Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi responded fiercely to Israel's testing of an advanced ballistic missile Wednesday, saying the country was "always ready for war."
Israeli defense officials said the military successfully test-fired an advanced missile from a base outside of Tel Aviv. Foreign news reports said the test involved firing a long-range Jericho missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and striking Iran.
"Iran has always been threatened by Israel. This is not new for us. We have been hearing threats from Israel for eight years. Our nation is a united nation. Its roots are deep in history. Such threats are not new to us," Salehi told the Hürriyet Daily News Wednesday on the sidelines of the Istanbul Conference for Afghanistan, adding that if any country tried to insult Iran, it would respond very fiercely.
"We are very confident of ourselves. We can defend our country," he said.
'Iran, Turkey, Syria Belong to Same Family'
"Iran, Syria and Turkey are members of the same family. If a member of a member falls into a problem, the other member of the family helps him," Salehi said regarding the impact of Turkey's tense relations with Syria and Turkey's relations with Iran.
Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad had promised to meet the demands of his people and that the Syrian issue should be dealt with "patiently, " he added.
"Assad promised to meet the demands of his people. He has promised constitutional reforms," he said, adding that the leader had promised to hold multi-party parliamentary elections. "President Assad has promised to meet the [people's] promises. We have to be patient. With patience, many things can be solved, especially in the Middle East."
'We Have the Best Relations with Turkey'
Iran and Turkey have "the best of relations," Salehi said, adding that this was why he had come to Turkey for the third time in the last eight months.
"We are always in constant consultation with my fond brother [Foreign Minister Ahmet] Davutoğlu. Turkey and Iran are two important countries in the region. Our bilateral relation is independent from international issues," Salehi said.
Syria Fully Accepts Arab Peace Plan, League Officials Says
Syria on Wednesday fully accepted an Arab League plan to end nearly eight months of bloodshed, during a ministerial meeting at the organisation's Cairo headquarters, a League official said.
"The Syrian delegation accepted the Arab League plan without reservations and in its entirety," the official said.
The Arab roadmap calls for an immediate halt to the bloodletting in Syria, the removal of tanks from the streets, and the start of a dialogue between the Damascus regime and its opponents.
The plan was submitted Sunday to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem at a meeting in Doha and a reply had been initially due on Monday, but Syria asked for a delay to allow its leadership to mull the proposals.
Hours before the meeting in Cairo, Syria's largest opposition group urged the pan-Arab body to freeze the country's membership in the organisation.
PKK Fight Top Issue in Erdogan EU Trip
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has again slammed Europeans for ignoring the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party's, or PKK, activities in their territories, calling on German officials to cooperate more in the anti-terror fight and help Turkey join the European Union.
"We are totally unable to understand the tolerance shown to the activities of the terror organization in some European countries despite the fact that we have provided them all the necessary and concrete intelligence and documents [about such activities]," Erdoğan said at a special gathering with the participation of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the arrival of Turkish workers in Germany.
"Leaving Turkey alone in its fight against a terror organization committing crimes against democracy, peace and humanity hurts the conscience and [destroys] the credibility of European countries," he said.
The rise in terror attacks in recent months, which have killed dozens of people caused fury among much of Turkish society and government officials. It spurned an incursion into northern Iraq, as well as a large diplomatic campaign against mainly European countries that have allegedly remained indifferent to the PKK-affiliated groups in their territories.
In earlier remarks late on Tuesday, Erdoğan used a harsher tone against those countries without naming them.
"They must see how the tolerance shown to the terrorist organization is turning into bloody attacks in Turkey. The terror organization is not solely responsible for these inhuman attacks. Those who support and provide financial and moral assistance to the terror organization are equally responsible in slaughtering that unborn baby," the prime minister said.
In her response to Erdoğan, Merkel recalled their policy against terrorism, reiterating that "Germany was always on Turkey's side in its fight against terror."
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the EU.
Turkey's Bid to Join EU
Erdoğan also raised the topic of Turkey's accession to the EU. "Our expectation and hope from Germany, as a country, which we see as very close to us, is to more strongly support our EU [accession] process," he said.
The current German government, however, has repeatedly opposed full Turkish membership in the 27-nation bloc.
Hinting that Turkey's accession will make the EU a global player, Erdoğan demanded Merkel take the initiative to make the EU a global actor in the future through adopting visionary policies.
"Leaders who fail to think big cannot turn the EU into a global actor," he said.
In further remarks, Erdoğan described Germany as a country that should back Turkey's EU bid more strongly than any other member countries because of its close relationship with Turkey.
"This should be a Germany that cooperates with Turkey on Turkey's international matters ranging from the Cyprus problem to the 1915 incidents [Armenian genocide claims], and from EU negotiations to the fight against terror," Erdoğan said.
'Wir Sind Zusammen'
Apart from criticisms and declarations of expectations on sensitive issues, Erdoğan was generally soft in his messages on the integration process of over 2.5 million Turks into German society.
"I openly say: Germany is no longer a bitter homeland for Turkey and Turks are no longer immigrant workers for Germany. We are two nations that made history come closer to each other. We are together. Or, 'Wir sind zusammen,'" he said.
Recalling that some nationalistic groups launched campaigns under the slogan of "Turken Raus" or "Turks out," Erdoğan said Turks who helped in the reconstruction and development of West Germany after World War II did not deserve such treatment. "We are in agreement with Germany on the fact that assimilation is also a crime against humanity like racism and discrimination are."
Erdoğan also jokingly touched on the German national football team's star midfielder, Mesut Özil, who is of Turkish descent. The prime minister said Mesut's goals for Germany made all of Turkey very happy – provided he did not score them against Turkey.
Barzani Begins Turkey Visit
The head of the Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, in northern Iraq, Masoud Barzani, will arrive in Turkey Thursday for an official visit.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said Barzani was expected to hold meetings with Turkish President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu during his three-day stay in Turkey.
The fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, as well as opportunities to further develop relations with Iraq and the KRG would be high on the agenda of the meetings, the ministry added.
Turkey, North Cyprus Sign New Energy Deal
The Turkish Petroleum Corporation, or TPAO, signed an oil field services and production agreement with the Turkish Cypriot Economy and Energy Ministry in Nicosia Wednesday.
Delivering a speech at the ceremony, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said northern Cyprus and TPAO signed a transparent agreement complying with international law. The agreement gives permission to TPAO to conduct exploration, drill oil wells and run a drilling platform on northern Cypriot soil.
Turkish Ambassador to Nicosia Halil İbrahim Akça also attended the deal ceremony.
Yıldız met Wednesday with Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister İrsen Küçük in Nicosia as part of talks in northern Cyprus. Yıldız said it was essential that any resources of oil or natural gas should be shared fairly if such resources were ever found around Cyprus.
Meanwhile, a Turkish seismic research vessel concluded research in the eastern Mediterranean Wednesday. The Piri Reis arrived at Famagusta port and collected data to be evaluated later.
The ship set sail from İzmir's Urla Port on Sep. 23 for the eastern Mediterranean to conduct geophysical research and collect seismic data on behalf of Turkish Cyprus.
Istanbul Process Launched for Afghanistan
Fourteen countries involved in Afghanistan, including neighbors China, Pakistan and India, have agreed to an initiative called the "Istanbul process," which aims for regional security cooperation, according to a joint statement.
Officials from countries involved will work on the measures in order to create joint regional projects, while the outcome will be presented to the ministerial meeting of the initiative in Kabul next June.
"We have [created] the Istanbul process, which sets forth concrete mechanisms and proposals, including confidence-building measures," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Wednesday in a joint press conference with his Afghan counterpart, Zalmai Rassoul.
Afghanistan requested that the initiative evolve into an agreement that would be binding for participant countries, but other regional countries preferred to move at a slower pace, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official told the Hürriyet Daily News.
The process would evolve gradually and regional countries will decide where it will lead, the Turkish diplomat said.
Representatives from 20 countries and international organizations gathered in Istanbul Wednesday, aiming to chart the way ahead for Afghanistan. A U.S.-led NATO mission to the country is scheduled to pull out all foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.
"To realize the potentials of regional economic cooperation that is so crucial for the future, the region must come together in cooperation and solidarity to a degree that is not yet achieved," Afghan President Hamid Karzai said at opening ceremony of the conference. "Today in Istanbul we are coming together to subscribe to a new vision of regional cooperation."
"There will be no hope for peace in Afghanistan without help from its neighbors to combat 'terror groups,'" he said.
Karzai asked for Islamabad's support to get the top Taliban leadership based in Pakistan to join the peace process on Afghanistan.
"Our hope is that with help of our brothers in Pakistan, we'll manage to [wean] the leadership of Taliban off some of the long-established network support that is enjoyed outside of Afghanistan and integrate them into the peace process," the Afghan leader said.
'Afghanistan Can't Fight Alone'
The bundle of issues Afghanistan is dealing with, including terrorism, extremism and human and drug smuggling, cannot be solved by a single country alone, Turkish President Abdullah Gül said.
The statement mentions cooperation on border security, combating against terror and all kinds of extremism based on violence, measures against human and drug trafficking, along with economic and cultural collaboration and visa facilitation. References to radicalism will be removed from education curriculums, according to the declaration.
"Resolutely combating and eliminating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and violent extremism and preventing safe havens for terrorists and terrorism in the region" is among the principles of the declaration.
The declaration also condemned the killing of former Afghan President and peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani.
The conference took place a day after a trilateral summit hosted by Gül brought together the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan in a bid to ease tensions between the two neighbors. Talks on Tuesday saw Afghanistan and Pakistan agree to cooperate with an investigation committee, including Turkey's presence, into the assassination of Rabbani.
Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, with the participation of their military and intelligence chiefs, had a dinner on Tuesday, a first since tension rose between the two neighbors, a Turkish diplomatic source said.
Absent from Wednesday's conference was United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who canceled her participation after her 92-year-old mother died. Her deputy William Burns took her place.
On the sidelines of the conference, Davutoğlu had bilateral meetings with several ministers, including his Iranian counterpart.
Pro-Palestinian Activists Sail from Turkey to Gaza
An international group of pro-Palestinian activists has set sail from Turkey aboard two boats aiming to run an Israeli naval blockade of Gaza, organizers said on Wednesday.
The 27 activists on board the vessels are drawn from Australia, Canada, Ireland and the United States, and included Palestinians.
"The Canadian ship Tahrir and Irish ship Saoirse have successfully reached international waters, initiating "Freedom Wave to Gaza," the organiszrs from Ustogaza group said in an e-mailed statement. "The boats have embarked from Turkey and are on the Mediterranean Sea."
Israel's military had no immediate comment.
The latest challenge to Israel's blockade of the Palestinian enclave comes during a period of heightened tension in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey was angered by Israel's refusal to apologize for the killing of nine Turks when Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara aid vessel 2010.
It was also disappointed by the conclusions released in August of a UN inquiry into the incident, and has increased its naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean.
A Turkish foreign ministry official confirmed that two boats had set sail from Turkey's southern coast, having asked for permission to go to the Greek island of Rhodes.
The official said the vessels were not Turkish-flagged, had no Turkish passengers and the captains were not Turkish.
Activists tried to send another flotilla to Gaza in June, but all nine vessels were stopped.
They were intercepted or stopped from leaving port, suffered suspicious damage before sailing, or pulled out amid speculation that their organisers had succumbed to political pressure.
The Irish ship Saoirse was one of the vessels damaged before it could set sail then. Paul Murphy, a socialist member of the European Parliament, was among the activists on board the Saoirse this time too.
"This ship to Gaza is another response to the call from people within Gaza to try to break the siege they suffer under," Murphy wrote in a blog posted on the Internet.
The Ustogaza statement quoted several Americans on board the Tahrir.
"We carry inspiration from the Arab Spring and the worldwide 'Occupy' movements that are demanding freedom and justice. Where governments fail, civil society must act. As Americans we are fed up with our government's unquestioning support of Israel no matter how violent, illegal and oppressive its actions," said Ann Wright, described in the statement as a former U.S. army officer and diplomat.
Israel Ready to Stop Boats Heading for Gaza
The Israeli navy will prevent two yachts carrying pro-Palestinian activists that left Turkey on Wednesday from breaching an Israeli blockade and reaching the Gaza Strip, an Israeli military official said.
Lieutenant-Colonel Avital Leibovich, speaking to reporters by telephone, would not say how the boats might be stopped, saying only "we will have to assess and see if we are facing violent passengers."
Israel was aware two yachts had set sail carrying Irish, Canadian and United States activists, Leibovich said. Describing their journey as a "provocation," she said they were still far from the Israeli and Gazan coast.
Israel would offer to unload any aid supplies on board and deliver them to Gaza, Leibovich said. Israel blockades the Gaza coast to prevent the smuggling of weapons to Palestinian gunmen in the territory, she added.
The military spokesman's office said the navy was "prepared to contact" the vessels and had "completed the necessary preparations in order to prevent them from reaching the Gaza Strip."
Israel has blockaded Gaza since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007, after routing Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel permits humanitarian aid and supplies to reach the territory through a land crossing, and Gaza also shares a border with Egypt.
An Israeli government official told Reuters that Israel "will take whatever measures will be necessary" to maintain its blockade.
Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish nationals on one ship in a Gaza-bound flotilla last year when the activists fought them with clubs and knives as the commandos tried to seize control of the ship to enforce the blockade.
The incident badly damaged ties between Israel and Turkey, which reached a crisis point two months ago when Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador after Israel rejected Turkey's request for an apology for the flotilla deaths.