Mystery Surrounds Paris Car-Ramming Attack

Atrash

Paris – Mystery still surrounds the car-ramming attack that was carried out by Algerian Hamou bin al-Atrash in a Paris suburb on Wednesday.

The suspect is currently in hospital where he is receiving treatment after being shot five times by police during his arrest. He was not well enough to be questioned, a police source said. His condition is however no longer critical.

On Wednesday, the 36-year-old Algerian man was arrested after a motorway car chase and is suspected of driving a BMW into a group of servicemen in a suburb of Paris earlier in the day, injuring six of them.

Atrash, a taxi driver, had no previous convictions and was not on France’s terror watch list.

Pending his recovery and investigation, security and judicial sources have not yet labeled the attack as terrorist.

Security agencies carried out a number of raids and confiscated mobile phones and laptops and interrogated a number of individuals who may have connections with Atrash.

French media released several details of the operation that led to the suspect’s arrest. The 300-strong force succeeded in arresting him after opening heavy fire against him. Atrash in turn did not hesitate in ramming into one of the police cars in an attempt to escape their clutches on the highway.

La Parisian newspaper said that police succeeded in tracking him down due to the GPS in his rented vehicle.

Atrash’s uncle told local French television that he was “surprised” when he saw the name of his nephew on the news. He described him as a “calm” and “polite” man. His neighbors in the city of Bezons in the Val-d’Oise region also expressed their shock at the news.

Up until Thursday night, no one claimed responsibility for the car-ramming in the upmarket western Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret. Investigators have also not found any evidence linking the suspect to terrorist or extremist groups outside of France.

The latest attack on French anti-terror soldiers sparked debate over whether troops should remain on patrol around the country after being repeatedly targeted by extremists.

The incident was the sixth attack on patrolling soldiers since 7,000 troops were ordered onto the streets in January 2015 after an attack by two extremists on the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

Leftist lawmaker Clementine Autain charged Thursday that the force is counterproductive, telling French radio: “Most of their operations are aimed at protecting themselves.”

The soldiers form part of so-called “Sentinelle” force which patrols French streets and guards high-risk areas such as tourist sites and religious buildings.

Right-wing MP Daniel Fasquelle called for an overhaul of the Sentinelle force.

He questioned whether the soldiers were adequately trained for the job of preventing the kind of terror attacks that have claimed more than 230 lives in France.

Vincent Desportes, former director of France’s military academy the Ecole Superieure de Guerre, told AFP: “Since the beginning they have essentially served as targets.”

Historian Benedicte Cheron agrees, telling the news magazine Le Point in a recent interview: “Let’s face it: Sentinelle is a lightning rod that attracts lightning.”

But a lawmaker with the ruling Republic on the Move (REM) party defended the force, saying it “demonstrates the contribution of the French army… to the security of the country.”

In Wednesday’s attack, the BMW rolled slowly down a quiet street, then accelerated as it neared the troops, ramming into them before speeding away.

Three of the soldiers sustained serious, but not life-threatening injuries.

Again… Terrorism Strikes France

Police and rescue forces are seen on the scene where the man suspected of ramming a car into a group of soldiers on Wednesday in a Paris suburb has been shot and arrested on the A16 motorway

Paris- Terrorism has again struck France, targeting it for the six time within few months. It specifically targeted the security bodies assigned to fight terrorism and provide security for the French people.

Until details of the car attack at Levallois-Perret suburb are revealed, France remains in the heart of the storm. What state-officials and officers have been warning of is now a reality: the continuous terrorist threat.

The suspect, born in 1980, was arrested by the police who had to shoot fire on the driver after he tried to flee. Security authorities were abstaining from disclosing the suspect’s identity until Wednesday when they announced he is Algerian and was not known to the security services but has illegally entered France.

This was not the first car attack in France. However, what makes the latest attack stand out is that it targeted a group of soldiers and wounded six.

French defense minister visited injured soldiers at the Begin military hospital on Wednesday – France’s interior minister said the driver had intentionally targeted soldiers in a calculated car attack. Further, Patrick Balkany, mayor of Levallois-Perret, said that “Without a doubt this is a terrorist attack – he deliberately drove out to hit the soldiers.”

During the past hundred days, security forces were target of three terrorist attacks. On April 20, a policeman in Champs-Élysées was killed and on July 6 a police patrol was attacked in Paris in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral. Also in July, an attacker attempted to blast his vehicle in a police van.

Wednesday’s attack will certainly push the government to reconsider its security plan, knowing that more than 7,000 soldiers are deployed during the emergency-state to support the security forces.

Macron Impresses in Diplomacy, Initiatives on Syria, Libya and Palestine

Macron

Paris – Three months-and-a-half after his election as French president, Emmanuel Macron’s popularity has started to slip in opinion polls, as demonstrated by three surveys conducted in the past ten days.

An Ifop poll on July 23 showed that he lost ten points from his popularity since June. A Harris institute poll showed similar results. The most worrying figures were revealed by Ipsos that showed that Macron has dropped in opinion more than his predecessors Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy in the same period since their election.

The development prompted the young 39-year-old president to vent his frustrations against his minsters during the latest government meeting, reported Le Figaro newspaper. He urged the ministers not be “hostages” in the hands of their administrations.

Observers attributed the difficult phase Macron is passing through to the austerity measures that the cabinet approved to combat the country’s budget deficit. They also attributed it to the “rude” way he had treated Pierre de Villiers, former chief of staff, which forced him to resign. In addition, Macron’s tendency to meet with a number of celebrities was also met with disapproval by the French people.

There is a field where the French president has however been applauded and that is the diplomatic and foreign policy arenas. This was evident soon after he assumed the reins of the presidency and his successive successful meetings with several major world leaders, whether at the G7 or G20 summits or during their visits to France.

His meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Versailles Palace at the end of May and his talks later with US President Donald Trump on July 13 and 14 have cemented Macron’s image on the global scene and returned France to the heart of international meetings. We should also point out to the Elysee Palace’s successive hosting of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and dozens of others heads of states and governments who flocked to Paris to meet the new president.

Commenting on Macron’s dynamism in foreign policy, French author and political analyst Renaud Girard told Asharq Al-Awsat that the president “wants to return France to the map of global contacts after a nearly five-year absence” under Hollande.

“The new president cannot be blamed for what he is doing, but he should be encouraged because he has ideas and proposals over how to deal with hot spots in the world,” he added.

Regarding the Arab world and Middle East, Macron has so far demonstrated that he wants to play a role in the Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan and Palestinian-Israeli files and the war on terrorism.

Before all that however, said Girard, Macron has sought to pave a new path of dealing with the world’s two major powers, the US and Russia, due to the decisive impact they have on several contentious issues.

Strategic analysts noted that what sets Macron apart is not just the new French “desire” for Paris to be “present” on the global stage, but the different “methodology” he has adopted. According to Girard, this methodology is based on first, restoring the so-called independent policy that was adopted by past presidents Charles de Gaulle and Francois Mitterrand.

The second factor in the young president’s methodology is his reliance on “political realism” in dealing with crises and influential powers.

Perhaps the clearest example of Macron’s approach was the lavish way he received Putin at Versailles by putting out the red carpet and doing everything possible within protocol. This came in contrast to the behavior of Hollande, who last year, attempted to manipulate Putin over Russian shelling of Syria’s Aleppo, prompting the Moscow leader to cancel a scheduled visit to Paris.

The second example of Macron’s approach was reflected in his policy on the Syrian crisis whereby he did not hesitate in shifting Paris’ stance. Once one of the most ardent backers of the Syrian regime, France now no longer demands the ouster of regime leader Bashar Assad. Macron went so far as to consider him the only legitimate figure in the war-torn country despite the crimes that have been committed during his term. The French president added that no one “has presented a legitimate” alternative to Assad, a statement which naturally alarmed and frustrated the Syrian opposition.

Macron also does not shy away from using historic symbols and occasions to further fuel his dynamic diplomacy. He invited Putin to visit France on the same day that marked the 300th anniversary of Russian Czar Peter the Great’s visit to the country. He also used the 100th anniversary of US intervention in the First World War to invite US President Donald Trump to attend the French Independence Day parade on July 14. Macron used the 75th anniversary of the deportation of thousands of French Jews to Nazi death camps to invite Netanyahu to attend a ceremony marking the occasion.

According to French analysts, Macron “employs” historic anniversaries to build direct relations with his guests.

The truth of the matter is that Macron, through his rapprochement with Trump and Putin, wants to play the role of the mediator, French diplomatic sources told Asharq Al-Awsat. This is possible because he is the “only” European leader capable of playing this role because German Chancellor Angela Merkel is preoccupied with September elections in her country and British Prime Minister Theresa May is busy with Brexit.

In light of his meetings with Putin and Trump, Macron received the “green light” to launch his own initiative on Syria that is based on launching a “contact group” that includes the five major members of the United Nations Security Council and a number of regional countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Iran and possibly Iraq.

In the Palestinian-Israeli file, Macron is banking on the “personal” relations he forged with Abbas and Netanyahu to try to move forward the peace negotiations that have been suspended since 2014.

In the Libyan crisis, which poses a threat to France and Europe, Macron succeeded in bringing together rival leaders Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and Prime Minister of the UN-backed government Fayez al-Sarraj. The French president also persuaded the Libyan officials to sign an agreement that includes a ceasefire and vow to hold legislative and presidential elections in spring 2018.

After reading the above evidence, it becomes clear that Macron wants his country to be at the heart of contacts. Desire and will are one thing, while achieving results are a whole other issue however. So far, we are in the preparation phase for the real action, except in the Libyan file. What is certain though is that Macron has so far passed the international diplomacy test. All that remains is accomplishing success in internal challenges and reform of all kinds that he pledged to achieve to the French people during his presidential campaign …. but this is another story.

Haftar: Paris Meeting is Sarraj’s Last Chance

Paris– The Commander of the Libyan Army, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, cautiously welcomed the meeting he held on Tuesday in Paris with head of the UN-backed Government of National Accord Fayez al-Sarraj under the auspices of French President Emmanuel Macron and in the presence of the new UN envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Haftar said the joint communiqué, which was issued following the meeting in La Celle-Saint-Cloud near Paris, represented “a set of principles; and we want to deal seriously with the roots of the crisis.”

“There are things that we wished to receive and did not get; but there is no need to go into details,” he added.

Haftar stressed that the meeting held in Paris was Sarraj’s “last chance”, noting: “We will see the extent of his ability to implement the commitments.”

The Libyan army commander seemed to be cautious about the possibility of putting all the items of La Celle-Saint-Clouq communiqué into effect. He noted, however, that a meeting would be held every three months with Macron to follow up on the implementation of the commitments contained in the joint statement.

During Tuesday’s encounter, the two Libyan leaders signed a 10-point declaration, in which they pledged to commit to ceasefire, hold elections and integrate all militias within a unified national army under political control.

Haftar told Asharq Al-Awsat that the statement did not only reflect his views, but also the views of other Libyan parties. He noted in this regard that not all the agreed points were achievable, highlighting however that there was now much seriousness and commitment in dealing with the ongoing crisis.

Haftar expressed confidence in the new international envoy, describing him as a “virtuous and respectable man with a very rich experience”. He strongly criticized the former envoy, Martin Kobler, whom he said was “completely biased, and therefore lost credibility.”

“We were reluctant to deal with him for a while,” he noted.

On whether he believed that Sarraj would abide by his commitments, the army commander said: “That was Sarraj’s last chance; we will see the extent of his ability to implement the commitments.”

Asked about the process to unify the country’s militias under a unified army, Haftar said: “In the eastern region there are no militias; the situation must be resolved in the southern region. In the West, all the military support us.”

Stressing his rejection to any form of foreign interference, the Libyan official said that time was needed to arrange the country’s security situation.

“We want a real state, not a failed state; a country recognized by the international community, whose people can live like the rest of the world,” he stated.

On whether he intends to run for the upcoming presidential elections, Haftar said: “If the people want that, then I will”.

The army commander underlined the importance of adopting a decentralized political system to establish a strong state.

“It shouldn’t be the federal state that some Libyans are talking about … We reaffirm our strong rejection to the partition of the country,” he said, adding: “What we want is an extensive decentralization.”

Haftar noted that the Skhirat agreement, which was signed in Morocco in 2015, has “complicated the problem instead of solving it.”

“We will have a big role in introducing the amendments we want to the agreement, so that it suits the interests of the people,” he stated.

Libya’s Sarraj, Haftar Agree to Ceasefire, Elections Next Spring

Libya

Paris – Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, and Commander of the Libyan Army Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar agreed in an unprecedented joint statement on Tuesday to commit to a conditional ceasefire and to hold elections next spring.

Following hours of official meetings held under the auspices of French President Emmanuel Macron and chaired by the new UN envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salameh, in La Celle-Saint-Cloud near Paris, the two Libyan leaders signed a 10-point declaration, in which they pledged to commit to ceasefire, hold elections and integrate all militias within a unified national army under political control.

In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Arab diplomatic sources underlined the importance of Tuesday’s achievement, noting however: “What is most important is whether it will find its way to implementation.”

The sources went on to say that obstacles, which have prevented the execution of previous agreements and commitments despite international pressure “have not magically disappeared, but are still in place”.

“Yet, a number of field and political changes” may contribute to pushing the warring parties to finally accept the road map, according to the sources.

The declaration stressed that the two leaders have agreed that only a political solution could end the ongoing crisis.

“We commit to a ceasefire and to refrain from any use of armed force for any purpose that does not strictly constitute counter-terrorism”, the joint statement said.

Sarraj and Haftar also agreed to work to hold elections as soon as possible under UN supervision, according to the statement. The French president said elections would be held in spring next year.

Other points in the declaration included fighting terrorism, curbing the waves of migration through Libyan costs, and preventing the destabilization of North African and Sahel countries.

Another important point is the establishment of unified national institutions, including a central bank and a national oil corporation.

The meeting between the two rival leaders is the second in the space of three months, as a meeting was held in Abu Dhabi in May but saw no agreement on a joint communiqué.

In a news conference following Tuesday’s encounter, Macron said: “The courage that is yours today by being here and by agreeing to this joint declaration is historic.”

“I believe profoundly that civil war is not inevitable, and that through dialogue peace can win through, that’s what the step taken today is trying to show through concrete actions,” he added.

France Hopes Sarraj-Haftar Meeting Will Yield Roadmap for Libya Peace

Libya

Paris – France will host on Tuesday Prime Minister of the UN-recognized Libyan government Fayez al-Sarraj and his rival, commander of the Libyan National Army Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, in an attempt to reach a solution to the North African country’s crisis.

Hosted by President Emmanuel Macron, the meeting will be held at the La Celle castle in the Paris suburb of Saint-Cloud. It will be attended by UN special envoy to Libya Ghassan Salameh, who will officially kick off his mission at the end of this week.

Representatives of the Arab League, African Union and European Union were going to be invited, but this idea was scrapped. French presidential sources explained that Paris does not want to distance anyone from the talks.

“It carried out long and deep consultations” with concerned countries, such as Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Arab Gulf states and European powers, starting with Rome. They added that this new French initiative is an “extension” of other international ones and it is part of “efforts being exerted by the UN.”

Paris stressed that on the Libyan internal scene, it informed all local players of its efforts in order to yield a collective dynamic that would lead to a solution to the crisis. France ultimately worked on providing the “best conditions” to ensure the success of the Saint-Cloud meeting, noting that its timing is right because it will benefit from “positive” factors.

The sources also said that Sarraj and Haftar appeared to be “ready to work together.”

What is expected from the meeting?

The truth of the matter is that French expectations of the Saint-Cloud meeting are not high because Paris is aware of the obstacles standing in the way of reaching conclusive results and this is not the first time that Sarraj and Haftar meet. They last met in Abu Dhabi in May.

What Paris is seeking is a “joint declaration” that will serve as a “political roadmap” to end the Libyan war. Elysee Palace circles told the press on Monday that the “Paris Declaration” will not be a political solution to the situation in Libya, “but it will only offer principles and a joint vision for the solution.”

Should France’s plans be a success, it will be the first time that the two rival Libyan leaders agree to such a document, which Paris will interpret as a success in and of itself.

The “declaration” is expected to stress that there can be no military solution to the war in Libya, but it should be political. It is also set to announce Sarraj as the “legitimate” representative, who enjoys the support of the UN and international powers. The document also says that the two sides are “determined to work together” in order to reach the desired solution and Libyan unity.

Macron is set to hold separate talks with Sarraj and later with Haftar on Tuesday. This will be followed with a tripartite meeting that will be attended by Salameh, who in the meantime would have met with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. The tripartite meeting will end with the release of the joint declaration and Macron’s meeting with the press to discuss the talks, but without a question and answer session.

Paris would not have hosted the meeting had it not had some ideas worth proposing to the Libyan officials. Among these proposals is “updating” the Skhirat agreement that was sponsored by the UN and which led to the establishment of the Libyan presidential council and the Sarraj government.

France and several countries, such as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, believe that this agreement is “no longer suitable” with the changes that have taken place on the ground and on the political level in Libya. The most important change is that Haftar is no longer a figure who can be ignored. He should therefore be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Arab diplomatic circles in Paris told Asharq Al-Awsat that France has “become very close” to Haftar and his invitation to the Saint-Cloud meeting is a “recognition of his legitimacy” and his “role in the solution.”

The officials at the talks will address reassessing the formation of the presidential council and possibly limiting it to three people, who are Haftar, Sarraj and a third figure. The main focus of Tuesday’s talks will however be Sarraj’s proposal to hold legislative and presidential elections next spring according to suggestions that he had made only a few days ago.

One of the positives that Paris can take from recent Libyan developments is Haftar’s change in stance. In the past, he had always rejected working under the civil authority, describing it as being subject to “Islamists.” This position has changed however, said French sources, adding that he is now “more open to talks and cooperation.” In fact, Paris believes that he is “thinking about playing a role in the future presidential elections.”

The Elysee Palace had released a statement on Monday explaining that the French initiative was aimed at “facilitating political agreement between Sarraj and Haftar at a time when the UN special envoy begins his mission.”

“In agreement with its partners, France is seeking to stress its support for the efforts that are aimed at reaching a political settlement, under the supervision of the UN, that would bring together all Libyan parties,” added the statement.

The challenge, according to the Elysee, lies in “building a state that is capable of responding to the basic needs of the Libyans and which relies on an organized and united army that answers to the civil authority.”

“This is a necessary to allow the Libyan state to not only impose its authority throughout its territories and borders and to combat terrorist groups, arms smuggling and migrant trafficking, but to return to a stable institutional life,” it continued.

Tuesday’s meeting also reflects the French presidency’s will to play a pioneering role in the Libyan file due to the challenges that it encompasses, such as stability in northern Africa and the Sahel countries, the war on terrorism and fears that Libya may become a hub for ISIS and other terror groups, and finally the flow migrants to Europe.

The presidential sources described the situation in Libya as “very explosive politically and militarily” and there is therefore a need for a strong diplomatic-political initiative to address it.

France Seeks a Libya Breakthrough during Haftar-Sarraj Elysee Meeting

Paris- French President Emanuel Macron has shown that French diplomacy will be adopting a new approach in which it is prepared to take on a direct role in mediating for a Libya settlement.

For over six years, the Libya row and crisis has affected European countries in terms of immigration, an upsurge in terrorism, growing trafficking activity. Not only that but regional stability and security for north African countries and the coast have been threatened.

On that note, Paris is preparing to host an exceptional meeting on Tuesday, likely to be held at the Elysee Palace. The meeting will bring together President Macron, Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) leader Fayez al-Sarraj, and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

The new head of the United Nations support mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Ghassan Salame, the Arab League representatives, European Union delegates will also attend the meeting.

So far, Paris had stuck to general diplomatic rhetoric concerning Libya, and arranging for an intervening meeting did not appear in any of government’s agendas.

A number of Paris-based sources told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that France seeks a “breakthrough” in the Libya file, hoping that the upcoming Sarraj-Haftar will hold better prospects for a settlement than the last two meetings.

The warring leaders had met in Abu Dhabi, UAE last May.

At the Abu Dhabi meeting, the two agreed on a number of issues, notably fresh parliamentary and presidential elections, a truce, the need to fight terrorism, the development a united army and an end to the UN-imposed weapons.

It would be surprising, if the Paris encounter takes place, if they do not repeat these, especially the elections call now that it has become a key policy of Sarraj.

France recognizes the Presidency Council and insists the Libyan Political Agreement is the sole basis for resolving the Libyan crisis, but it has also provided intelligence support to the Haftar-led LNA in its fight against extremists in the east of the country.

A Year After the Coup, Where is Turkey Heading?

Turkey

Paris – A year after the coup attempt that almost ousted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, where is the country heading? How did Turkey change with the intensified internal cleansing operations launched by the president that sent tens of thousands to jail? What are Turkey’s plans in Syria? Why did Ankara form a coalition with Doha? How did Turkey’s relation evolve with Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump?

We asked these questions to Didier Billion, a researcher at the Paris Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS) that specializes in the Middle East, particularly Turkey.

Billion discussed the course of things in Turkey and internal and external policies of Erdogan,who he described as “running forward” inside the country and lacking a “strategic vision” abroad.

Based on statistics, 45,000 people have been sent to prison since July 15, 2016, the date of the coup attempt, and 150,000 civilian and military personnel were dismissed from their jobs over various accusations.

Erdogan has purposely weaken the state infrastructure and empowered his Justice and Development Party. That way he will be in control of all the state, which would destroy the state of law, said the French researcher.

This fact is associated with an internal political approach, in what Billion describes as a “polarizing strategy” that uses internal contradictions.

“Based on Erdogan’s vision, we find Turks against Kurds, secularists in face of religious people, Sunnis against Alawites, and so forth,” he explained.

This is aimed at showing that Turkey is in danger, whether from ISIS or from the Kurdish Workers’ Party, not to mention the group of US-based exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen.

These threats, whether real or assumed, justify Erdogan’s “repressive policy” and consolidate the idea that he is the only one who can protect Turkey.

Based on a study prepared by the opposition Republican People’s Party (AKP), the ruling Justice and Development Party enjoyed five times more media propaganda than the opposition, said Billion.

Another phenomenon is represented by the massive march organized by the AKP in Istanbul on Sunday, which indicates that the people have not yet surrendered to a president who can in 2019 run for a second term in office. The recent constitutional amendment allows the president to run for two more five-year terms.

This means Erdogan can stay in power until 2029, This however puts him in danger of being isolated because he is said to “no longer listen to his advisors” and the current prime minister is “virtually non-existent.”

Concerning Syria, Billion stressed that the Turkish “obsession” in Syria is called the “Kurdish issue,” a matter that Ankara considers “essential and existential” and a “primary mover” of its policy in Syria.

Ankara wants to prevent the establishment of an independent or autonomous Kurdish state similar to Iraqi Kurdistan.

Billion confirmed that the “Euphrates Shield” operation launched in August last year was aimed at cleansing the area of ISIS and the Kurdish Democratic Party, which Ankara says is another face of the PKK militias.

The researcher rules out that possibility of Turkey being engaged in a military campaign in Afrin area and north of Aleppo) similar to “Euphrates Shield” because of Russian and US opposition.

Furthermore, Billion believed that Erdogan’s announcement three months ago of the withdrawal of a large number of its Turkish troops from Syria under the pretext that their mission was complete is somewhat true.

The real reason is that he reached an agreement with Putin.

The Russian president pledged to cut down Russian support to Kurds in return for Ankara withdrawing most of its troops. The reward was re-including it in the “Syrian game.”

But the relationship with Russia, despite its complexity, remains understandable, unlike the lack of Turkish understanding of US policy.

In any case, Billion asserted that Turkey “will not run the risk of deteriorating its relations with Washington” and it “will not venture leaving NATO,” which remains its best guarantor that a Kurdish state will not be established in Syria.

When asked why Ankara would establish better relations with Iraqi Kurdistan and refuses that for Syria’s Kurds, the researcher considered that the presence of Masoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, somehow “reassures” Turkey, because he supports its war on the PKK.

As for the Iraqi government, Billion believes it would be difficult for it to accept the separation of Kurdistan.

Diplomats and researchers warn that a Kurdish separation would mean a “new war” in Iraq which could spread to Turkey, Syria and Iran. The three countries, despite political differences and conflicting interests, agree on rejecting an independent Kurdish entity in Iraq or any other country.

The analyst advises the Turkish authorities to take a different approach in dealing with the Kurdish issue, and he believes the PKK is stronger today than at any previous stage of its existence.

This means that the Turkish approach in combating the PKK militarily and politically has failed, he added.

He even called on Turkish authorities to reopen lines of communication with Kurds that they had severed in 2015.

On Turkey’s ties with Qatar, Billion said that this relationship is based on “mutual desire.” On one hand, Turkey was looking for a pivot in the Gulf, which it found in Doha, and the latter was in the process of searching for partners abroad to serve as its crutch against what it sees as “Gulf pressure”.

The French researcher stressed that the two country’s backing of the Muslim Brotherhood is what ultimately brought them together.

The analyst believed that the Turkish president “lost the bet” and committed “tactical political and strategic mistakes, which he is paying for now.”

Billion even said that Erdogan lacks a political vision.

This is the Turkish situation as it appears today: successive crises at home and strained foreign relations, including with the EU, which Turkey dreams of joining and yet this dream seems so far away and probably even impossible.

Macron Hosts Netanyahu in Paris without Launching New Peace Initiative

Macron

Paris – For three days, French President Emmanuel Macron hosted in Paris Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu where he took part in a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the deportation of thousands of French Jews to Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

Sunday marked the day of official talks between the two leaders, which saw them hold a meeting that lasted more than two hours at the Elysee Palace.

The discussions focused on the resumption of the Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations that have been halted for three years.

The media speculated whether Macron would adopt the initiative of the previous French government, but the president, when addressing reporters, was brief in calling all sides to resume negotiations in order to reach a solution that is based on two states that can live side by side.

“This is the approach that represents the firm French diplomatic line that I commit to,” Macron added.

With this, he has altered Paris’ role that had previously leaned towards taking the lead in launching initiatives, to simply saying that it backs “all diplomatic efforts as specified by international agreements on peace.”

The French president also eased the harsh tone that was previously directed by France against Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, sufficing by saying that “it is important to make sure that the necessary conditions to resume the negotiations and reach peace are not thwarted by the facts on the ground.”

He then “reminded” Netanyahu of his and France’s stance on settlements.

The truth of the matter is that Macron avoided focusing on contentious issues in his statements to the public. He knows, on the one hand, that the Israeli PM has fought against past French initiatives. On the other, he is aware that any wrong step would put him at odds with the right-wing members of his government who advocate increasing settlement building.

French diplomatic sources said that one should not confuse what is said in the open and what is said behind closed doors.

For his part, Netanyahu did not address the settlement issue or the negotiations in his statements. Playing on Macron’s words, the Israeli official said that opposing Zionism is a form of anti-semitism, to conclude that terrorism against Israel is due to the Palestinian refusal to recognize it as a Jewish state.

The French sources said that Macron is not seeking to take initiatives in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but he wants Paris to play the role of “facilitator” to help resume negotiations. In addition, should it make a peace proposal, it will only do so after the US vision on the issue is revealed.

Addressing regional developments, Macron said that he “shares” Netanyahu’s concerns over “Hezbollah’s” armament in southern Lebanon.

He stressed that France will contribute to supporting “stability in Lebanon by respecting all of its sects and by relying on diplomatic initiatives.”

Macron and Netanyahu also tackled the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which the French leader said that Paris is “diligent” to whether Tehran will accurately implement it.

Paris Playing ‘behind the Scenes’ Diplomatic Role in Gulf Crisis

Gulf

Paris – France is maintaining its “behind the scenes” role in the Gulf crisis between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt over Doha’s funding and backing of terrorism because the French government believes that the residents of the Gulf “can solve their problems by themselves.”

French diplomatic sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that French diplomacy is “active on different levels in order to deliver messages and push for decisions that may help contain the escalation and restore dialogue.”

France is operating on two levels. The first is led by President Emmanuel Macron, who is in “constant contact” with Gulf leaders, revealed his circles. They said that he has twice contacted Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdul Aziz. He also hosted Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed at the Elysee Paris and had three days ago contacted the Emir of Qatar.

The French leader has also discussed the Gulf crisis with King of Morocco Mohammed VI during his visit to al-Rabat and his contacts with Arab and western officials.

Macron intends to also address the Gulf crisis during Friday’s G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, said the presidency.

The French circles did not elaborate on the “angle” in which he will bring up this issue, but it is likely that he will head into it when he discusses the war on terrorism and its financing. The funding of terrorism is included on the summit agenda.

Macron understands the importance of the Gulf crisis because of its impact on the stability of the Gulf, on the war on terrorism and on the special tries that Paris enjoys with all Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, stressed Elysee sources.

They added that “France is prepared to present all forms of support”, especially to the Kuwait mediation, which is the only “official” mediation in the crisis.

The second level of the French efforts over the crisis lies is being led by Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Foreign Ministry sources aid that he is “in contact” with his Gulf counterparts, noting that he recently visited Cairo to tackle the dispute with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. He had held similar talks with Saudi FM Adel al-Jubeir, UAE FM Abdullah bin Zayed, Qatari FM Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and various Kuwaiti officials. The crisis was also discussed by Le Drian with Iranian FM Mohammed Javad Zarif during his latest visit to Paris.

In addition to being active on the Gulf front, Paris has also been in contact with European and American officials. It believes that “Washington has a role to play” in ending the crisis.

Since the eruption of the crisis with Qatar, the four Arab states made a list of demands to Doha to accept as a condition to end their boycott.

French government spokesperson Christophe Castaner said that Doha “had to respond to the demands,” but Paris has at the same time said that it did want to take sides in the dispute because it enjoys good ties with all those concerned.

It therefore is primarily interested in “containing the escalation through refraining from pouring fuel on the fire and taking the necessary measures that can ease the tensions.”

Le Drian intends in the upcoming days to “intensify” his contacts to resolve the problem, but no concrete plan has been set in place yet.