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