Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek outlined the steps that will be taken to draft a new constitution during a meeting with newspapers and television stations' editors-in-chief Thursday in Istanbul.

Çiçek said the chair of the commission would be himself, as the speaker of Parliament and the commission would meet at least twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The commission will convene with at least one member from three political parties and the commission will make decisions with the consensus (unanimity) of all political parties making up the commission, Çiçek said, adding that topics where no decision is reached will be re-evaluated at a time the commission deems appropriate.

Starting Nov. 15, three committees will be created to solicit the opinions of different organizations in society, he said.

One of the committees will contact political parties and constitutional organizations, while a second will ask the opinions of professional organizations and unions. A third committee will seek advice from NGOs, foundations and religious communities.

Çiçek asked the aforementioned organizations to submit their written advice on a new charter draft before the end of December. The committees will then invite representatives of the organizations for a verbal discussion of their charter proposals, he said.

"The process of drafting a new constitution is not a process of asserting one's views on others or persuading others on the correctness of one's ideas, but creating a social contract together," he said.

Each political party may have a maximum of two consultants present in meetings. The commission meetings will be closed to the press.

The commission aims to finish its work, which consists of four phases, by the end of 2012.

The first phase consists of participation, data collecting and assessment; determining the principles and writing the text will be in the second phase; publicizing the text and public debate will be in the third phase; and reviewing the draft following input from the public and transforming it into a motion will consist of the last phrase. The first phase will be considered finished by the end of April 2012.

The draft text of the constitution, unless there is a consensus among the political parties, cannot be changed or appended either in the conciliation or legislation commissions or in the General Assembly, he said. He added that all segments of society would be encouraged to participate in the process of writing the constitution.

The commission's task will end with the passing of the constitutional motion in the General Assembly and its passing into law or with a de facto withdrawal – of one of the political parties, he said. A political party that does not attend at least three meetings will be considered to have withdrawn.

Iran 'Prepared for Worst,' Israel Holds Defense Drill

Iran's foreign minister said Thursday that Tehran was "prepared for the worst" and warned the United States against putting itself on a "collision course" with his country.

On the sidelines of a news conference in the Libyan city of Benghazi, Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was asked about news reports of Washington accelerating plans for a strike on Iran over its controversial nuclear program.

"The U.S. has unfortunately lost wisdom and prudence in dealing with international issues. It depends only on power. Washington and other Western powers suspect Tehran is seeking to build nuclear weapons, Salehi said. "Iran denies this charge, saying its nuclear program is for purely peaceful ends, to which it has a right. They have lost rationality. We are prepared for the worst, but we hope they will think twice before they put themselves on a collision course with Iran."

Washington insisted Wednesday that it remains committed to a diplomatic solution of the nuclear standoff with Iran as talk mounted in Israel of a political push for a preemptive strike. The White House said yesterday a report due next week from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nuclear watchdog will be an important point for the world to assess whether Iran is meeting its obligations.

NATO: No Intention to Intervene in Iran

Salehi was also questioned about NATO's military strikes in support of fighters battling to overthrow of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

"NATO did not come to help without any reason. They made mistakes. The president of Iran (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) has criticized these mistakes," Salehi said.

Meanwhile, NATO Chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Thursday that the alliance has no intention of intervening in Iran and backs a diplomatic solution to the nuclear dispute after reports of a debate in Israel over launching an attack.

"Let me stress that NATO has no intention whatsoever to intervene in Iran and NATO is not engaged as an alliance in the Iran question," Rasmussen said. "We support, of course, the international efforts to pursue political and diplomatic solutions to the Iran problem," he said, urging Tehran to comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding a halt in nuclear activities.

srael's Haaretz newspaper reported Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was seeking cabinet support for a military strike on Iran, after days of speculation about plans for an attack.

While tension starts to flare up, Israel staged a mass drill, simulating a missile attack in the center of the country at a time of intense speculation that Israel could launch strikes on Iran. The four-hour exercise began shortly after 10 a.m. local time with the sounding of sirens for a full minute and a half throughout the region around the coastal city of Tel Aviv.

Rescue teams were being dispatched to "evacuate hundreds of wounded after conventional and non-conventional missile attacks" to hospitals participating in the simulation. The army said the exercise was "part of its routine training for emergencies" and was "not influenced by the current events," in reference to the flurry of speculation that Israel was mulling a pre-emptive strike against Iran.

Turkey's Main Opposition Warns of 'War Plot' Against Syria

A deputy leader of Turkey's main opposition party has said a "plot" is being staged in unrest-hit Syria to pave the way for the country's foreign occupation. She also said the Republican People's Party, or CHP, does not back all practices of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. but is against a foreign intervention in Syria.

"The West has written a plot about democracy and liberty, and they are staging it. But this plot of democracy and liberty is nothing but the plot for an invasion," Birgül Ayman Güler told the Hürriyet Daily News. She said this plan would result in thousands of deaths.

A delegation of female members of the CHP crossed into Syria over the weekend for a five-day visit to observe the situation on the ground along with representatives from the Worker's Party, or İP, Labor Party, or EMEP, the Turkish Women's Union, the Republican Women's Association and other women's groups. They were invited by the General Union of Syrian Women.

The female Turkish delegation visited Aleppo, Latakia and Damascus and met with high-ranking politicians including Vice President of Syria Najah al-Attar, who is the country's top female politician, Grand Mufti of Syria Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun, whose son was shot dead Oct. 3, and Chair of the General Union of Syrian Women Majida Qteit.

Güler said almost every Syrian politician they met lamented Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's attitude toward the Syrian administration.

"We had very good relations with Turkey until six months ago," Güler quoted al-Attar as saying. "We were discussing removing the borders. We don't understand why he has this hostile attitude toward us at the moment. He should give up supporting the terrorists."

The Syrian administration made a distinction between the Syrian opposition demanding reforms and the armed rebels, Güler said.

"They told us they understood the opposition who demand more reforms, but they are against armed protesters, whom they called as terrorists," she said.

In response to Erdoğan's hailing the "glorious resistance" in Syria, Güler said they never faced a "resistance," and the daily routine continues in the Syrian cities they visited.

Stressing that the CHP does not back all the practices of the al-Assad administration, she said:

"If you say 'al-Assad is a bad statesman, that's why foreign intervention is a must,' I'm against it. I did not think highly of Gadhafi in Libya, but look at the post-Gadhafi era. The first thing they've done is to allow marrying with four women. They said, 'Democracy and liberty would come,' but an unacceptable reactionary has come. I'm complaining about anti-democratic actions of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP. But if there were a foreign intervention to overthrow the AKP, I would be the first to defend it. Democracy never comes with foreign intervention," Güler said.

The CHP also requested permission from officials to visit the refugee camps established in Hatay for nearly 7,000 Syrian people who have fled the violence in their country.

Barzani Begins Talks on Terror in Turkey

Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, President Massoud Barzani is visiting Istanbul as part of Turkey's diplomatic initiatives with international circles following the attack of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in Çukurca on Oct. 19 that killed 24 soldiers and wounded 18.

Barzani was to arrive in Istanbul and hold talks with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu Thursday when the Hürriyet Daily News went to press. The Iraqi Kurdish leader was also expected to meet with President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdoğan during his visit.

The fight against the PKK, as well as opportunities to further develop relations with Iraq and the KRG, will be high on the agenda of the meetings, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said Nov. 3.

Different from previous stances, Iraqi Kurdish officials showed strong support for Turkey against the PKK attacks as Turkey launched comprehensive ground and air operations in northern Iraq. They did not protest Turkey's incursion into their territories.

Within this scope, Nechervan Barzani, the former president of the KRG and vice president of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, visited Turkey recently at Erdoğan's request. In his visit Nechervan Barzani said attacks by the terrorist group PKK would not contribute either to Turks or Kurds.

The Turkish prime minister then invited Barzani for talks to request Iraqi Kurds to take concrete steps regarding the terrorist group PKK.

Turkey's nationalist party criticized the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, for having talks with Barzani.

"Is the AKP looking for a new partner to negotiate with the PKK? Is the new partner Barzani?" asked Deputy Chairman of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, Mehmet Şandır.

Şandır asked if Barzani was visiting Turkey with a mission, if he was bringing the PKK's demands or if he was taking a mediator role.

Foreign Minister Davutoğlu met with his Serbian and Qatar counterparts Thursday. He also had talks with Turkish Cypriot leader Derviş Eroğlu, who had trilateral discussions with Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York last weekend.

Arinc Appeals for Release of Deputies

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç has issued a strongly worded appeal for the release of eight opposition lawmakers who were elected to Parliament from jail, denouncing their continuing imprisonment as "disrespectful" of the people's will.

"The judiciary must take into account the will of the people and release those who represent the people. This is not an order, [but] the judiciary is not in a position to rule on whether voters have made the right choice," Arınç said at Parliament's Planning and Budget Commission late on Nov. 2.

The continued incarceration of the lawmakers "is disrespectful to the will of the people," he said.

"If their parties believe they did the right thing by fielding them as candidates and if the people later elected them, we have to shut up and say nothing," he said. "Their place is in Parliament. They should come and assume their duties."

The jailed lawmakers, elected from prison in the June 12 elections, include two members of the Republican People's Party, or CHP, one from the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, and five from the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP. They are held on charges of involvement in purported plots to overthrow the government or for alleged collaboration with Kurdish militants.

Support for Anti-Terror Amendments

In further remarks at the same gathering, Arınç called for amendments to the much-criticized anti-terror law, particularly in provisions penalizing the dissemination of propaganda of terrorist groups, which have landed political activists and journalists in jail.

"The penalties we give to propaganda offenses have failed to discourage the people in question and to bear fruit on the ground. They have not helped us reduce terrorist attacks either," he said. "Therefore, we have to review the propaganda offenses. I think we have to decriminalize some and reduce the sentences for others."

The deputy premier also decried lengthy detention periods, adding that the incarceration of suspects during the course of trials must be considered an exceptional measure. "The justice system is not a mechanism for vengeance," he said.

Arınç made the headlines last week when he welcomed the release of suspects of the Deniz Feneri (Lighthouse) charity embezzlement probe and said courts handling other high-profile investigations should follow suit in releasing inmates pending trial.

U.S. Says Turkish Warships Not Accompanying Gaza Flotilla

State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland has said Washington was in touch with the Turkish government and Israeli officials on Thursday about a new effort by pro-Palestinian activists to send a flotilla to challenge Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip and said warships are not accompanying the Gaza aid flotilla.

"My sense of this was that, given the way this came together there was some element of surprise for both the Turkish government and our own government," Nuland said. She added that the United States had sought clarification on news reports that Turkish warships might be accompanying the flotilla and were told "quite emphatically" by Turkey that this was not the case.

"We've been clear to them that we think that would be an extremely bad idea and they've now reassured us that that is not what they are doing in this case," she said.

Activists set sail from Turkey on Wednesday aboard two yachts carrying medical supplies. The Israeli military said it would not permit them to breach its blockade.

In May 2010, nine Turkish activists, including one with United States nationality, were killed in an Israeli raid on a similar convoy that nearly ruptured ties between Turkey and Israel, both critical U.S. allies in the region. Nuland also warned that participation in the flotilla was dangerous and urged the U.S. not to take part.

Nuland repeated warnings about earlier flotilla plans, saying the U.S. citizens who take part in efforts to deliver material support or other resources to Hamas could face civil and criminal penalties. Hamas has been officially designated as by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization.

The latest challenge to Israel's embargo of Gaza, in force since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007 from Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' forces, comes during a period of tension in the Eastern Mediterranean. The U.S. has backed the blockade, which Israel regards as necessary to prevent weapons from being smuggled to gunmen in the enclave. The Palestinians maintain that the blockade is illegal collective punishment.

Turkey was angered by Israel's refusal to apologize for the May 2010 raid and two months ago expelled the Israeli ambassador. Turkey has also increased its naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and expressed disappointment over the conclusions of United Nations inquiry into the incident.

The 27 activists on board the Canadian and Irish vessels came from Australia, Canada, Ireland and the U.S. and included Palestinians and at least one Israeli Arab citizen, according to organizers. Turkey has stressed that the vessels were not Turkish-flagged, had no Turkish passengers and the captains were not Turkish.

Israel has offered to unload any aid supplies and deliver them to Gaza. Israel permits humanitarian aid, food and other supplies to enter Gaza for its 1.5 million people, many of them impoverished refugees, via land crossings it closely monitors. Gaza also has a border with Egypt over which goods are imported.

'Pakistan Must be Pushed for Action'

Ambassador Simon Gass, NATO's civilian representative in Afghanistan, said the international community needs Pakistan to put as much pressure as possible on insurgents to come to a peaceful resolution.

"The existence within Pakistan of safe havens for insurgents is well known to us all," Gass told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview Wednesday. "We recognize Pakistan has its own problems in terms of insurgency. It has lost many soldiers and many civilians to the insurgency within its own borders. But that situation can only be improved if there is stability in Afghanistan. And therefore we need to persuade Pakistan to turn up the heat on insurgency within its borders, which will help both Pakistan and Afghanistan."

Having peace talks with the insurgency in Afghanistan is a desirable outcome by 2014, but they cannot gamble Afghanistan's future on the willingness of insurgents to participate in peace talks, Gass told a group of journalists on the sidelines of a roundtable discussion organized by the Turkish Policy Quarterly, or TPQ, and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Istanbul.

"We mainly have two possible strategies: There is an Afghan-led process of dialogue with the insurgents, which leads to a political process and ends with insurgents laying down their weapons. That's the best solution. The other strategy is training Afghan security forces so they can take responsibility for security whether the insurgency is still up and running," Gass said.

One of the 10 Poorest Countries

Gass said Afghanistan was preparing for the withdrawal of foreign forces in 2014, and he drew attention to the fact that Afghanistan will remain one of the 10 poorest countries on Earth after 2014.

"Particularly after 2014 there will be a substantial need for development in Afghanistan," Gass said.

But Gass said he was confident Afghanistan would be able to build its own legacy and stand on its own feet with the support of international forces after 2014.

"At the end of 2014 international forces would have handed over responsibility for security to Afghan security forces. And that would be a very important moment. However, that doesn't mean there will be no violence in Afghanistan," Gass said. "But the Afghan security forces will be able to maintain security so that insurgency does not pose a threat to the authority of the government of Afghanistan."

Many Afghanis see Turkey as a regional model country that has been successful in many ways, including its economy, Gass said.

"Therefore it is natural many young Afghans look to Ankara and Istanbul as examples they would like to follow."

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