Following Ankara's demand from Tehran for an explanation over threatening remarks by Iranian officials on Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has reaffirmed deep ties of friendship and fraternity between the two countries, adding Iran has already warned those responsible for feckless remarks made against Turkey.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu asked for an explanation from his Iranian counterpart on a recent threat voiced by an Iranian lawmaker, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported on Tuesday, citing diplomatic sources. Foreign ministry officials contacted by Today's Zaman further explained that Davutoğlu discussed the issue with Salehi twice before, and was personally assured by the Iranian minister that the views were personal and did not reflect Iranian policy toward Turkey.
"Our relations with Turkey are currently at their best on a political and economic level, as well as the relations between our people," Salehi said in an interview with Anatolia on Wednesday, as he assured that, despite differences in views, he was in constant contact with Davutoğlu on bilateral and regional issues.
"Some people, knowingly or not, express views without much knowledge and by stepping beyond their responsibilities, and it causes misunderstandings. We reject those views entirely," Salehi further said to explain that the words of a number of Iranian politicians, who vehemently expressed their disapproval over a NATO early-warning system, did not match the official perspective in his country.
The words that triggered Tuesday's phone call between Salehi and Davutoğlu came from Hussein Ibrahim, the vice president of the Iranian parliamentary national security and foreign policy panel, who suggested that "it is Iran's natural right to target the missile defense shield system in Turkey in case of an attack, and we will definitely resort to that," in an interview with the Iranian daily Shargh on Sunday. The defense missile shield system mentioned by Ibrahim as a cause of war between Iran and Turkey is a U.S. design planned to be installed in a number of NATO-member countries as a means of an early-warning defense system against ballistic missiles coming from outside of Europe, such as Iran.
Ibrahim's words came in repetition of other Iranian officials who expressed similar comments before him, which hinted to Ankara that annoyance with the new NATO project is widespread among Iranian politicians.
Shortly before Ibrahim, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards' aerospace division, explicitly uttered a threat that the NATO radar system, which is planned to be installed in eastern Malatya province, would be "the first target" to be taken down should Iran ever be attacked, and the country would on to next targets only after then.
Salihi, on the other hand, made it clear that the official position of Iran on international and foreign policy issues come strictly from Iran's religious leader, the president and the foreign minister, and the views of the rest do not have credibility for the administration.
"We have made the necessary warning to those who made feckless and insensible remarks," Salihi told the Anatolia."It should be known that the official Iranian approach toward Turkey is based on the deeply-rooted fraternity and friendship."
Salehi also called on both countries not to give credit to "common enemies who might be looking for excuses" to deteriorate relations between countries.
Meanwhile, on the same Tuesday, Ali-Akbar Velayati, senior adviser to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told a news conference that Turkey's model of "secular Islam" was a version of western liberal democracy and unacceptable for countries that is going through what he called "Islamic awakening," the Financial Times reported.
Previously, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan drew vehement criticism from non-secular countries of the region, including Iran, when he spoke to the Egyptian public in September and called for a secular government, which would treat people of all faiths equally.
Accusing Turkey of complying with Western demands and following Western traditions, Iran suspects that the NATO warning system is a plan devised to protect and defend Israel in case the country goes to war with Iran, souring the tone of the initial reaction from Iran and triggering many from Iran to promise vengeance against Turkey for taking part in the project.
Despite the visible controversy between Iran and Turkey, Ankara keeps in close contact with Tehran, with which it conducts frequent visits and phone calls, specifically on issues the two countries extend cooperation to each other or suffer from mutual risks. Ankara tolerates Iranian criticism as unofficial comments, and makes it known that it would only hold top Iranian administrators in office as addressee, as suggested by Iran's Salehi himself.
Iran and Turkey share intelligence to cooperate against terrorist activity along their borders, since the Turkish military has for decades been combating the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, while Iran has been engaged in a battle against the PKK's offshoot organization, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK. Both organizations seek autonomy inside the borders of Iran and Turkey, and with the U.S. troops pulling out of Iraq soon, the need for Turkish-Iranian cooperation might increase dramatically.
Turkey also refrained from acting on a UN watchdog report that indicated Iran might be working on developing nuclear warheads, a claim popular in the West although Iran denies it vehemently, saying the country is only pursuing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Despite several issues of controversy between Iran and Turkey, including unrest in the countries involved in the Arab Spring, leaders from both countries frequently express faith in the good will of the other.
Last year, Turkey helped broker a nuclear swap deal with Brazil to help Iran dodge a UN Security Council attempt for sanctions, on the condition that the country hands over its enriched uranium, but the deal was not finalized. Aware of Turkey's interest in nuclear energy, an Iranian adviser to the supreme leader suggested last month that Iran could help build a nuclear facility for Turkey, an unofficial proposal the Turkish energy minister turned down through media outlets.
Iran Rejects Missile Shield Threat Against Turkey, Foreign Minister Says
Iran dismissed intimidating remarks by its own officials against Turkey, saying Tehran would target its neighbors NATO's missile if threatened, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported Wednesday.
"We reject those views completely," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told Anatolia in an interview, adding that those who had made the irresponsible statements had been warned.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran's official stance on Turkey is based on deep brotherhood and friendship," he said, adding that only Iran's supreme leader, president and foreign minister were able to pronounce on Iran's official attitude on international matters and foreign policy. "Other statements are considered personal views," he said.
In November, the commander of the aerospace division of Iran's Revolutionary Guards said Tehran would target NATO's missile shield in neighboring Turkey's southern Malatya province if it were threatened by military action.
"We are prepared to first target the NATO defense missile shield in Turkey if we are threatened. And then we'll move on to other targets," Amir-Ali Hajizadeh was quoted as saying by the Mehr news agency.
Earlier this month, an Iranian member of parliament, Hussein Ibrahimi, said it was Iran's "right" to hit the missile shield. "Iran will definitely do that," Turkish media quoted Ibrahimi as telling Iranian daily Sharq.
In December, Turkey conveyed its concern about the remarks of the Iranian commander to Salehi. Last year, it agreed to host an early warning radar system in its southeast as part of NATO's shield, which the United States says is aimed at thwarting missile threats from the Middle East, particularly Iran.
Turkish officials insist that the shield targets no specific country.
Erdogan to Return to Active Duty
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is set to begin active duty in Ankara today after spending nearly three weeks recovering from abdominal surgery at his residence in Istanbul.
"The prime minister's health is very good. He completed the period of convalescence and is back to work. He will return to Ankara normally and begin work," Health Minister Recep Akdağ said Tuesday.
Following his Nov. 26 operation in Istanbul, Erdoğan was scheduled to chair the meeting of the Supreme Military Council, or YAŞ, which deals with military promotions, and convene the Cabinet tomorrow. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, meanwhile, said he had made a "very big mistake" in regards to the intra-party frictions that recently emerged over a controversial match-fixing law.
Before Erdoğan's arrival Tuesday, Arınç voiced strong regret for having said "no one will ever dare to again consider [the match-fixing law]," after an initial presidential veto produced divisions within the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in Erdoğan's absence.
"I made only one mistake in this process and it was a very big mistake for which I cannot forgive myself," Arınç told private broadcaster CNNTürk, adding that his remarks amounted to "interference" in Parliament's legislative will.
The bill, which drastically reduced penalties for match-fixing in football, opened cracks in the AKP ranks, but the party eventually insisted on the legislation after Erdoğan instructed aides to ignore President Abdullah Gül's veto. Parliament passed the bill for a second time without changes last week and Gül signed it into law.
Customs and Trade Minister Hayati Yazıcı and AKP Deputy Chairman Hüseyin Çelik were the other senior party members who had publicly welcomed Gül's veto. Arınç likened the short-lived spat to a "fly's bite" for the AKP and played down suggestions that it reflected deep-running rivalry between Gül and Erdoğan and their respective inner circles within the party.
"No one should expect us to fall out over an issue as simple as a fly's bite. We've been through much harder times. We've been in politics together for 30 years. Our confidence in each other is endless," Arınç said. "I express my opinions, but if I see that they are harming the party I will step back. One should not cause damage to the party's unity and the government's strength."
Asked about the controversy over the length of the president's term, Arınç said it was too early to comment on who would succeed Gül and when. It is "not right and agreeable" to suggest that Erdoğan would become president with Gül returning as prime minister in a way similar to the Vladimir Putin-Dmitry Medvedev example in Russia, he said.
Prime Ministry sources said it was uncertain whether Erdoğan would visit Anıtkabir today as part of the routine YAŞ program and go to a reception in the evening hosted by the International Investors Association of Turkey, or YASED, even though his attendance had been announced in a press release by the group.
Police Detain 14 in MHP Leader Assassination Plot
Fourteen people have been detained in the southern province of Adana for allegedly planning to assassinate a nationalist opposition leader.
Police raided homes and businesses simultaneously in four provinces Tuesday as part of an investigation into the Turkish Revenge Organization Resistance Movement, a previously unknown ultranationalist militant organization. The detained were planning to assassinate Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, according to allegations.
The alleged members of the group, nine of whom were sent to court while the other five were arrested, allegedly planned to kill Bahçeli because he was allegedly hindering the nationalist movement.
Police sources said the group sought to assassinate Bahçeli on Oct. 5 during a trip to the southern province of Osmaniye, the MHP leader's hometown and the area that he represents in Parliament. The suspects were also allegedly planning to kill Francis Dondu, a priest in Adana, but Dondu was not present at the time of the planned attack.
The group was also targeting a number of Kurdish citizens and senior executives of the MHP and Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP. The names and addresses of those on the list were reportedly found in the operation, police sources siad.
The Adana Police Department began observing the structure of the group on social media nearly a year ago. They found that the leader of the illegal group, 40-year-old S.Ç., was an Ankara man who identified himself as a soldier.
AKP Rolls President's Mandate Ball to Speaker
The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, unwilling to take sole responsibility in the debate over President Abdullah Gül's term in office, urges Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek to take action. 'It is the speaker of Parliament who has to start the [presidential election] process,' says AKP deputy group leader Canikli.
After Gül was elected in 2007 to a seven-year presidency by the lawmakers, a constitutional amendment proposed and approved by the AKP reduced the mandate of the president to five years with a chance to be re-elected through popular vote. The Parliament speaker must initiate a constitutional amendment to end uncertainty over the length of Gül's term in office, a senior ruling party official said Tuesday.
"It is the speaker of Parliament who has to start the [presidential election] process. This cannot be started by a decision or a move of a political party," Nurettin Canikli, Justice and Development Party, or AKP, deputy parliamentary group leader, told reporters.
The initiative Canikli mentioned requires a consensus among the political parties on Gül's case, which could be reflected in the constitution through a provisional amendment.
Ankara to Pressure Paris to Reject 'Genocide' Bill
A Turkish parliamentarian delegation will pay a two-day visit to Paris from Dec. 19 to 20 to warn the French Parliament of serious damage to bilateral ties if it passes a bill that would criminalize denial of the Armenian "genocide."
Led by Volkan Bozkır, the head of Parliament's foreign affairs commission, the delegation will include Kasım Gülpınar of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, Osman Korutürk and Haluk Koç of the Republican People's Party, or CHP, and Yusuf Halaçoğlu of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP. The delegation will meet both with French lawmakers and non-governmental groups ahead of the vote in the lower house of French Parliament, expected on Dec. 22, Bozkır told the Hürriyet Daily News Tuesday.
He dismissed the bill as a political maneuver to lure support from the Armenian community in France's forthcoming presidential elections.
"Maybe we will fail to dissuade our French colleagues from approving the bill, but our main objective is to inform the French public about the damage that the bill would cause," he said, adding that, even if passed, the bill will not take effect automatically and a Senate approval would be needed.
"The Senate will close on Feb. 22 before the elections. The bill will become invalid if further steps are not taken until that time," he said.
The CHP's Korutürk said the bill flouted freedom of speech and freedom of research.
"Historians are also opposed to this law on grounds that it would pose obstacles to history research," he said. It was uncertain whether the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, would join the delegation.
Other attempts to penalize the denial of the Armenian "genocide" have failed in France since the early 2000s, after Paris officially recognized the killings of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1917 as genocide.
European Union Minister Egemen Bağış voiced hope that French entrepreneurs doing business in Turkey would take action to lobby French lawmakers against the bill.
"I believe that they will put their weight [against the bill] because they know how sensitive the Turkish people are on this issue," Bağış said in the northern city of Rize. "Bilateral ties with France are very important. Presidents, prime ministers and ministers have passed, but Turkish-French friendship has persisted."
Turkey Disappointed over Congress' Adoption of House Resolution 306
The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or MFA, said Turkey was disappointed over Congress' adoption of House Resolution 306.
In a written statement released Wednesday, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or MFA, said Turkey was disappointed over Congress' adoption of House Resolution. 306, saying it was baseless and did not represent the will of the whole House of Representatives.
"The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday adopted H.R. 306, which deals with the return of properties to churches in Turkey. The resolution was adopted with the intention to pass by the process in the appropriate committee and was brought to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives," the MFA wrote.
The resolution was voted on by only three individuals, showing the lack of seriousness in handling the matter, the MFA noted.
"Every citizen, regardless of his/her religion, race, color, ethnic roots and language, is equal in Turkey based on the Constitution. It is baseless to argue of a religious discrimination in Turkey," the MFA said.
More than 300 non-Muslim religious centers and more than 50 churches in Turkey reflect the freedom of religion in Turkey, according to the MFA.
"Recent arrangements made in the Foundations Law in Turkey facilitated the return or compensation of properties to non-Muslim foundations," the MFA said. "It is clearly evident that there is an important will in Turkey to tolerate differences. Such unilateral attempts as in the House of Representatives have no value. It is also clear that the U.S. House of Representatives needs to make more serious evaluations before deciding on relevant issues."
Panetta to Visit Turkey after Trip to Afghanistan
United States Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was expected to visit Turkey Wednesday for talks focusing on enhancing defense cooperation and the ongoing fight against terrorism, Turkish diplomatic sources said.
Panetta is coming from Afghanistan, where he told U.S. troops they were winning the 10-year war against terrorist networks during a visit focused on handing over security to Afghans as U.S. troops withdraw. Panetta's two-day Turkey visit comes just two weeks before the end of the year, by which time a U.S. radar system will be installed in eastern Turkey as part of NATO's missile shield project, officials have said.
The radar, prompting Iranian reactions against Turkey, will also be on Panetta's agenda, sources said. On the agenda for talks with Panetta are the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, recognized by the U.S. as a terrorist organization, and a $111 million defense deal between Ankara and Washington, diplomatic sources told the Hürriyet Daily News. Panetta is also expected to raise the issue of Turkey's strained relations with Israel.
Panetta was in Afghanistan Tuesday to review the war effort with the U.S., on track to recall 33,000 troops by the end of the next year. America is shifting its focus to an advisory role in training Afghan security forces.
"We're moving in the right direction and we're winning this very tough conflict," he told troops at Forward Operating Base Sharana, 56 kilometers from the Pakistan border in the southeastern Afghan province of Paktika.
In October, the Pentagon said Taliban attacks were down for the first time in five years, but insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan were feeding violence on the border and threatening the war effort.
"Are there challenges out there? You're damn right, there are challenges. Are we gonna be able to take on those challenges? You're damn right we will," Panetta told the troops.
Meanwhile, after a meeting with Panetta, President Hamid Karzai said Afghanistan did not want to be involved in any hostilities between the U.S. and Iran, after a U.S. reconnaissance drone was captured by the Islamic republic.
"Afghanistan should maintain and has maintained a very friendly relationship with Iran so we don't want to be involved in any adversarial relation between Iran and the U.S.," he said.
Second Turkish Citizen Dies in Syria Clashes
A Turkish citizen was killed in Syria while going to Saudi Arabia for work, a report said on Wednesday.
Turkish NTV channel claimed that Münir Dural's vehicle was confiscated after he crossed into Syria and he was caught in a firefight while searching for his car. There was no information over where he was killed in Syria. The report claimed that Dural was working in Saudi Arabia and came to Turkey for his vacation.
Previously, a Turkish truck driver was also killed in Syria during clashes.
Last month, three buses carrying Turkish pilgrims to Turkey from Saudi Arabia, where they had gone to perform the Islamic pilgrimage, were attacked at a check point in Syria. Two Turkish citizens were wounded as a result of the assault.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry earlier issued a travel warning for Turkish citizens planning to travel to Syria. It warned Turkish nationals not to travel to Syria unless absolutely necessary due to difficulties in establishing public order, while also urging those currently in Syria to be cautious and remain in contact with Turkish missions at all times after pro-regime protestors attacked Turkish missions in Syria.