The emergence of fresh sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites threatens to plunge the Mideast into "a regional Cold War," Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu warned Wednesday, ahead of a critical visit to Tehran.
"We are determined to avoid a regional Cold War. Regional sectarian tension would be suicide for the entire region," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told Anatolia news agency in an interview yesterday. Davutoğlu departed for Tehran late last night in preparation for two days of talks with Iranian officials.
The Turkish foreign minister's trip to Tehran comes amid rising tensions in the Middle East due to growing concerns of a fresh armed conflict between Iraqi Shiite and Sunni groups following the United States' withdrawal that could even spread to Baghdad's neighbors and an ongoing turmoil in sectarian-fragile Syria.
"There are some circles who wish to begin a Cold War on the axis of Sunni-Shiite tension whose affects would last for decades. I will raise this issue during my visit [to Tehran]," he said.
Turkey believes a dangerous situation is arising in the Middle East, Davutoğlu said, adding that Ankara had witnessed increasing polarization not only in Iraq and Syria, but in every corner of the region.
Turkey is determined to avoid such polarization and will meet with every related party to prevent unwanted developments, he said. Noting that the entire region and its people suffered from the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, as well as Saddam Hussein's occupation of Kuwait in the 1990s, Davutoğlu said:
"Turkey is strongly against fresh tensions in the region, be it Sunni-Shiite tension or an anti-Iran campaign or the recent row [between Iran and the United States] in the Gulf. That is why our Iraq policy envisages being engaged with every group. No one should commit a mistake in this; no party should act with an understanding that a certain ideology, certain sect or ethnic group can rule [Iraq]."
Turkey is deeply concerned that Iranian influence will increase in Iraq and create a fresh conflict among Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish groups that could ultimately result in the country's partition. Iran, for its part, has slammed Turkey for siding with the West against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, its key regional ally.
"We have different opinions on Syria but our stance has principles. They have their own perspectives and principles. We may discuss them," Davutoğlu said. "Despite differences between Tehran and Ankara, the fact that the visit can occur at all proves the close historical and friendly relations between Iran and Turkey," the foreign minister said.
Davutoğlu said he was planning to meet Iranian leaders and intellectuals twice a year as part of a deal with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. Expressing Turkey's determination to prevent regional tension, Davutoğlu said he would hold talks with all relevant parties in coming weeks, noting that he would stage visits to Moscow and Washington in late January and early February to discuss regional issues.
In addition, Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council will hold a strategic dialogue meeting this month. "What is important for us is to reduce the tension in the region," he said.
Turkey against any Polarization in Middle East, Turkish Foreign Minister Says
Turkey is against any polarization in the Middle East, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said.
"I want to clearly say that there are some who seek a regional cold war. We are determined to prevent it. A regional sectarian tension would be a suicide for the region," said Davutoğlu who assessed the year 2012 to AA.
He also noted that there was a risk of rising tension, which would affect not only Iraq and Syria but also the whole region. Folloing his visit to Iran, Davutoğlu said he would tour Russia and the United States within a month, hold meetings with officials of the European Union and Gulf countries and host foreign ministers of several countries in Turkey.
Davutoğlu said that Turkey was against escalation of tension in the region, adding that Turkey's Iraq policy was to being close to all groups in that country. Noting that the people in the region wanted a new political understanding, which covered everybody and attached importance to the views of everybody, Davutoğlu said that Tunisia was a good example in this aspect.
The president and prime minister of Tunisia are from two different political streams, Davutoğlu said, adding that Turkey wanted such an understanding of consensus to prevail in the region.
Uludere Apology May Follow Compensation
Compensating the families of 35 villagers killed in a Dec. 28 air raid will amount to a "material apology" although a verbal admission of guilt could follow depending on probe results, a senior ruling party official said Wednesday.
"The payment of compensation would in fact constitute a material apology. A verbal apology could be extended after all details of the incident have been uncovered," Justice and Development Party, or AKP, Deputy Chairman Hüseyin Çelik told reporters.
Çelik said the authorities would in no way cover up the incident if the probe establishes "any ill-intention, or any fault or negligence" was involved in the intelligence failure that prompted the strike in which the Kurdish smugglers, most of them teenagers, were mistaken for militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and bombed while crossing from Iraq into the southeastern province of Şırnak. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan "will do what is necessary" if it turns out that he has been misled by the National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, Çelik said, referring to media reports that MİT supplied the faulty intelligence to the military. MİT has denied the allegations and told Erdoğan it had not sent any intelligence reports on the issue ahead of the strike.
Meanwhile, the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, lodged a motion calling for a parliamentary inquiry to find out how the operation unfolded. A delegation of CHP lawmakers who returned from Şırnak after a series of meetings with relatives of the dead and local officials urged the government to promptly find out who was responsible for the intelligence blunder.
The lawmakers questioned why prosecutors had not yet asked the only survivor of the raid, Servet Encü, to give his account of the bombing and quoted the Şırnak governor as saying he had no prior information of the operation.
Local villagers reportedly said they were rebuffed by authorities when they alerted them to the presence of relatives crossing the border upon seeing warplanes flying in the area. Also Wednesday, the CHP submitted a draft law to Parliament that is aimed at increasing state compensation paid to citizens who suffer damages because of the struggle against the PKK.
Turkish Military Chief: We Don't Want to Call Citizens 'Terrorists'
Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel has said the military does not want to refer to members of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, as terrorists, as they think that they are citizens of Turkey who were deceived by the PKK.
In an interview with the Milliyet daily's Fikret Bila, Özel commented on the Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK, recently revised counterterrorism strategies when asked about a photograph published in almost all Turkish newspapers last month from a military operation in Bingöl in which a 15-year-old PKK member was captured in a ground operation. He was shown sitting in the snow with a cigarette in one hand and a Turkish security officer crouching down next to him. The officer was not wearing his parka, which rested on the young militant's shoulders, apparently to keep him warm in the freezing temperatures.
"We, as we have in the past, call on the terrorists -- a word we do not actually want to use while referring to our citizens as we regard them as people deceived [by the PKK] for some reasons -- to surrender [when we capture them] based on both humanitarian concerns and legal requirements," Özel said during the interview. "However, due to the pressure and propaganda of the separatist terrorist organization, our efforts are generally responded to with gunfire and they do not want to surrender out of fear."
The military chief added that those who do not support propaganda disseminated by the PKK are turning themselves in.
"We are very happy when they surrender because we know how these youth were deceived and are being kept in the mountains by force. When we see them reunited with their families, we understand the importance of the humanitarian and democratic stance our colleagues display, at the expense of their lives," Özel added.
In the past few months a high number of PKK members have surrendered to Turkish security forces. The PKK suffered major blows in northern Iraq and Turkey, such as those in the Kavaklı and Kazan camps in the southeastern province of Hakkari, with the death toll reaching 300. The losses suffered by the Turkish forces were minimal. This was mostly due to the joint efforts of police and military units, which have not worked together on counterterrorism for many years due to poor coordination.
The conflict with the PKK has claimed tens of thousands of lives and cost Turkey hundreds of billions of dollars. The group is labeled a terrorist organization by the EU and the U.S., which has supplied Predator drones to Turkey to assist in its fight in the rugged Southeast.
French Senate to Vote on Armenian Genocide Law This Month
France's upper house of Parliament will vote this month on a bill to outlaw denial of the Armenian genocide, a government official told the AFP, despite a furious diplomatic spat with Turkey.
The French lower house approved the law in December, threatening anyone who denies that the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turk forces amounted to genocide with jail, drawing a threat of sanctions from Turkey.
Tupras, Iran Trade will Continue
Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yildiz said Wednesday that the Turkish Petroleum Refineries Corporation's, or TUPRAS, trade with Iran would continue until a new development took place.
Speaking to reporters in Turkish capital of Ankara, Yildiz said that Iran was one of the countries from which Turkey imported crude oil and that they had not yet received any information about widening the scope of international sanctions against Iran.
Yildiz's comments came after a journalist asked a question on the United States and sanctions to be applied against Iran.
"TURPAS purchases a great amount of oil from Iran. As of today, trade with Iran continues. This commercial relation will continue until a new development takes place," Yildiz said.
European Union Minister Meets Greek Foreign Minister
Turkish Minister for European Union Affairs and Chief Negotiator Egemen Bagis met with Greek Foreign Minister Stavros Dimas in Athens on Wednesday as part of his unofficial trip to Greece.
Speaking to reporters following his meeting with Dimas at the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bagis said that he had a "friendly meeting" with Dimas.
"We discussed regional issues and bilateral relations. I have conveyed Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's regards and invitation to Dimas," Bagis said, adding that he would meet the Greek National Defense Minister Dimitrios Avramopoulos as part of his talks in Athens.
Christofias refuses to go to UN Unless Deal Reached
Negotiations to end Cyprus' division are proceeding poorly, the South's president has said, noting that if no agreement is reached soon, there would be no reason to convene for special upcoming talks in New York.
"[Turkish Cypriot President Derviş] Eroğlu says, 'Mr. Christofias wants Morphou and Karpas [in the north],' while the Annan Plan says Morphou should to be given to us. We hope Turkey will give a green light to a solution. The key to the problem is in Ankara," Christofias told the daily Hürriyet in a recent interview.
"If we can't make progress at all in the last two meetings, then there really would be no point in going to the meeting in New York that will be held at the end of the month," he said, referring to special, United Nations-sponsored talks.
Christofias and Eroğlu met Wednesday in Nicosia as a part of ongoing peace talks. Noting that Eroğlu and Christofias had reached consensus on some key issues, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's special adviser for Cyprus, Alexander Downer, said differences of opinion persisted on management and power-sharing, property and land and citizenship issues.
Christofias said he was eager to meet with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the matter.
"If he invites [me] I will go at once. I think Erdoğan does not drink rakı for religious concerns, but I can drink coffee, rakı or anything," said Christofias, adding that he would meet Erdoğan in either Istanbul or Ankara.
Turkish Cyprus, however, condemned the statement, saying Christofias should be addressing Eroğlu, not Erdoğan.
"He should not exceed his authority in his statements," Turkish Cyprus Prime Minister İrsen Küçük said Wednesday.
Küçük said Eroğlu and Christofias were already holding meetings over the Cyprus issue, the Anatolia news agency reported. Küçük also accused Christofias of being insincere during the peace talks. Meanwhile, Christofias called on Turkey not to call the Greek side of the island a "half country" in reference to Turkish President Abdullah Gül's statement in November 2011 about the prospect of Greek Cyprus taking over the European Union presidency this year as a "half country" leading a "miserable union."
"It is very insulting to say this to an EU member country, especially [when taking into account the fact that] we are in favor of Turkey's membership in the EU. This attitude does not demonstrate respect," Christofias said. Other EU countries do not support Turkey's attitude either, he added.
Powerful actors in the EU would still have problems with Ankara joining the union even without the Cyprus problem, Christofias said. Some of these countries are worried about Turkey's domestic problems, economy and population, whereas others are against Turkey's membership because it is a Muslim country, Christofias said, adding that he did not agree with the second reason.
Christofias also said natural gas would begin flowing to the island within four years.
Turkey and Greece have special rights according to 1960 agreements, he said, noting that the gas would benefit everyone if an agreement were reached.
Northern Cyprus Foreign Minister Hüseyin Özgürgün said the Greek Cypriots intended to pursue the island's indivisibility, not a permanent consensus. Releasing a statement Wednesday, Özgürgün said the Greek Cypriot administration had insisted on slandering the Turkish Cypriot side instead of trying to reach a consensus.
Top Defense Panel to Meet for Fighter, Chopper Moves
Turkey's top defense industry panel was scheduled to meet Thursday to possibly approve the purchase of a first batch of six multi-national and next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II aircraft, procurement officials and analysts said Wednesday.
The top item at the gathering was expected to be whether to place an order for an initial batch of F-35 stealth fighters. If the committee decides to make the order, deliveries of the F-35 would likely begin in 2015. If not, deliveries to Turkey would be delayed until 2016.
Turkey is a member of the F-35 consortium, but has not yet committed itself to officially buying the aircraft although plans to operate around 100 aircraft eventually. Other consortium members include the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Norway and Denmark.
Other countries have shown an interest in buying the aircraft, but are not members of the consortium, as is the case with Israel. A recent decision by Japan to buy the F-35 has been a major push for the aircraft; Japan and Israel, meanwhile, are expected to receive deliveries in 2016.
The tri-annual meeting of the Defense Industry Executive Committee, whose members include Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, chief of the Turkish General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel and procurement chief Murad Bayar, was originally scheduled for Dec. 20, but was delayed until today due to Erdoğan's busy working schedule.
The Defense Industry Executive Committee is expected to also select today the type of light helicopter for Turkish police force use, officials and analysts said.
The committee's decision is expected to come at a time when the Turkish police are preparing to assume a larger role in the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
The Police Department will soon buy up to 15 light helicopters to bolster the force's capabilities.
Competing in the bid tendered the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, or SSM, Turkey's defense procurement agency, will be Italy's AgustaWestland, the U.S. Bell Helicopter Textron and Eurocopter Deutschland, the European Eurocopter's German arm.
Winners will produce a first batch of 10 to 15 light helicopters worth up to $100 million and is also expected to manufacture more light helicopters for the Turkish police in follow-up batches. The victor is likely to cooperate in the production with Turkish Aerospace Industries, or TAI, Turkey's state-owned aerospace company.
The Police Department's present helicopter fleet is mainly made up of U.S.-made MD600 light helicopters, which are becoming older and more difficult to operate. The new light helicopters should better perform police tasks, including tracking suspected criminals and intervening in incidents that could erupt during mass demonstrations, industry sources said.
The PKK in recent months has intensified attacks in large cities, where maintaining security is the police's responsibility.
"The new light helicopters will greatly boost the Police Department's capabilities in all fields in which the police operate," the procurement official said.