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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
Happier times? Syrian President Bashar al Assad, right, and his wife Asma, second left, with the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine in Bodrum in August 2008
It wasn’t always like this. There was a time – just four years ago – when the leaders of Turkey and Syria could meet with their wives at a sunkissed beach resort, smile, share a meal, and discuss ‘regional peace efforts’. Things are different now. On Thursday, the Turkish parliament voted to authorise the deployment of troops in Syria; a response to the firing of a Syrian shell that killed five people in a Turkish border town. The incident in Akcakale brought to the surface months of simmering hostility between the two countries. While Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, insists he does not want to start a war, the situation is volatile, and even small moves in the coming weeks could reverberate across the region.
In the FT
- In this analysis piece from September 24, the FT’s Turkey correspondent Daniel Dombey takes an in-depth look at how the turmoil in Syria has sent shockwaves through Turkey’s economy, domestic political scene and unsettled its relations with neighbours and allies. “The poison let loose by the fighting in Syria… has seeped across the countries’ 900km border.”
- Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, famously declared he would pursue a “zero problems with the neighbours” policy – and for a while, this seemed to work. In this opinion piece from June, Gideon Rachman argues that the aspiration “has now been displaced by a real world in which Turkey in fact has awkward relations with most of its neighbours: Iraq, Iran, Syria and Israel – foremost among them.” In particular, Erdogan’s increasingly vocal criticism of Assad’s handling of the crisis has shaken Turkey’s already delicate relationship with Iran.
What are the potential implications of Turkey’s exchange of artillery fire with Syria over the last 24 hours? Read more
Our selection of interesting articles from around the world today: 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
Recep Tayyip Erdogan on June 5. BULENT KILIC/AFP/GettyImages
The World Economic Forum for the Middle East is usually held in an Arab capital and the usual controversy is over how many Israelis show up. This year, there are so many different Arab worlds, one in political transition away from autocracy, the other still solidly autocratic, and the third profoundly troubled by the old conflicts.
That is part of the reason we are in Istanbul, where 1,000 business and political leaders are gathered for a WEF that is now “on the Middle East, north Africa and Eurasia.” The other might be that the WEF has come where Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, will no longer tread – he vowed never to return to Davos after storming off stage in 2009 in a heated debate on Gaza. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s admirers stretch from the Arab street to the western salon. In the Middle East, the Turkish prime minister is regarded as a courageous champion of the Palestinians. Many western intellectuals also admire Mr Erdogan, believing he has made Turkey a model for an Arab world in turmoil. Read more
Palestine, Turkey, Hong Kong
In this week’s podcast: As president Mahmoud Abbas presses his argument for Palestinian statehood at the UN – we ask former editor of the Jerusalem Post, David Horovitz and head of the Palestinian government media centre, Ghassan Khatib, what the people on the streets of Israel and Palestine really think about the prospect; then we talk about an activist Turkish foreign policy which sees Turkey facing confrontation on many borders; and finally, rising inflation and soaring property prices in Hong Kong open up the gap in living standards between the rich and poor. Read more