republic's Day on Oct. 29 was canceled due to both the earthquake and recent deadly terror attacks.
After initially turning down offers of foreign assistance, Turkey said on Tuesday, three days after the quake, that it needed international aid for "the reconstruction of the quake-hit region," Turkish diplomatic sources said.
There is need for tents, prefabricated houses and living containers in "the reconstruction phase following the search-and-rescue efforts" and, therefore, Ankara is still turning down other offers such as medicine and food, the source told the Hürriyet Daily News.
Japan became the first country to respond to the Turkish call as its embassy in Ankara announced that the Japanese International Cooperation Agency was sending around $400,000 and tents. Israel, Britain, France, Switzerland, Kazakhstan, Qatar and Jordan were among other countries that followed suit.
An Israeli plane was expected to land in Ankara late Wednesday, after the Hürriyet Daily News went to press.
With deep crises in bilateral ties, and Turkish air space closed to Israeli military aircraft, Tel Aviv was sending the cargo on a commercial plane, officials said, adding that the aircraft was bringing seven prefabricated houses and tents. More shipments from Israel were expected to follow.
The undersecretary of the Israeli Defense Ministry, Udi Şani, voiced hope that the Israeli assistance would contribute to warming bilateral ties, which nosedived after Israeli forces killed nine Turks on a Gaza-bound aid ship in May 2010.
Last December, Turkey had sent fire-fighting planes to Israel to help battle massive forest fires.
The European Union announced it would also extend support, saying that a financing plan would be outlined by Oct. 31 for supplies that would target mainly the quake victims' urgent need for accommodation in windy, cold conditions.
Immediately after the quake, the EU also activated satellite systems aimed at helping Turkey by supplying data about seismic activities and weather conditions.
Meanwhile, Iranian Ambassador to Turkey Bahman Hosseinpour and embassy staff said on Wednesday they would donate blood.
Although many other countries, including Armenia, had offered assistance in the wake of the earthquake, many have not yet confirmed whether they will be able to provide the materials Ankara is requesting. Turkey has notified about 40 countries and international organizations of its immediate needs.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Wednesday that the death toll from the quake stood at 461, with 1,352 people injured.
Rates Hike with Turkish Central Bank's 'Back Door' Move
The Turkish Central Bank's new action plan announced Wednesday eyes a double target of both fighting inflation and defending the Turkish Lira, which practically amounts to a sharp hike in interest rates.
The bank did not raise the benchmark, one-week repurchase (repo) rate on securities from the current level of 5.75 percent, but canceled one-week repo auctions. This measure is forcing banks to borrow at a rate of 12.5 percent from the overnight window, while also rendering the benchmark interest rate practically meaningless.
The yield on two-year benchmark bonds surpassed 10 percent Wednesday, reaching a two-year high as the lira gained 0.9 percent to 1.7635 per dollar at 11:39 a.m. Such market reaction is typical after an interest rate hike.
"The period of monetary tightening has started," said Erdem Başçı, the Central Bank governor, as he announced the plan in Ankara. The Central Bank is providing funding to banks only through the overnight lending rate, at a cost of as much as 12.5 percent, Başçı said.
Many analysts viewed the announcement as a practical interest rate hike of 6.75 percentage points.
"We have increased the interest rate. We can pull it back to 5.75 percent tomorrow if we see it necessary. We are strong and we will not drop it if we do not consider it necessary," Başçı said. "There is no other central bank across the world stronger than us in terms of implementing daily policies."
Predictions of a Recession
The move suggests that the Central Bank will do everything it can to resist hiking the benchmark rate, according to Neil Shearing, chief emerging markets economist at London-based Capital Economics.
"Tightening policy via the back door will have a similar impact on the real economy," he said in a note to investors. "As the current account adjusts, we continue to expect Turkey to slide into (a short-lived) recession next year."
"The bank thinks current circumstances require a higher interest rate and inter-bank rates will be allowed to settle close to the 12.5 percent ceiling for some time," according to İnan Demir, chief economist for Finansbank in Istanbul.
The bank's action plan will soon affect the real economy, according to Haluk Bürümçekci, chief economist at EFG Istanbul Securities. "The banks are receiving a message to increase interest rates in the short term," Bürümcekçi told the Anatolia news agency. "This will soon be reflected on consumer loans. The rise in costs will slow down economic activity."
The Central Bank also decided to allow lenders to hold up to 40 percent of required reserves in foreign currency. It is working on letting banks to hold some 10 percent of reserves in gold, Başçı said.
ING Bank chief economist Şengül Dağdeviren told Anatolia that the flexibility on reserves provides space for bank, but that a real fall in required reserves is dependent on international developments.
The Central Bank's action is a response to shifting global circumstances and policy makers in Ankara are tracking how European governments handle their sovereign debt problems, Başçı said.
The outcome of the action plan is simple, according to Özgür Altuğ, chief economist at BCG Partners.
"The Central Bank will implicitly increase the overall interest rates in the market and economy, which will reduce the pressure on the lira going forward," Altuğ said. "We continue to foresee that the benchmark bond yield will rise above 10 percent and will remain there and the U.S. dollar/lira rate will decline to 1.76."