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INTERVIEW

Turkish Cypriots’ President Tatar addresses the new UN representative in advance…

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Allegations that there has been an intensive sale of land in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) to foreigners, especially Israel, have caused controversy. We asked TRNC President Ersin Tatar about these allegations, the steps taken by the TRNC towards recognition and what it means for Russia to open a consulate in the country. Besides, President Tarar addressed the new UN Cyprus Representative Cuéllar saying “no negotiations unless TRNC is not recognized as a sovereign equal state.”

‘Speculations are just rumors’

There were different news stories both in Türkiye and in the Cypriot press about the amount of land and real estate that Israelis or people of Israeli origin who acquired TRNC citizenship are said to have. Simultaneously with these allegations, the Israeli Prime Ministry also claimed that some terrorist elements were trained in the TRNC and that assassinations against Jews in the country were prevented by MOSSAD agents. What would you say when you evaluate these two claims simultaneously?

There is some very mixed news coming out today. Of course, we look at what institutions and organizations say. So, speculations are just rumors. I also ask my own institutions. According to the information my security affairs commander gave me, there is absolutely no operation related to such terrorist organizations. Both statements made by Israel and the statement made by others; none of these has anything to do with reality. This is the state of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. This state has its own units; there is the police, there is the security forces command. Those have all kinds of precautions. We can take any precautions immediately if anything. Therefore, I never think that there is a problem with our security. Here we not only have our own police and security forces, but also the Republic of Türkiye has a corps called the Cyprus Peace Forces. All these units maintain our trust. Therefore, no one should take the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus lightly. Our laws here are clear and unambiguous. A foreigner can buy a house or a decare of land after passing a security investigation and with the decision of the council of ministers. Allegations here are that Jewish companies, in particular, purchased large acres of land from the owners through contracts, through some people -maybe lawyers or others. Our Minister of Internal Affairs, our police and prosecutor’s office are investigating this claim. Because this is not legal. The most important thing, I repeat, is that it is subject to security investigation. All kinds of security clearance are processed, and if approval is received, this property can be registered in the title deed by the decision of the ministry. But there is this: First of all, there are many Jews living in the Republic of Türkiye, our dear brothers, there are very valuable people who have great reputation and do business in the Republic of Türkiye.

What is happening in Gaza now is a human tragedy. Such a thing should never have happened in this age and we have always condemned it. Yet, it is not okay in my conscience to blame the atrocities committed by Israel on Palestine on the entire Jewish community living in the Republic of Türkiye. Because these people are citizens of the Republic of Türkiye and there may be people from some different countries who invest here. Because this Jewish community, Jews, live all over the world. They are not just in Israel; There are both in America and in England.

According to my information, Jewish citizens are definitely not in the first place as a foreign presence in our country. You can ask this to real estate agents, contractors, or the public. Who will be first in line? Citizens of the Republic of Türkiye. Who will be second? According to what I see and the information I get from my contacts on the street, it would be Iranians. After that, the Kazakhs come, then the Russians. Because after the Ukrainian war, many Russians came here and went to the north from Southern Cyprus. Because there are definitely 100,000 Russian citizens in Southern Cyprus. There are at least that many British citizens. There is also a large population from other countries. Because it is a European Union state and they prefer the economic and social opportunities in the European Union state. There is no limit to who owns property there. I say it loud and clear: 100,000 Russian citizens and 100,000 British citizens have homes and places in Southern Cyprus. And of course, from all other countries, about 100 thousands of them are in Southern Cyprus, a European state. There are investments made there from the outside world and everyone accepts this there. They say, “These people constitute a resource for our economy.” Therefore, there is a mentality in the south that says “this foreigner will come and buy it, this foreigner will live here, money will come into Cyprus”. As you know, after the Ukrainian War, Southern Cyprus was forced to obey the Russians because it was in the European Union and the European Union imposed harsh sanctions on Russia. Russia and Southern Cyprus have Orthodox family ties; Despite this, they fell out. Russians were greatly disturbed by the treatment they received in Southern Cyprus. A large number of Russians therefore moved to the north. They live here now. This is the history of the matter.

Of course, we are sensitive and our government is investigating this by asking “I wonder if someone is buying too much property under contract?” and “where is this going?” As the president, I am constantly trying to get information from our police, our security forces commander, our Minister of Internal Affairs and the authorities. But I have never come across any exaggerated statements such as “so many Jews have invested so much here” or “this place is in danger”.

Actually, I feel sorry for him because if all these speculations are not true as claimed, Cyprus will suffer from this. Because Cyprus is a sensitive point. For years, no one came to Cyprus as a foreigner. Now, especially after the Ukrainian War, there has been tremendous interest. These houses, places, lands and residences started to be sold. This is the entry of a great resource into the economy. Everyone, the opposition and the government, accepts this. All of these investments are very valuable. I wish I could see more Turkish citizens come here and buy houses and settle down. There are also people who come, but when we look at the numbers, the numbers I just listed and the interest of different nationalities here have created discomfort. Because my citizen asked this question: “Where is this going?” Therefore, the state will follow up on this matter. We will see if this business is harming us, then a decision of the Council of Ministers can stop all this. But right now, we don’t have the luxury of stopping this because we need support, we need resources. In order to avoid any danger in the future, we will and cannot allow the existence of some polarizations and structures that are far from the Turkish Cypriots but are like their own colonies. I don’t see any such dangers anyway.

Well, you said, “We are monitoring it, the numbers I have do not say that.” After the citizens of the Republic of Türkiye, what do the numbers you have say? Which country buys property here most?

As far as I can see, there are Iranians, Kazakhs, British, Russians and Ukrainians in the first place. The contribution of those coming from Türkiye to us is both economic and social. It is very important for all kinds of relationships. For this reason, I once again hope that our brothers and citizens in Türkiye will direct all kinds of building, housing and land investments, whether summer residences or investments, to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

When we take into consideration the fact that there are some restrictions in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, especially embargoes and isolations, all these relations and contacts become even more important.

You just mentioned that the population of Russian citizens on the island is increasing. This situation was talked about a lot in Türkiye as well. When it was said that “Russia will provide consular services in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”, everyone got excited. Questions were raised such as “Is this step a step towards recognition, a green light, or is Russia winking?” There were also those who evaluated it hopeful. We received different statements on this issue. For example, Minister of Foreign Affairs Tahsin Ertuğruloğlu said that this was a step taken by the Russians to facilitate the affairs of their own citizens. Some of your special advisors saw this more positively and interpreted it as Russia taking a step forward. How do you look at it?

I consider it reflected positively. Because this consular service is a positive development. No one should take this lightly, no one should underestimate it. There are two factors here. One of them is the discomfort felt by some Russians in Southern Cyprus after the Russia-Ukraine War. Because Southern Cyprus is a European state, there are some blockades, serious actions and measures that they impose on Russian citizens very unfairly. Some of them felt uncomfortable and moved to the north. I know that many Russians moved here after the start of the Ukrainian War. They would pass by, do their daily work, and then return. Some of them chose to settle here instead of going back and forth. This is important because, after all, there is a state called the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. There is an authority here. There is an order here. And frankly, I see that people greet this with respect. Russia taking such a step actually means a lot. In other words, there are very important and deep ties between Russia and Southern Cyprus. Because they are Orthodox. In particular, Southern Cyprus, Serbia, Greece and Russia are the four main Orthodox countries. This (unfair treatment) happened even though they have Orthodox ties with Russia and despite the fact that the Russians have been supporting the Southern Cyprus economy tremendously for years, despite the fact that the Russian oligarchs’ money is seriously in the Southern Cyprus banks, that is, in the European Union… They cannot deny this. Papadopoulos, later Anastasiades, they all had law offices. These Presidents were lawyers and their law offices even gave them (Russians) citizenship, so long as they could invest in Southern Cyprus. So, this investment issue is such a serious issue.

For years, they have never made such investments here (TRNC) because they did not recognize the Turkish people of Northern Cyprus, because they did not trust here, because they did not know what Türkiye’s policy would be like here, because they were not sure, and because they were afraid that “anything could happen at any time”. They always went to Southern Cyprus and other places. Now, after the Ukrainian War, such a conjuncture occurred… After my presidency, with my “two states” discourse and Türkiye’s full support for this policy, this policy became stronger. As this policy became stronger, trust in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus increased. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus will live forever. Even if there is an agreement, it will be a part of that agreement. Therefore, with the understanding that “TRNC has a bright future”, people started to buy property from here. The rate has actually increased in the last 34 years.

Of course, we do not find it right for people from the same nation to cluster together as such a bloc. I feel uncomfortable. But according to the information I received, some lands is bought building these constructions on these lands, and then selling them as residences in hundreds or even thousands. But as I said, they will undergo a security investigation. With the decision of the Council of Ministers, they can purchase one house or at most one decare. In those big apartment buildings, obviously a foreigner can buy one flat but not more. Therefore, when he looks at that great structure, “one day they will all wake up and make an attempt against the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”: There is no such world. I’ve been seeing those apartments and tall buildings both in Iskele and around Famagusta lately. There could be people from all different nationalities there. All of them respect TRNC and come and buy property and invest here, buy a house, go to the electricity company and register under their own name, go to the municipality and pay the property tax, go to the Ministry of Finance and pay the fee… All of these increase the prestige of the Turkish Northern Cypriot government. Therefore, when storytelling all these claims, of course, those who write are writing because they love this place and to protect this place, so that we can continue our existence here in peace, tranquility and security as a truly important and beautiful place. But I watched some exaggerated news with astonishment and I do not believe that they will bring any benefit to the Turkish government of Northern Cyprus. That’s why it would be beneficial to filter all these publications a bit.

We gained new information. At the TRNC Media forum organized by the Global Journalists Council, a bureaucrat in the committee that prepared the Prime Ministry’s 5th Development Plan gave the following information: “A model called lease-hold, which is also used in England, can be applied. Foreign citizens can buy property in TRNC, but not land. “They can buy a building, but even if they buy a building, they will have to pay rental fee to the person who owns the land.” Is this a concrete step or something that is being discussed? So, was this was put forward as a precaution?

It’s a debatable issue. There is a law in a matter. It has a constitution. It has rights, it has law. Who owns the property? What kind of savings will that owner make? Of course, it (the model) is a good thing. After all, the building above it has a lifespan. When the life of the building ends, after 100 years or 120 years, that land passes to the state, but whose land belonged to it in the first place? Lawyers will clarify these matters after examining this.

Former Colombian Minister of Foreign Affairs María Ángela Holguín Cuéllar will be appointed as the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Cyprus. It is an only 6-month appointment. What kind of work will she do in such a short time? Will she submit a report? There is a view that the new representative’s sole duty is to seek grounds for negotiation. Do you agree with this? How do you view negotiations? Your doors are open to the two-state solution. This is a discourse that you support. But you say, “If this does not happen, we will continue our way independently as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.” What kind of timetable do you have for the two-state solution and negotiation?

We have been giving this fight this way for years. They do not recognize us unfairly, but becoming a state does not necessarily mean recognition. To become a state; we need land, we have it. A nation is needed, there is. You need history, we have. Democracy is needed, it exists. Also, another country needs to recognize you. That country is the Republic of Türkiye. Since the Republic of Türkiye recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, the condition of statehood has been fully met. Rauf Denktaş even said, “Instead of 100 states recognizing me, let the Republic of Türkiye recognize me; it’s better for me.” We are an independent state with all its institutions and organizations, and we deserve this state. Because there is a nation here. These people have the right to self-government. A system is needed, and that is the state and the republic. What we are trying to do, now, is to maintain student flow in a healthier way and to ensure that more qualified students from many different countries come here. There are currently students from 144 different countries. Hopefully this can increase even more, but quality is also important. The other important issue is tourism. That’s why people from hundreds of different countries come and go here for tourism purposes. Our exports and imports take place with hundreds of different countries. Remittances, transfers and letters of credit are made for all these. Transfers are made through the bank, goods arrive, services arrive. Now, all this shows that this state is being accepted at some point or another. Of course, this shows that it is recognized accordingly. However, the UN must decide that they recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. That resolution is not passed. Because, unfortunately, the states in the UN Security Council look at the world differently. They do not respond as positively to our understanding of democracy as we would like. They keep us in the refrigerator and hope that the conjuncture here will change against us and that we will swear allegiance to them and fall prey to the Greek Cypriots.

What will the UN Special Representative for Cyprus do in 6 months?

Is there a basis for meeting in 6 months or not? Will look into this. She will check our pulse. She will make these speeches both with the guarantor countries, with us and with Southern Cyprus. Because after all, someone has to intervene and talk. For us, the initiation of the negotiation process requires the acceptance of our sovereign equality and equal national status position. If she does not accept these, we will not sit at that negotiating table. If there is to be an agreement in Cyprus, there will be cooperation between the two states. The UN may not recognize us now, but if it wants an agreement, it will. It will recognize and cooperate with me. If it doesn’t do this, there is no basis for agreement with me. So, we will ask this incoming former Colombian Foreign Minister, the lady who is currently appointed as special envoy, to confirm this. So, this is what I will tell her. “Look, the conditions have not been met. The other side is still trying to pull us into the federation. When we say federation, our Turkish State of Northern Cyprus disappears. Türkiye’s guarantorship ends. Turkish soldiers withdraw from the island. Because zero soldiers means zero guarantee.” It is not possible for us to say “yes” to these.

You are saying it in advance by actually announcing it to the press. You say, “If you will come to the negotiation with these conditions, do not come.”

She may come, she ay not come. It’s upon her. She will come, she will hear, she will go. If she doesn’t accept it, she will hear it and leave. I told this to the UN and the EU as well. I also told Southern Cyprus. I also told the British. I’m telling them all. Therefore, we have nothing to shy away from. Because Türkiye fully supports us in this regard.

Does Greece have a role in all what’s happening? Currently, Türkiye-Greece rapprochement and the Athens Declaration are being discussed a lot. Was the issue of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus on the table in Athens or not?

No, no. I talked to the highest level. First of all, the Cyprus issue is a different issue. Athens-Türkiye relations are between two great countries with their own economic, tourism, etc. It was a visit to make some breakthroughs and to give messages of friendship. There were also very important statements made during that visit. But when you look at the Cyprus issue, it is out of the question. Because there is a conflict here that has been going on for a century. There are some that were made during the British period. But, of course, the structure here is very important. Because ultimately, if peace, tranquility and security continue here in the Eastern Mediterranean, the balance is very important. In Cyprus, the Turkish Cypriot, Greek Cypriot, but also Turkish-Greek balance have always played an important role. As a matter of fact, even in the Treaty of Lausanne signed in 1923, it is stated in Article 16 that if the day comes and England withdraws from the island, the Republic of Türkiye will definitely have the right to have a say in the future of the island. Even though this state was an independent Republic, it was accepted that Türkiye, as a guarantor country, had the right and law regarding the developments here. As a matter of fact, it happened. In 1974, soldiers set foot on the island and after 1974, the two-state policy in Cyprus was further strengthened. There are currently two separate states in Cyprus. This is actually a great success in 50 years. Indeed, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus provides a great service to the Eastern Mediterranean. What is this service? The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus plays a key role in establishing and maintaining peace, tranquility and political balance in the Eastern Mediterranean. If the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus did not exist and if Cyprus had turned into a Greek island with a unitary structure within the European Union, there could have been all kinds of conflicts that would have an extremely negative impact on Türkiye’s security. There is no conflict now. There is no possibility of war. For 50 years, everything in Cyprus has been peaceful and no one has had a nosebleed.

All your diplomatic efforts continue. The Republic of Türkiye’s attempts to help recognize the TRNC were reflected in President Erdoğan’s address at the United Nations. These are very important, but I would also like to ask you about media diplomacy. Because those who do not know the Turkish side, those who do not know the Turkish side, those who have not come here, recognize the island as the Republic of Cyprus founded by the Greeks and know it as such. In terms of media diplomacy, do you plan to increase projects such as this Forum organized by the Global Journalists Council? Do not only the countries and states of the world but also their people need to know you? How well-known are you? Do you have a strategy for this?

We are much better known than before because we are working hard. At the same time, the ambassadors and permanent representatives of the Republic of Türkiye everywhere are trying to explain the case of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus all over the world. World States know very well what is going on in Cyprus because they all have a position, an interest, an expectation and a responsibility here. There is much more awareness and recognition than before. It is the same in the Organization of Turkish States and in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Türkiye has relations with many states in Africa. There is always this axis there, wherever Türkiye is. In this way, Türkiye and we, One Heart, are trying to carry this out.

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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