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INTERVIEW

‘F-16 issue linked to Sweden’s NATO membership’

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Richard Outzen is a retired US colonel who served on the US State Department’s Policy Planning Team and as an advisor to several secretaries of state.

Outzen served as both a military and civilian advisor to the US State Department between 2016 and 2021, working in the Office of Policy Planning and later in the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria. From 2013 to 2016, he was a faculty member at the National Defense University (NDU) and the Institute for National Security Studies. From 2014 to 2015, he was the US defense attaché in Kabul. He previously served as deputy chief of staff for training and development for the US Security Coordinator in Jerusalem. He has published extensive research on policy and strategy issues, with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia.

Currently a geopolitical advisor to leading US think tanks such as the Atlantic Council, Outzen, who speaks Turkish, Arabic, Hebrew and German, has over thirty years of active military service, held various command, staff and liaison positions, and spent ten years in the Middle East, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Outzen answered our questions on Turkey-US relations, Turkey’s position in NATO and the Russia-Ukraine war.

‘Turkey’s demands for Sweden’s membership are reasonable and appropriate’

A trilateral meeting between Turkey, Sweden and Finland took place recently. After the meeting, President Erdoğan said that “we are not very warm” to Sweden’s NATO membership. Do you think this opinion will change before the NATO summit in Lithuania next month? How will NATO and the US react if it doesn’t change?

I do not see a great chance for a change. What actions Sweden takes are important. They had some legal problems. It can be said that there is a weakness in Swedish law against terrorism. For them, being a member of a terrorist organization was not a serious crime. These constitutional problems changed at the end of 2022. In the past, if a person did not actually commit an act of terrorism, it was not a crime. It was not even a crime to make propaganda and recruit members, let alone to be a member. This allowed the PKK, an international terrorist organization, to demonstrate and expand its influence in Sweden. Turkey would naturally not be in favor of such a situation. The amendment to this law only came into force on June 1st. So far, it is known that they will extradite one terrorist offender, and he is known for crimes such as drugs as well as PKK affiliation. But this is only one step.

Turkey is waiting for more important steps. It wants the organization’s money collection and recruitment methods to be prevented. I think this is a reasonable and appropriate request. After all, NATO membership comes with many obligations. If Sweden is attacked one day, Turkey will have to defend Sweden. Therefore, Sweden should take the PKK, Turkey’s number one national security problem, seriously. This is a very reasonable request. So I do not think there will be a major change happening within a month. I do not expect it to be in time for Vilnius. I know that we (the US) will be disappointed here too. After all, we are trying to grow NATO against the Russian threat. Both aspirations are good and reasonable, but the timing is not good.

That’s why I do not think the US will react with threatening language and sanctions. This is not going to speed up the process in any way. Turkey has shown that it will not give up its national interests through sanctions. My guess is that it will go on like this for another 3-4 months. Sweden will continue to implement its new laws. If Turkey is satisfied, they will be able to join NATO, just like Finland. We should not expect this to happen quickly.

‘They will not give F-16 approval until they see Sweden’s NATO membership’

As you know, the F-16 and modernization kit negotiations between Turkey and the US are ongoing. The Biden administration has also expressed its positive opinion on this issue, but the decision also needs to be approved by the Congress. How do you think Turkey’s position and policies on Sweden will affect the F-16 decision? Does the purchase of F-16s depend on Sweden’s membership?

It depends. It should not depend, but unfortunately it does. The place of Congress in our system is very important when it comes to arms deals. Especially in committee on foreign affairs, there are four senior congressmen. If even one of them objects, there will be a delay. The president could force a vote as per his wishes, but that would not go down well with his own party. That’s why Biden will start his rounds of persuasion. One of the people he has to convince is Senator Menendez. Menendez has said that he will not give his approval until he sees Sweden’s NATO membership. If the Swedish issue is to drag on, so is the F-16.  This is very upsetting. I personally support Turkey getting the F-16s. After all, this is a matter of domestic politics. The Democrats want to see Sweden in NATO and they do not care much about the PKK. Of course, there are also anti-Turkey people in the congress. They are disturbed by the strengthening of Turkey. Of course, this is not a new issue.  During the 1974 peace operation, the congress was also annoyed and imposed embargoes. We stopped selling anything to Turkey for 5-6 years. At that time, Turkey’s defense industry was not very mature. It became a bigger problem for Turkey.  In fact, this played a big role in the development of defense investments in Turkey. In order not to be in a dependent role like then, the Turks reinforced their defense industry. The F-16 issue is unlikely to be resolved in the short term, but Turkey has other options, such as its own defense industry or other partners.

‘The US will not react to an operation west of the Euphrates’

Turkey’s operations in Syria in the past years were severely criticized in the West. For the last year, there has been talk of a new operation against PKK-YPG terrorist units in Syria. The sanctions imposed on Russia after the Ukraine war failed to achieve what was expected. Would a possible Turkish operation open the door to similar sanctions?

This sanctions issue is very popular in the US. How effectively it works is open to debate. In such a possible operation, the region picked is very important. Most of our troops are in the northeast of Syria. We have troops in places like Kobani or Qamishli.

The places President Erdoğan mentioned are in the west of the Euphrates. There are no US troops in areas like Tel Rifaat or Manbij. The YPG units there have no such mission as fighting against ISIS. They occupy the region with the support of Assad, the Russians and the Iranians. These are Sunni-majority areas. I do not think that a small-scale operation will cause a big reaction. Nevertheless, one has to be careful, two allies like Turkey and the US should not confront each other.

‘White House will be pragmatic about the election results in Turkey’

Biden made remarks that he would support the opposition in Turkey during the 2020 election. With these statements, we observed that the tension between Biden and President Erdogan increased. How do you think the Turkish-American relations will be affected by the fact that Erdogan won again in the elections and will remain in the government for another 5 years?

Early indications are that the White House will be pragmatic. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan gave an interview. When asked, “Does the anti-Americanism in the Turkish election campaigns bother you?” Sullivan said, “Turkey is a democracy. There is always anti-Americanism in Turkish elections. But that has not hindered our relationship to date. There is a lot of work to do with Turkey, from Ukraine to Syria. We will approach it in a constructive way.” This is very interesting because Turkey was not invited to the Democracy meetings in 2021 and 2022. This was to emphasize that Turkey is not a democratic country. But now the National Security Advisor says that Turkey is a democracy. He did not say conditional democracy, he did not say authoritarian democracy. He directly called it a democracy. This is a positive sign. The White House gave the message that “OK, we did not get what we wanted, but we continue to work together”.

‘The US is not very even-handed on the Turkey-Greece issue’

It would not be surprising to say that Turkey-Greece relations have become increasingly tense in recent years. Recently, the US military bases on the Turkish border have added to these tensions. Especially in the Turkish media, the claim that these build-ups are against Turkey rather than Russia has been widely voiced. What do you think?

As an American, I want NATO to be strong. That includes both Greece and Turkey. This kind of build-up is never against allies. Of course, I understand Turkey’s concerns. The US is not very even-handed on the Turkey-Greece issue. For example, Mitsotakis can make a speech in front of the congress, but Turkey cannot. So I understand the concerns, but I do not think this is an intimidation against Turkey. There is also a financial reason for the military bases in Greece. The maintenance costs are lower compared to bases in Germany. This will never be a move against Turkey.

The tension between Mitsotakis and Erdoğan was beneficial for both sides on the eve of the elections. Both leaders gained comfort for 4-5 years. From now on, tensions will continue but ease a little bit. The problems between Turkey and Greece are not huge. There are no issues that cannot be solved. All problems can be solved in secluded meetings.

Of course, Greek friends say that this tension does not bother them. They receive “gifts” from the West thanks to the tension. They are upgrading their equipment. As the big brother, the US should promote peace and act in a balanced way.

‘A rupture in areas like Mariupol may encourage the Russians to come to the table’

Ukraine started an offensive after being equipped by the West. Western countries have invested heavily in this offensive. However, the first week of the offensive tells us that no major progress has been made and, moreover, serious losses have been suffered. According to many experts, there will be no serious territorial change in the next year. US Chief of Staff Mark Milley has also said that “we do not expect any major change”. There are even such comments that the war may last not years but decades. How do you assess the course of the war?

General Milley also said “Kyiv will fall in three days”. High rank does not always mean good sense of prediction. War is a very complex and difficult process. It is difficult to predict how an operation will develop in advance. But we know that there are serious weaknesses in the Russian army. They have not been able to successfully conclude their offensive. Yes, Bakhmut was taken, but no further progress was made, moreover, serious losses were suffered.

The Ukrainian offensive has not yet matured. For now, they are launching minor offensives to find weak points. In this way, they expect the Russians to shift their reserves. Ukraine has heavy armored brigades set up for the offensive. These brigades are equipped by the West. We have not yet seen the main force of the offensive on the ground. It will not take long, within a week or ten days, they will find a weak point and try their luck. Then we will see if there is going to be any results. I agree that this war may take a long time, especially the cleansing of Crimea from the Russians. But war is full of surprises. A breakthrough in areas like Melitopol and Mariupol could turn the tide. Maybe then the Russians will be encouraged to come to the table. The Russians made such a mistake in the World Wars. They left a serious force in front but weakened the flanks. As the Germans quickly surrounded them, the Russians were unable to withdraw their troops, leading to the capture of about 200-300 thousand Russian soldiers. Of course, due to the scale of the war, this would not be the case now. If Ukraine can exploit a weakness, there could be a collapse.

But what if it doesn’t? If the offensive fails, how long can Western countries maintain their support? Or would they want to?

I think this is the biggest surprise of the war. Putin thought that the West would give up and leave Ukraine alone, but he was wrong. Because the West thinks that if Russia succeeds, this war will not be the last strike against Ukraine. Almost all NATO countries will continue to help Ukraine. A Russian victory would also be a disaster for Turkey. If Russia wipes Ukraine off the map, Turkey will be in a very difficult situation in the Black Sea. Yes, maybe Russia can continue this war for 10 years. But we can continue to support it for at least one or two more years.

‘China will not repeat US mistakes in the Middle East’

You know, in the last few months, China has strongly penetrated into the Middle East. The winds of diplomacy started to blow between Saudi Arabia and Iran, who have been at war for a long time over Yemen. We saw this period as a time in which US influence in the Middle East was waning, but China’s influence was growing. How do you see the new balances in the Middle East? How do you evaluate the thirty years the US has spent in the Middle East?

The US made huge mistakes for thirty years. In the 90s, there was an attempt to do good. After the Cold War, there was an expectation to do good all over the world. The intention was to bring prosperity and democracy. We focused on peace between Palestine and Israel. We wanted to remove dictators. But it did not happen. Even if we were very powerful, we could not manage such a complicated region. We did not try to build an empire like the classic British. Our people did not want to colonize these countries or even give them money. We got tired easily, and frankly, many mistakes were made. From Iraq to Libya, there were many mistakes. And the people of the United States said, “We cannot do it” and demanded withdrawal.

China, I think, will not repeat these mistakes. They have no desire to rule the region. They buy oil from both Saudi Arabia and Iran. They think that in order for the oil to reach them without problems, two countries should not fight. It’s more like a commercial deal. So, what they want is only order.

“Multipolarity” is much discussed at this time. If China tries to control the region, they cannot do it either. The US is also not so keen anymore. It is planning to get out of the Middle East and shift its influence to Asia.

Multipolarity is a good thing for this region since there are various powerhouses in the region such as Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Let them get along with each other. We cannot influence everything from outside. It is good that there is a dialog between these countries, which is happening now. Everyone should start talking to each other. For example, as Turkey you are now talking to Egypt as well. I think it is a good and normal thing that the countries in the region are filling the vacuum left by the US.

INTERVIEW

Brazilian journalist Breno Altman: For the first time in human history, we are witnessing an online genocide

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Brazilian journalist Breno Altman answered our questions about the war in Gaza and the policies of the Brazilian and Venezuelan governments.

Breno Altman is a renowned Brazilian journalist, founder of the news portal “Opera Mundi”, an independent journalism website. He has interviewed President Nicolás Maduro and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, among other prominent figures in Latin American and world politics.

This Friday, June 14, Breno Altman, who arrived in Caracas to participate in the International Seminar: “A new holocaust in the 21st century,” spoke about the accusations against him to establish a position in favor of the Palestinian people, as well as analyzed Venezuela-Brazil relations.

It is important mentioning that, recently, Breno Altman, of Jewish origin, has been the object of strong attacks in his country, by the influential Jewish community of Brazil, which accuses him of being anti-Semitist due to his defense of the Palestinian Cause and for denouncing the genocide by the Israeli government in Gaza. The Brazilian Israelite Confederation (CONIB) accused him civilly and criminally of anti-Semitism. The pressure from the CONIB on the Brazilian Justice has been so strong that the journalist has more than 10 cases against him, and in addition, he had to remove from his social networks some of his publications in defense of the right of the Palestinian people to resist against the Zionist aggression; Fortunately, all their platforms continue to function, unfortunately, the judicial processes and the attack on freedom of expression continue as well.

A Brazilian Jew, defender of the Palestinian Cause

Present in Caracas to participate as a speaker at the event “A new holocaust in the 21st century. Zionism threatens the world”, activity organized by the Rómulo Gallegos Center for Latin American Studies (CELARG) and the Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV); Breno Altman is a Jew who does not deny the legacy that different people of the Jewish religion, from different regions and countries, have left for the history of humanity (especially in the Western world but also in Eurasia), for example, he highlights Karl Marx and Leon Trotsky, among others. Nor does it deny the holocaust of the Nazi regime against the Jews in Europe that caused millions of deaths, among which the majority can be counted Jews. However, the Brazilian journalist is clear and forceful: “A genocide is happening in Palestine before the eyes of the world.” “It is the first time in history that we have experienced an online genocide.” “Zionism is the racist and colonial response to anti-Semitism,” stated Altman.

To get into context, what is happening in Palestine today?

I consider it to be the first genocide transmitted online in the history of humanity. Since October 2023, we are living and seeing this genocide all day, every day, every week, every hour of our day, it is there on our screens. So far we have 37,000 deaths, of which almost 70% of the human losses are civilians, and a large part of them are women, girls and boys. Proportionally, it is the largest massacre in a war of children in history. We are talking about 14,000 children having been murdered by the Zionist government of Israel. We are talking about around 15,000 women have been murdered. These are figures from the Ministry of Health of the Gaza Strip that have been confirmed by the United Nations. It is a situation where the word, the horror of the concept “genocide” is clearly applied, because it is not a collateral effect of a war, it is a target, an objective, a calculation of the Israeli army.

What the Netanyahu government is doing is part of a normal strategy in a genocide, children are killed so that they do not become adults and women are killed so that they do not have other sons and daughters. They seek ethnic cleansing, they seek to eliminate the Palestinian people.

In your personal experience, how much is Zionism accepted within the Jewish community in Brazil? And how is the receptivity of the anti-Zionist Jew within the Jewish community in Brazil?

The majority of Jews in the world today are Zionists. In Brazil, we have the third most important community in the Americas, the first is that of the United States, the second is that of Argentina, and then there is us with 150,000 Jews who live in Brazil. I come from an anti-Zionist Jewish family that goes back three generations, my parents, my grandparents, have been important in the Jewish community, but they have always been anti-Zionist. So, there is a very harsh confrontation against every anti-Zionist Jew.

For example, I am currently responding to 13 or 14 legal cases in Brazilian justice, because Zionist organizations accuse me of anti-Semitism. And a distinction must always be made to clear up a confusion that exists between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Anti-Zionism is the fight against a certain political ideological current, and it is the political ideological current represented by the State of Israel. Anti-Semitism is the persecution and racism against Jews. They are different things. He who is against Zionism is not against the Jews, just as he who was against Nazism was not against the Germans, and he who was against fascism was not against the Italians.

But Zionist entities try to put everything in the same bag or place, for them if you criticize Zionism you are anti-Semitic. The Zionists treat me like a Jew who hates himself, they say that I practice, against the Jews – even though I am Jewish – the crime of racism and the crime of anti-Semitism. 

Zionism, in reality, is from the same family as fascism and racism. It is part of the root of national-chauvinist, ultra-nationalist, xenophobic, supremacist doctrines.

Let’s talk about Lula. There is a perception that the Brazilian president has distanced himself a little from Venezuela and Palestine. Do you think this has been the case?

I believe that Lula has had a fairly clear and firm position on Palestine, I even believe that he was the first world leader who – in addition to speaking out against the genocide in Gaza – equated Benjamin Netanyahu’s regime with Nazism. That is to say, Lula publicly demonstrated the great contradiction of Israel by applying methods against the Palestinians very similar to those applied by Hitler’s Germany. However, we must move on to another phase, not just remain declarative.

Now, can Lula do that? take a step further. It’s difficult, because Brazil is 5th. largest oil exporter to Israel. Brasilia is 5th. Israel’s largest importer of weapons and security technology. But also, Brazil has already withdrawn the Brazilian ambassador from Israel, and, in my opinion, is inclined to follow the same line that South Africa followed to end Apartheid.

Finally, can you explain to us that “ambiguous” relationship that President Lula has had towards Venezuela?

I do not consider President Lula to be ambiguous. Lula has always maintained a position of solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution, with the government of President Chávez and with the government of President Nicolás Maduro. However, the internal and external pressure against Venezuela and the Bolivarian Government is very strong. 

Venezuela within Brazil has a negative image, the enemies of Venezuela have managed to build a negative image of the country. And all the time that image is used to compromise and attack the Brazilian left. On the other hand, Lula is not a revolutionary leader, Lula is not Chávez, Lula is not Maduro, Lula is not Fidel. Lula is a popular left-wing leader, but he acts within a Brazilian institutionality that is a liberal democratic institutionality, a conservative institutionality. Furthermore, in Brazil there is no revolutionary process underway, as there is in Cuba, Nicaragua and, of course, in Venezuela.

So, Lula chooses to balance between some criticism and some defenses for and against Venezuela, because otherwise the political cost to pay would be too high. Despite everything, Lula has remained supportive and close to the Bolivarian Revolution.

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INTERVIEW

At what stage is the UAE-Türkiye Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement?

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Juma Mohammed Al Kait, Assistant Undersecretary for International Trade Affairs of Economy Ministry of United Arab Emirates, answered our questions on the economic and commercial relations between the UAE and Türkiye and potential areas of cooperation.

Juma Al Kait serves as the Chief Trade Negotiator for the UAE and Assistant Undersecretary for International Trade Affairs at the Ministry of Economy. In this capacity, Al Kait supervises trade negotiations, monitors trade disputes, ensures enforcement of trade law, and keeps government, industry and nongovernmental organizations informed on UAE trade policy. He has played a pivotal role in nearly every major trade issue and trade legislation over the last 20 years, including the recently negotiated Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements with India, Israel, Indonesia, Georgia, Turkiye and Cambodia. He also leads the UAE’s participation in trade negotiations within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) framework.

After the normalization process last year, we had a significant visit to the UAE by the Turkish side, led by President Erdogan. During that meeting, many promises were made for investments in Türkiye, including some defense industry investments. What is the recent position of the UAE regarding investments and international trade with Türkiye and the promises to increase capacity?

First of all, it is great to be in Türkiye and to take part in 3rd Ministerial Meeting of the TPS-OIC Trade Negotiations Committee. I would like to thank the Turkish government for all the arrangements they have made. It is good to see how Türkiye is also putting forward plans and suggestions to move trade between members forward. There are many good proposals that have been put on the table and discussed, related to trade in goods as well as facilitating investment and services. From the UAE perspective, we are enjoying a very good economic trade relationship between the UAE and Türkiye. I am proud to say that we have signed the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between the UAE and Türkiye, and we see this agreement entering into force. It is beneficial for both economies. We have noticed an increase in trade flow between the UAE and Türkiye, especially after signing this agreement. As you mentioned, there have been many high-level visits recently between both countries. The recent visits of the leaders resulted in the signing of a number of memorandums of understanding (MoU) and agreements in many different sectors. We think this is how the relationship should be. There are always ways of looking at new areas of collaboration. These MoUs will not only put our private sectors into looking at the usual way of doing business but also explore new opportunities in other areas that we don’t usually engage in.

What are the new areas for you?

When I say new areas, I mean new developments in the economy, such as technology entering into many different sectors, including the industrial sectors, healthcare, and the technology element in it, financial services, construction, agricultural technology, and many other areas where both sides can complement each other. Investing in Türkiye in some companies and trying to attract investment from Türkiye to the UAE, the UAE has provided several incentives to enhance the investment ecosystem. There are many opportunities as the UAE is expanding its development in infrastructure and connectivity. This represents a good opportunity for Turkish companies to benefit from this and operate in the UAE. We have captured this in the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. Turkish companies and UAE companies will enjoy beneficial treatment through this agreement, and this beneficial arrangement will not be extended to others. We have better treatment regarding trade, investment, and service suppliers between us.

Which specific sectors or companies are coming to the UAE?

As I mentioned, first of all, constructions, food processing, service providers like professional services, and other areas like hospitality, hotels, restaurants, and financial services. We have managed to secure a proper legal framework for our private sector to do business. This should be utilized further. It is our role as a government to make our business community aware of the benefits of this agreement. Exporters from both sides can now export products without customs duties in many sectors.

Both countries can export without customs?

Yes, according to the terms and conditions of the agreement.

Is it limited to specific sectors?

It covers most products. Additionally, there are MOUs signed earlier, which are considered a starting point for further collaboration in areas important to both sides, like renewable energy, sustainable development, and other areas related to the new economy. We can collaborate further in these areas and see trade and investment increase through these MOUs and the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement signed between both sides.

I think it was almost $50 billion last year, the total of these MOUs. Which part of that has been implemented up to now, or is there an initiative?

Both sides are working towards implementing a number of those agreements. There are already a good number of MOUs that have been initiated and implemented. Things are moving on track, and there is a dedicated monitoring process for progress. We want to ensure that everything moves smoothly according to those MOUs and the vision of our leaders.

It’s almost one year, right?

Yes. From those MOUs, there were so many different sectors. In Türkiye, the defense industry was the most popular if the UAE would come and invest in the Turkish private defense sector. As I explained earlier, investment in all areas will be facilitated further. Investors from both sides will be able to communicate better and sign deals more efficiently. There are many things that can be done in the near future between both sides. It is important for me as a government representative to encourage both private sectors to engage further and explore new opportunities. The UAE has also signed agreements with many countries around the world, representing a golden opportunity for Turkish investors. Once they operate in UAE markets, they can expand their business through other markets where we have signed trade agreements. I am sure you are aware of what the UAE has been doing in terms of signing these agreements. We have signed with many countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Turkish companies will benefit from this once they operate in UAE markets. The sophisticated infrastructure in the UAE will help Turkish products move better into other markets. It is a platform that will support the Turkish industry to expand internationally through the UAE.

After the normalization, do you have good trade relations with Qatar? What is your position with Qatar?

Economically speaking, we are doing business as usual with everyone. We enjoy very good trade relations with all Gulf Cooperation Council  (GCC) countries, including Qatar. We have witnessed an increase in our bilateral trade. There are also efforts at the GCC level to enhance internal trade between GCC members. As you know, we have a customs union, economic agreements, and recent visits between our leaders have contributed well to our economic agenda. We recently participated in Doha, hosting some of the ministerial GCC trade ministers’ meetings, resulting in very good outcomes. So, things are moving very well.

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INTERVIEW

‘NATO mission to be extended to the Middle East and Africa’

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Former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jonathan M. Winer spoke to Harici: The NATO declaration emphasised the extension of NATO’s mission to the Middle East and Africa and the action plan to implement it.

While the world is preoccupied with the upcoming elections in the United States and the recent incident in which former Republican President Donald Trump was targeted by an assassin, reports from the United States say that Trump is now officially the presidential candidate for the November 2024 elections. Many are debating whether the attack will have any impact on the campaigns of Trump and his Democratic rival Biden. The two leaders have many differences in foreign policy and approaches to NATO, nuclear talks with Iran, the presence of US troops abroad, relations with Russia and activities in the Middle East.

Former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jonathan M. Winer answered Dr Esra Karahindiba’s questions on global developments for Harici.

Jonathan M. Winer served as the United States Special Envoy to Libya, Assistant Secretary of State for International Law, and Advisor to Senator John Kerry. With expertise in migration, US foreign policy, counter-terrorism, governance, economics and energy, he is currently a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute.

Let’s start with the attack against former President Donald Trump? He was injured and critics say that the reason of the attack is Biden’s campaign portraying Trump as a candidate who should never become president again. How would it be reflected on both candidates campaigns and ballots?

It is completely inappropriate to politicize the attack on Donald Trump by what appears on the basis of the facts known so far to be the isolated acts of a lone gunman. Any suggestion that anyone but the shooter was responsible for it is reckless and wrong.

Can you share your insights on the most significant outcomes of the recent NATO summit and their implications for US foreign policy? How do you evaluate the fact that there is no message about Israel in the final declaration of the NATO Summit? Israel’s threat of war against Lebanon and the possibility that Syria in a wider scale, will naturally have negative broader impacts in the instability of the region. Will a new stance be taken regarding Israel’s actions?

Three things stand out in the NATO Communique issued at the NATO summit. First, united resolve to counter Russian aggression in Ukraine. NATO is not giving up to seek some settlement with Russia, but digging in, with commitments to deliver sophisticated air defense systems promptly and to include Ukraine in NATO in the near-term – though it appears, not until after the war has ended. Second, explicit warnings to China and to Iran that their continuing support for Russia’s continuing assault on Ukraine will have consequences. Third, expansion of NATO’s mission to include the Middle East and Africa, including the first phase of an action plan to implement it. The Middle East and Africa initiative is the first concrete response by NATO to the systematic influence operation in this region that Russian has been building out for the past five years. It will likely take years before we know whether this southern initiative will meaningfully challenge the current dynamics in which Russia’s rewards to dictators and strongmen have overwhelmed the legacy of influence previously retained by France and other former European colonial powers. 

The NATO Communique is a consensus document reflecting consensus strategic choices. Weak statements by NATO regarding Israel and Hamas and Gaza would not have been helpful to securing a cease-fire or humanitarian objectives. It would have been hard to achieve unanimity on what to say about this complex conflict. So it is not surprising that they did not address it.

To discuss Israel without discussing Iran’s role also would mischaracterize the overall dynamics of the conflict, which include Iranian involvement in Gaza, in Lebanon, in Syria, and in Yemen, including providing military support for attacks on global shipping by the Houthis in the Red Sea. I doubt NATO will wade into taking formal positions on this interrelated set of geopolitical conflicts anytime soon. It has enough on its plate.

Britain’s new Prime Minister Keir Starmer said that the UK allows Ukraine to target Russian territory with the weapons given. What is your comment on other NATO countries giving Ukraine the authority to hit targets within Russia’s borders with Western weapons? Simultaneously, Ukraine targeted Russia’s nuclear early warning radar with unmanned aerial vehicles. Is it fair to say that this is a new phase in the conflict?

Ukraine’s leaders have long stressed that Ukraine is at grave risk if it is prevented from attacking military targets in Russia that are being used against Ukraine. NATO policy has now evolved to move beyond past constraints that limited Ukraine’s ability to defend itself. This evolution is a military and strategic necessity. 

But hitting Russian soil with directly NATO members’ weapons will count as an attack and a defense from Ukraine’s side. Won’t this action make Russia’a argument that this is a proxy war of the NATO?

Russia is already arguing – falsely – that Ukraine is fighting a proxy war for NATO. It’s an audacious falsehood, given Russia’s initiation of the war two and a half years ago and its continued targeting of civilian populations. Russian propaganda should not determine decisions made by Ukraine or by NATO.

Trump’s criticisms of NATO are well known. As the presidential elections approach, the status of NATO under the Trump administration is being discussed. What is your prediction about the budget transferred to NATO and Ukraine’s desire to become a NATO member if Trump wins?

Trump’s four years in office was marked by capricious in-the-moment decisions to say yes to requests from authoritarian leaders in other states which were contrary to the advice of his own senior advisors on national security, generating push-back from within the government by both political appointees and career professionals. Given that dynamic, how Trump’s recurrently expressed hostility towards NATO and towards Ukraine would play out within the US government, within NATO, and globally, should Trump return to office, is unknowable. 

By increasing its defense spendings, Türkiye is reached to the 2% target in NATO first time ever. Also, Ankara’s diplomatic power cannot be denied regarding its role in Russia-Ukraine talks. How do you see Ankara’s position in the organization as Türkiye prepares to host the 2026 NATO Summit?

Türkiye’s geographic location makes its continued support for Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s war against Ukraine essential for NATO, even as it also acts as a broker with Russia, as reflected in the all-too-brief Black Sea Grain deal.  Ankara will continue to be an influential actor, so long as it avoids taking any position seen as fundamentally undermining NATO and its goal of defending Ukraine. The deal ultimately reached to enable Sweden to join NATO reflects the tough, nationalist (and one could say hard-ball) approach taken by Turkish President Erdogan, and also his pragmatism.  

Türkiye’s anti-terror struggle in Syria with YPG is still an unsolved issue. This is according to Türkiye unfortunate that NATO allies underminers NATO borders’, Türkiye’s borders’ security. Then how do you see NATO members’ undermining Ankara’s key issues?

NATO operates by consensus, but NATO member countries do not have total agreement on any number of security issues. There is an extensive history here, including the need to combat the Islamic State a decade ago, that is relevant to this issue. The US and Türkiye have ongoing bilateral opportunities to work through issues on which they do not see eye-to-eye, and this goes on independently of multilateral discussions involving NATO members generally.  

Presidential elections took place in Iran. New President Massoud Pezeshkian wants to revive nuclear talks. What is the US’s approach to the new Iranian President? When you consider it in terms of Biden and Trump policies, which leader will be closer to dialogue with Pezeshkian? What are your expectations?

In important respects, in the area of its foreign policy, including with Iran, the Biden Administration has continued the policies of the Obama Administration from the 2009-2016 period. It has never abandoned the goal of containing Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon through a negotiated settlement. By contrast, Trump has little regard for diplomacy generally, and diplomacy with Iran specifically.

You also served as the Special Envoy to Libya. Considering the point reached in Libya today, that is, the actual division, intransigence and interventions of third countries, can you say that the NATO operation that overthrew Gaddafi was “absolutely right”?

The goal of the NATO operation was to support the Libyan people who had engaged in an uprising against a dictator known for erratic and vindictive behavior, who had previously imprisoned and slaughtered political dissidents. Indeed, he literally ordered the very bones of political opponents ground into dust at Abu Salim prison.

NATO played no role in initiating the Libyan uprising, it supported it weeks later, with an air campaign after cities throughout Libya rebelled against Gaddafi. Such campaigns always have consequences. But blaming NATO for what has happened to Libya is misplaced. Libya’s own political class has failed them, just as Lebanon’s political class, for example, has failed Lebanon.  The past decade of interventions by regional actors and by Russia have merely taken advantage of and exacerbated the internal divisions that had already impaired Libya’s ability to govern itself after Gaddafi’s death. 

The US experienced a great shock when its ambassador was killed in Libya. And Libya was not at the forefront of the agenda for many years. It pursued a policy through his European partners, and European states could not come to an agreement on Libya for a long time. Now, does the US have a clear, understandable and targeted Libya policy? How do you evaluate the United Nations’ Libya policy, which has not been successful so far? Do you see a political reconciliation possible in Libya?

After our Ambassador was murdered by terrorists in Benghazi along with three other Americans, the Obama Administration paused for about a year to evaluate the situation, and then appointed both a new Ambassador and a Special Envoy – the position I held, charged with the goal of doing what we could to try to help stabilize the country. We sought to do this by working closely with a range of countries to help Libyans reach an agreement on an interim unity government in a process sponsored by the United Nations. We did that with the strong personal involvement of Secretary of State Kerry, National Security Advisor Rice, Vice President Biden, and President Obama, among others. That effort, in which we worked to achieve alignment with many other countries as well as the Libyans, resulted in a new government and the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement, which remains the foundational document for the government that still remains in place in Libya, including the House of Representatives and the High State Council.  During the Trump years, the US became less involved, reflecting Trump’s general disdain for diplomacy, other than deals brokered by his son-in-law and consistent with his personal interest. Over the past three years, the Biden Administration has had its hands full in dealing with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the situation in Gaza, and managing the US competition with China, among other issues, and so has had more limited ability to focus fully on Libya.

Except for the brief period when President Trump responded to entreaties by Egypt and the UAE to back Khalifa Hifter’s failed effort to take Tripoli by force, with the help of Russian “mercenaries” backed by Russian President Putin, US policy towards Libya has been consistent. Today, as was true a decade ago, the US wants Libya’s political class to enable free and fair elections in Libya, for both the parliament and the President, and then to abide by the results to form a unified, inclusive government that meets the needs of the Libyan people.

For political reconciliation to take place, Libya’s political leaders need to accept the idea that there will be more for everyone in an inclusive government that bring stability, and that their people deserve to share in the benefits of Libya’s national resources on an equal and inclusive basis. 

Securing such elections and the formation of an inclusive and unified Libyan government have been made harder by the presence of foreign military forces in Libya, especially the rapidly-growing Russian military presence, which it is using to project force to a range of dictators in Africa, as I have described in some detail in my recent writing for the Middle East Institute.

The US is not unrivaled in the Middle East today as it used to be decades ago. Powerful regional countries can oppose the Washington when their own interests are harmed. It seems that other global powers such as Russia and China have also become a significant power in the region. How do you evaluate this new multipolar future of the Middle East?

The Middle East has long been among the most complicated regions in the world, with clashes of interests among many competing groups, religions, forces, ideologies, nationalities, tribes, and other identities. Regional powers, post-colonial powers, local forces and political groups have always competed for influence. The US role has at no time been without such competition and rivals, as reflected 45 years ago when OPEC decided to raise oil prices in a move that was visibly against US interests.

For any non-Middle Eastern country to have sustained influence in the Middle East, it has to offer benefits to not only to the relevant local leaders, but to their people. The US has many strengths and much to offer, but the US cannot succeed without maintaining partnerships with those who share common interests with the United States. To do that, takes focus and attention, and deep engagement that seeks to build enduring relationships to achieve common goals. 

Due to Russia’s cynical support of dictators and warlords in Africa, western interests and Russian interests in the region are currently close to a zero-sum game. But what Russia is doing there, especially in Africa, will ultimately backfire, as the people of those countries find themselves unhappy with having their lives dictated to them by unelected juntas and strongmen backed by Russian pretorian guards. The US should be working on helping elements of civil society to empower a new generation of people with tools that will enable them to build better options, and ultimately better societies. It can be a long slog, but in the end, people demand opportunity and freedom, just as they require food, shelter, health care, and other necessities. Major foreign powers can either be on the side of the people, against them, or absent. The US needs to be both present, and visibly on the right side of these aspirations, just as Russia is present, and visibly on the wrong side of them.

African countries have been colonised until a very near history. Their sources have been exploited by Western countries. The poor people could not get benefit from their own lands and natural richness. Maybe those countries did not have a chance but to try a cooperation with Russia. What would be your comment?

The evidence is not that African juntas, strongmen, and coup leaders are now partnering with Russia in order to improve the lives of their poor, but instead, to get military support to maintain power. In any case, typically involving significant corruption as well. Moreover, Russia has been trolling for African partners for some 60 years now, going back to the 1950s. I can’t think of a single case in which it has gone well for the underlying populations until Russia is eventually pushed out, as took place when Sadat severed relations with the Soviets from Egypt in 1981.  

One of the topics which is discussed most recently is the complete withdrawal of the US from Iraq. In my interviews with both Northern Iraqi officials and Baghdad authorities, I recognized that current politicians want the United States to stay. In fact, analysts in the US states that, far from withdrawing, the US would increase its military presence in Iraq and Syria. What is the final strategy on this?

As near as I can tell, there is no final decision on the future role of the US in Iraq. For the US to stay in Baghdad and/or Northern Iraq, the respective parts of the Iraqi government would have to want a continued US presence in those locations, and secure continued agreement by the US that is in its mutual interest to stay. Whether such agreements will be possible and in the interests of all of the relevant parties is interconnected with Iranian and Kurdish relationships with Iran and its Revolutionary Guards, including Iranian malign activities in both Iraq and Syria. There are legitimate arguments that the US should stay, and others that it should depart. But there is no good reason to make a decision now, ahead of US presidential elections at a time of great regional uncertainty and multiple plausible scenarios for trouble.

What would be the scenerious of the US presence in Iraq if Biden wins or if Trump wins?

I do not think the scenarios are very different based on which administration is President. I have little to say on this topic at this time beyond my previous answer.

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