Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands in front of 16 soldiers in historic garb at the presidential palace in Ankara (Getty)
The average foreign dignitary visiting Ankara might not expect to encounter an honour guard of 16 men resembling extras from a sword and sandals epic and lining the staircase of a gargantuan presidential palace.
So when Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, was confonted this week by the spectacle of the 16 soldiers in historic Turkic garb, even some Turkish officials confessed they initially thought the resulting images were the work of photoshop.
It was one of the more surreal sights to emerge from Turkey in recent times and has led to much hilarity on social media. But there was a point and purpose to the unusual costumes and their appearance may contain clues to Turkey’s direction of travel under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mr Abbas’s host and the country’s paramount leader. Read more
One of the most compelling of international relationships was on display in Ankara this week when Russian President Vladimir Putin visited his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The paramount leaders of Russia and Turkey dominate their countries’ politics like few other heads of state, casting long shadows on the world stage. When they appeared together at Mr Erdogan’s $600m new palace on Monday, there was the undeniable crackle of power in the air.
But commentators should beware of bracketing the two men together in too facile a fashion. Read more
Free Syrian Army soldiers on the Turkish side of the Oncupinar crossing into Syria (Getty)
What to do when the nightmare next door shows no sign of coming to an end? That is the dilemma facing Turkey, perhaps one of the countries most troubled by the brutal civil war raging in Syria, with which it shares a 900km long border.
Consider the issues Ankara has to address: 600,000 Syrian refugees on Turkish soil, for now and the foreseeable future, dozens of deaths on the border, the rise of al-Qaeda in Syria, diplomatic strains, domestic political controversy and economic fallout.
So what do you do if you are a 76m-strong Nato member with serious ambitions to play a big role in the Middle East and beyond? A number of answers are emerging from Ankara: Read more
Protests in Gezi Park (Reuters)
Four months ago demonstrations about trees in Istanbul’s Gezi Park grew into mass protests against the rule of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Now trees – or, put another way, the polarised politics of big development projects – have sprouted up once again on Turkey’s agenda. Here are five reasons why. Read more
Turkish actors Kivanc Tatlitug (L) and Songul Oden (R) (Getty)
It looks like the unkindest cut of all. After years in which the march of Turkish soap operas across the Middle East has been hailed as proof of Ankara’s soft power in the Arab world, someone wants to pull the plug.
The post-coup government in Egypt, which is barely on talking terms with Turkey, appears to be encouraging a boycott of Turkish soaps, a move that not only hits a showpiece cultural export but comes at a time when Ankara is confronting a host of problems in the Middle East.
The glory days of August 2011, when prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was greeted by thousands of sympathisers at Cairo airport, seem very far away. Indeed the upheaval in the Arab world, which once seemed set to bolster Turkey’s influence, is turning into a serious headache on issues ranging from soap operas to shootings. Read more
Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Getty)
The coup in Egypt might be bad news not just for Turkey’s government, which had cultivated ties with Cairo’s Islamist leadership, but also for the thousands of demonstrators who have protested against Ankara in recent months. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, appears to have toughened his stance towards the protesters in the wake of the army intervention against his allies in Egypt. Read more
Erdogan with Major General Hassan al-Roueini in Cairo, 2011 (Getty)
Two years ago, Egypt was the scene of one of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s greatest foreign triumphs. Now it is a country that he and much of Turkey look on at with anguish, a reminder that many of Ankara’s ambitions for the Middle East have come crashing to earth.
Turkey invested heavily in the Egyptian revolution and also in the government of Mohamed Morsi. Mr Erdogan was one of the first international leaders in early 2011 to call on then President Hosni Mubarak to heed the message of the demonstrators clamouring for his exit.
When, months later, Mr Erdogan visited Cairo, thousands of supporters greeted him at the airport.
Nor did ties end there. Ankara announced the extension of a $2bn loan to Cairo. Mr Morsi was acclaimed by the congress of Mr Erdogan’s ruling AKP last September. Just a few days ago, the Turkish prime minister discussed his plans to visit the Gaza Strip – which he would almost certainly travel to via Egypt. That trip looks much less likely today.
In sum, the Egyptian coup may be a devastating blow to Turkey’s vision of a more democratic, more Islamist-leaning Middle East in which Ankara plays a leading role, partly by virtue of philosophical ties with governments in the region, partly because of its own experience in beating back military influence. Read more
Photo by Getty
An energy and diplomacy deal that would reshape the map of the eastern Mediterranean might be proceeding faster than many people think.
It is just a few weeks since, in a bid to revive frozen diplomatic ties, Israel apologised to Turkey for a deadly raid that left nine Turkish citizens dead. The process was still sufficiently shaky for US Secretary of State John Kerry to come to Istanbul last weekend to chivvy both sides to go all the way and exchange ambassadors.
There are plenty of potential slips on the way ahead: compensation has to be agreed; the fate of Turkish court cases against retired Israeli commanders has to be decided (at present, they are going ahead); and Ankara still has to pronounce itself satisfied with the lifting of restrictions on civilian goods to Gaza (relevant, because the flotilla stormed by Israeli Defence Forces in 2010 was seeking to break the Gaza blockade). Read more
The golden stuff (AFP/Getty)
It must rank as one of the most thankless jobs in diplomacy. Just how do you draw up incentives for Iran to rein in its nuclear programme?
Talks have lumbered on, in one incarnation or another, for a decade now. Efforts to win over Tehran have been encumbered by mutual suspicion, political sensitivities (there is always the charge of appeasement) and sheer force of law.
Many of the sanctions the Islamic Republic most objects to are already on the statute book, whether as UN Resolutions, EU agreements or US law. No wonder it is difficult to come up with a compelling offer; few countries can change their laws by fiat.
On Monday, Tehran attacked one of the latest ideas seemingly floated by the world’s major powers – the notion the US could roll back recently imposed sanctions on gold sales to Iran.
The idea may have been designed to help Western allies – notably Turkey –as much as to alleviate Iran’s economic isolation. Last year Ankara became the world’s leading gold exporter to Iran, whether directly or through entrepôts such as the UAE. Demand from the Islamic Republic helped Turkey’s overall exports of the metal reach levels of $1.5bn-$2bn some months.
The trade has various explanations – chief of which is that bank transactions with Iran have become ever more problematic, particularly in the wake of measures affecting Swift, a group that facilitates electronic funds transfers. Against this backdrop, Tehran started taking payment for its oil and gas exports to Ankara in Turkish Lira – instead of via bank transfer – and using the money to buy gold it then ships home. Read more
In the latest in a series of disagreements, Turkey’s prime minister and president have clashed over a popular Ottoman-themed soap opera. Read more
A day after Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s powerful prime minister, effectively declared Damascus a hostile state and announced that Ankara would retaliate without warning against Syrian border incursions, the rest of the country is still trying to work out what those words mean – for rules of engagement, for Syria’s rebels, and for politics at home.
The short answers are that the border will become more militarised, with the Turkish army aiming at Syrian forces before they cross the frontier, that the rebels can expect considerably more help, probably including arms, and that Erdogan, long a dominant political figure, now has even more room for manoeuvre. Read more
By Daniel Dombey, US Diplomatic Corresponden
What exactly is going on with China and the US? And more specifically what is Robert Gates trying to do? Just a week before Chinese president Hu Jintao visits the White House the Pentagon chief is in
Beijing on a trip intended to bolster relations between the two sides.
But it’s not exactly following a touchy-feely script, judging by the events that bookended it. On the way over Gates signalled the US would be ramping up investment in equipment to fight off China. And after having held meetings with China’s top leadership – including Hu himself and heir apparent Xi Jinping, Gates expressed concerns about the Chinese military acting independently of the country’s civilian
(that is, communist party) leadership. Read more
By Daniel Dombey, US Diplomatic Correspondent
Few things on this planet are as important as US-Chinese relations, since between them the two countries do so much to shape world events. So Robert Gates’ extended trip to Beijing, dealing with some of the most difficult aspects of that relationship – their burgeoning military rivalry and their fledgling cooperation on security issues – is a pretty significant event. Read more
By Daniel Dombey, US Diplomatic Correspondent
You can understand why the latest flare-up of tension in the Korean peninsula has left Barack Obama none too happy.
Obama has had a pretty poor November so far, what with historic reverses in the midterm elections and a wretched G20 in Seoul where, rather than rallying the rest of the world against China’s currency policy, he found himself at the receiving end of several countries’ strictures about the Fed’s attempts to reflate the stumbling US economy. Read more
By Daniel Dombey
The heat bore down in Kandahar province and in the relative safety of two military bases the Pentagon chief saw the state of the Afghan war for himself. Dressed in chinos and a baseball cap, Robert Gates was a day tripper with a difference.
His soft, careful speaking style and the way in which he posed for photos with almost every US soldier who crossed his path gave little clue of the defence secretary’s influence in Washington and his beliefs about the conflict itself. But he most definitely matters. Read more
By Daniel Dombey
A ride in a C17 cargo plane from Baghdad to Kabul, consultations with Gen David Petraeus, the commander the US is pinning its hopes on in Afghanistan, and talks with Hamid Karzai the Afghan president who often exasperates his western partners – that’s what made up Robert Gates’ Thursday.
We in the press shared a good part of it. The birds’ eye view from the C17 gave a sense of the inhospitability of Afghanistan, with stunning glimpses of mountains set in desert wilderness.
At a press session at his headquarters Camp Eggers base we saw Petraeus. He sought refuge in generalities when asked specifics about, for example, his plans for the province of Kandahar. Read more
When the feel-good part of a trip is the visit to Iraq, you know you’re on an interesting journey.
After travelling to Baghdad yesterday to mark the formal end of the US’s military mission in that country, US defence secretary Robert Gates came today to Afghanistan, where Washington hopes to engineer a similar handover. Read more
Today, we are busy with another, much more controversial part of America’s military legacy – Iraq. Flying unannounced to the country as ever, we went by helicopter to Ramadi, once a seat of the insurgency, and travelled over a vast desert seemingly drained of all colour. Read more
By Daniel Dombey in al-Asad, Iraq
If you want to see what the US’s “responsible drawdown” in Iraq looks like, come to al-Asad Air Base. Here, in a desert of white sands, amid light canvas tents and under roaring planes, Robert Gates, US defence secretary, has begun a trip to mark the end of the US combat mission in the country.
The location is symbolic. The air base is in al-Anbar province, where some of the most violent episodes of the war took place and where the Anbar awakening that preceded the US surge took place.
When Gates arrives with a group of us journalists in tow, it is not yet seven in the morning and the transition from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn is just a few hours old. While we were in the air, President Barack Obama hailed the “historic moment” in only his second address from the Oval Office.
From al-Asad, at first glance, things look less dramatic. Read more
By Daniel Dombey, US diplomatic correspondent
Travelling with Hillary Clinton this past week has given me a distinctly unusual perspective on the world.
For instance: on some stops just about all you see is the inside of the presidential palace. So I can report that Argentina’s famous Casa Rosada or Pink House, from whose balcony Evita Peron made appearances before Argentina’s shirtless masses, is in a distinctly dodgy state of disrepair. Read more