Russian Diplomat: We Don’t Want to Clash with Israel or US in Syria

Beirut- Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin said that his country’s involvement in Syria was aimed at confronting terrorist organizations in the country and “not clashing with any other party whether the Americans or Israelis.”

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Zasypkin denied any Russian-Iranian discord on Syria and stressed that the fate of Bashar al-Assad and the regime must be determined by the Syrians themselves.

He said previous experiences in toppling regimes in the region “did not lead to national accord. On the contrary, there are wars and countries are disintegrating.”

Asked for a briefing on the Russian stance from the current situation in Syria, Zasypkin said: “The Russian position is still the same. This might be the basic quality of the Russian methodology throughout the crisis years in Syria.”

“The key solution in Syria remains the national dialogue between the authorities and the opposition. This has been approved by the international community at the Geneva Conference,” he said.

He added: “Our primary goal was to halt the bloodshed. That’s why we took action in Astana to reach a truce. So, we are working on two tracks: the political one in Geneva and the military in Astana.”

Commenting on the battles in Daraa, Hama, west Aleppo and Lattakia countryside, the ambassador said that some might view things in a negative way because violations are taking place on a daily basis and this is true.

“But the halt of aggressive acts is still active in certain regions, though it needs to improve by foreign parties who can influence the armed groups,” he added.

Asked about any Russian decision to keep Assad in power, the diplomat wondered: “Why is the opposition’s demand for Assad’s departure considered the demand of the people? It is the demand of only a segment and the problem is that this part is armed and includes foreigners.”

Speaking about US-Russian coordination in Syria, Zasypkin said that he can’t comment on military and field logistics.

He added: “On the political level, we took an initial stance towards the unjustified US aggression on Shayrat airbase. Since the beginning, we considered some US actions in Syria unacceptable such as the lack of coordination with the regime and the vagueness of targets. We accepted some others that fell under the announced goals of fighting ISIS and terrorism.”

Prosecution: Guantanamo Bay Trials for Qaeda Suspects Likely to Start Next Year

Guantanamo (Cuba) – Office of Military Commissions Chief Prosecutor Brig. Gen. Mark Martins said that the trial for Qaeda members suspected of involvement in the September 11 terror attacks alongside other top Guantanamo Bay prisoners could start in 2018.

Martins said that laws and regulations on trying war criminals, which prohibit holding tribunals against adversaries before ending “conflict,” were part why the legal processing has taken so long.

Martins will oversee the capital trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and four co-defendants, Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ammar al-Baluch and Mustafa al-Hawsawi.

The Brig. Gen. is also chief prosecutor in the case of Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, accused of blowing up the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000, and killing 17 American sailors. Martins also plays the same role in the case of senior al-Qaeda leader Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi.

In his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Martins clarified that Iraqi faces allegations, and those accused are innocent until proven guilty.

There are several reasons behind the long-taking preparations for holding trials, including the fact that the United States so far still is in conflict with al-Qaeda.

“Often, charges are only raised after conflict has ended– a lot of procedures need be done in terms of gathering evidence,” the chief prosecutor said.

Charges facing Iraqi are on the level of war crimes, despite the fact that he does not fashion a military uniform belonging to any state, however he still is to be held accountable for the several systematic threats he presented to achieve his goals.

Even though Iraqi has spent over a decade in US custody at Guantanamo Bay detention center, it is worth noting that when arrested in 2006, he was leading and running the Qaeda military operations.

As to why the trials will be taking place in Guantanamo, Cuba, Martins says the US Congress passed a law in 2010 banning the reentry of Guantanamo detainees to the US. Therefore, they cannot be tried in the States– the Military Commission Act does necessarily provide that trials to be conducted in a specific place.

The defendants get legal representation as well as many other legal rights. All the more, Martins shed light on the risk present in transferring the suspects.

Addressing Iraqi’s case, Martins said that Judge Paul Rubin is in the process of reviewing appeals made by Iraqi’s defense team during the preliminary trial hearings. “A process that may take a lot of time,” the official commented.

Preparatory sessions scheduled for June 26 and 30 have been cancelled because the dates coincide with the Islamic Eid al-Fitr holiday, he added.

Moroccan Bank of Africa Chairman: Liberating Exchange Rate Suits our Economy

Brahim Benjelloun Touimi, the director general of BCME Bank and the chairman of the Bank of Africa

Casablanca- Brahim Benjelloun Touimi, the director general of BCME Bank and the chairman of the Bank of Africa, said that Al Baraka Banking Group will open a branch in Morocco in June – a step that falls under the partnership between BCME and Al Baraka Banking Group.

Benjelloun Touimi told Asharq Al-Awsat that the ambitions of the new bank exceed the Moroccan borders and look forward to expanding in Africa through supporting BCME that has become the second African banking group in terms of branches.

Asharq Al-Awsat asked, “You have acquired a license to open an associated bank, where have you gone so far with the preparations?”

Benjelloun Touimi replied: “We are currently putting the final touches by which both partner companies BCME and Al Baraka Banking Group are willing to launch operations of their joint bank next June.”

“What are your ambitions in this field?” asked the newspaper.

“They are realistic and reasonable ones. Right now, we can’t talk about numbers because it is still early. In all cases, we start with reasonable and realistic levels so that we can reach and maintain them,” he answered.

Commenting on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reservations on the African expansion of Moroccan banks, Touimi said that he met IMF Chief Christine Lagarde and he concluded that IMF reservations were not warnings or a call to back off but only to expand in an organized way.

Asharq Al-Awsat asked, “How do you evaluate the Moroccan banking performance amidst the shrinkage prevailing in the international economy?”

He replied, “It is not only us who claim that but also other national parties and multi-parties authorities witness and acknowledge that the Moroccan banking sector is stable and rate it as the most solid in the African continent.”

Speaking on Morocco’s preparation to endorse a flexible exchange system, Benjelloun Touimi said that hedging instruments provided by Moroccan banks to clients are considered essential for limiting doubts and suspicion regarding the future price of national currency because this can determine the exchange rate earlier and keep economy activists from worrying.

He added that the approach towards liberating the exchange system is the most adequate in the current condition and fits most the structure of the Moroccan economy.

Egyptian FM: Washington, Cairo Share Comprehensive Vision for Counter-Terrorism

Shoukry

Cairo – Conflicts in the Arab region, most notably in Syria, Libya and Yemen, should be resolved, stressed Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shoukry.

The minister added there is a possibility to contain terrorism through Western intelligence agencies, not just military operations.

Speaking to Asharq al-Awsat, the FM said that certain known factories are providing terrorist organizations with arms and equipment, calling for serious and effective cooperation to end this.

Shoukry pointed out that the US administration shares the same vision as Egypt in countering terrorism. He also discussed the situation in the region and the importance of giving people a chance to end their struggles and solve their problems.

When asked if there were any initiatives for a solution in Yemen, Shoukry replied that they are monitoring the UN envoy and other countries’ efforts to establish a resolution according to the agreed bases, such as the outcomes of the national dialogue, the Gulf initiative and supporting the legitimacy.

On terrorism, the FM stressed that Egypt will continue to fight it, especially after the two attacks on the Tanta and Alexandria Churches earlier in April.

Shoukry stated that he believes terrorism is expanding because the international effort that has been established did not succeed in containing terrorism, except in Iraq recently.

He added that the situations in Syria and Libya are complicated and terrorist organizations are spreading in Africa. He also cited the frequent attacks in Europe and Egypt that are evidence of the continued presence of these terror organizations.

According to the minister, the international community should “credibly tackle the matter because it is impossible that these organizations receive weapons and support unbeknownst to the western intelligence.”

Shoukry said: “If there a real international will to fight terrorism, then the international community should begin with determining how these terrorist organizations receive all these advanced weapons and equipment.”

The FM said it is “impossible” that intelligence agencies are unable to trace and determine the parties and states responsible for backing terrorist organizations. He added that this is crucial for the credibility of anyone who says they are fighting terror.

Commenting on Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi’s recent trip to the US, Shoukry explained that it took place shortly after US President Donald Trump came to office and when the US policy was still being shaped.

He did say however certain concepts were agreed upon, like fighting terrorism.

When asked whether Egypt will continue to unite all three Libyan parties, Shoukry stressed that his country never did and never will stop trying to unite Libyan parties. He explained that there are three institutions in Libya: presidential council, the parliament and the state’s council, which will form a committee to agree on the amendments needed to the Sukhayrat agreement.

He added that this constant effort with Libyan leaderships, which have met with Egyptian officials in Cairo, will continue until they are successful.

The minister stressed that Egypt aims to have natural relations with regional countries according to certain bases, which include mutual respect for sovereignties.

Furthermore, Cairo does not interfere in internal affairs and does not support organizations that back terrorism.

The FM was in Sudan recently on a visit, which he described as having “positive outcomes”.

He stated that it was an opportunity to review bilateral relations and the outcomes of the meetings of the joint high committee. He also explained that Egypt and Sudan agreed on a mechanism for political dialogue and discussed the regional situation.

The minister stated that bilateral relations might have had some misunderstandings or misinterpretations, which drove brotherly relations off their track.

When asked if the past has been forgotten, Shoukry stressed that Cairo is committed to a strategic ties with Sudan, which goes beyond any special relationships, adding: “Egypt does not conspire against or interfere in the affairs of any state.”

On Ethiopia, Shoukry said that both Cairo and Addis Ababa requested better coordination and asked for more frequent meetings. He explained that this could make it clearer to the public that issues are being discussed frankly and openly.

When asked about the Egyptian-Ethiopian relations, Shoukry said that Ethiopian FM Workneh Gebeyehu conveyed his country’s prime minister’s message to Sisi during his recent visit to Cairo. He added that the visit was an opportunity to discuss the importance of the mutual relations which are based on respect and common interests.

The Ethiopian FM stressed publically that his country will not take any move that could harm Egyptian interests. Meanwhile, Shoukry confirmed that Egypt is concerned with the Ethiopian development efforts, expressing Egypt’s willingness to be part of it through investments.

Shoukry said that the two countries agreed on dialogue to reach an ongoing mechanism to hold meetings every two months in order to discuss any misunderstanding or misinterpretation that could lead to wrong assumptions.

Palestinian FM: Abbas Visit to Washington is an Opportunity to Influence the New Administration

Palestinian

Paris – Palestinian Foreign Affairs Minister Riad al-Maliki said that the upcoming visit of President Mahmoud Abbas to Washington next month was an “opportunity” to influence the new US Administration.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper on the sidelines of his visit to Paris, Maliki said that the Palestinian Authority was betting on the distinctiveness of President Donald Trump’s personality, “which could push him to go against the opinion of his personal advisors.”

“We don’t have the illusion that we can overturn the current orientation, but this visit would change Trump’s established ideas,” the Palestinian foreign minister said.

“We believe that this visit will provide an opportunity for President Abbas to present the truths as they are to the US president,” he added.

Maliki explained that Trump was “different from his predecessors, in terms of thinking and vision, and can make a decision regarding an issue, regardless of the opinion of his advisors.”

He noted that a Palestinian delegation that includes Senior Negotiator Saeb Erekat, the head of Intelligence Majed Faraj, and the head of the Investment Fund Mohammed Mustafa, would arrive to Washington on Sunday to prepare the political, security and economic issues, which would be discussed during the summit between Trump and Abbas.

The Palestinian minister met with his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault in Paris last week.

He noted that Ayrault reaffirmed France’s adherence to the two-state solution and commitment to promoting peace, and to the implementation of UNSCR 2234.

Maliki said that the current French leadership believed that recognizing the Palestinian State was very difficult at the present moment, despite the Palestinian Authority’s insistence on the matter.

He said that France expressed concern at the uninterrupted continuation of Israeli settlement activity and reaffirmed the importance of combating all forms of violence.

On the expected meeting between Trump and Abbas, Maliki said the summit is scheduled for May 3rd.

He added that the Palestinian Authority was looking forward to receiving Trump’s promise of his commitment to the two-state solution, the elimination of the plan to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, and a clear stance against illegal settlements.

He also said that Abbas hoped that the US president would support Palestinians’ right to benefit from all available resources to boost their economy and growth.

“We must deploy all efforts because we believe that we have an opportunity – we should grab the opportunity of the two presidents’ meeting; this is very important to us,” the foreign minister stated.

Asked about the outcome of visits conducted by US officials to Palestine since the arrival of the new US Administration, Maliki said: “They came to listen to us and we believe that they were only go-and-see visits.”

He added that while there has been some improvement in the way the US is dealing with the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian officials were waiting for concrete results following Abbas’ visit to Washington.

Choksy: US Companies Reacted Positively to Entering Saudi Market

Choksy

Washington – The US Chamber of Commerce in Washington hosted for two days the US-Saudi CEO Summit for government and private companies. This summit, the second of its kind since the one held in Riyadh in 2012, was significant in that it confirmed the new American administration’s approach in increasing close political and economic cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

Senior Vice President for Middle East and Turkey Affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce Khush Choksy told Asharq Al-Awsat that Washington reacted “positively” towards investing in the kingdom.

The meeting of CEOs was able to offer US officials a “better and deeper” understanding of the kingdom’s economic and reform plan aimed at transforming the Saudi economy from an oil dependent one into a diverse one.

President and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce Thomas Donahue explained that partnership between American and Saudi companies will lead to the growth of the economies of both countries and improve their position in the global economy, said Choksy.

The Washington summit was aimed at expanding the means of bilateral trade and investment. Asked about the role the US Chamber of Commerce can play to that end, Choksy replied: “Our role is to work with our partners in Saudi Arabia and Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce … in order to ensure that American companies and their Saudi counterparts can enter partnerships that can help execute Vision 2030.”

This will help these partnerships and pave the way for Saudi investments in the United States, he went on to say, giving the examples of Saudi companies of Aramco and SABIC that are investing in the US and consequently creating job opportunities for Americans and Saudis alike.

He added that one of the main factors that attract American investors in Saudi Arabia is the kingdom’s large growing market, revealing that in the past, they were primarily drawn to the energy sector.

Since the kingdom is seeking to diversify its economy, investors are looking into the renewable energy sector as well as the defense, industry, health and agriculture fields among others, he stressed.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson explained during the summit that American companies bring quality, technology and professionalism to this market, remarked Choksy.

He highlighted the significance of Tillerson’s participation at the Washington summit, saying it was the first time that a US secretary of state takes part in such a non-governmental conference.

Mohieldin: IT Offers Major Opportunities to Promote Arab Economies

Mahmoud Mohieldin, World Bank Group Senior Vice President for the 2030 Development Agenda, United Nations Relations, and Partnerships

Washington – World Bank Senior Official Mahmoud Mohieldin said that Arab countries could benefit from major economic opportunities by depending on their human resources, especially in the field of Information Technology.

In an interview with Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, Mohieldin said that despite slow growth witnessed in the Middle East in 2017 due to conflicts and fall in oil prices, Arab States could still take advantage of opportunities in the IT sector, as the most traded and most needed product in the economies of the 21st century.

Mohieldin is the World Bank Group Senior Vice President for the 2030 Development Agenda, United Nations Relations, and Partnerships.

He told Asharq al-Awsat about the new international trends to benefit from Financial Technology, know as FinTech and considered as a new technology platform for financial transactions.

The official also talked about the ongoing Spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in Washington, and progress achieved in the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as efforts deployed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco and other countries in promoting development.

On challenges facing the Middle East, Mohieldin said that internal conflicts, slow investments and the decrease in oil prices have affected the countries’ gross national income (GNI) and growth rates.

“Our estimates indicate that the growth rate in the Middle East and North Africa region would reach 2.6 percent in 2017, compared to 3.5 percent last year,” he stated.

“While the current situation does not indicate any improvement, we have hopes that finding a solution to the Syrian crisis, ending the war in Yemen, and restoring peace in Libya would positively influence those countries and the whole region,” Mohieldin added.

“Growth in the region depends on security stability, the implementation of economic reforms and investments in building and reconstruction,” the official noted.

Asked about solutions to promote economic performance in the region, especially in the Gulf, Mohieldin said: “The economies of the 21st century require innovative solutions in the wake of technological progress.”

He noted that Arab countries should rely more on their young population and seek to diversify their income by promoting the use of IT.

Mohieldin underlined the importance of FinTech, which he said was at the core of the evolution of banks and financial institutions.

He added that the new technology would allow countries to overcome development challenges, by making widespread access to financial services possible, while preserving the privacy of financial transactions.

The implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is another important topic of discussion during the IMF and World Bank Spring meetings.

“While it is still early to evaluate the progress achieved over the past two years, there are some indications that a number of countries have taken measures in this regard,” he stated, commenting on the implementation of the SDGs since their adoption in September 2015.

“The performance of Arab States (with regards to the SDGs) was deceiving in some countries and good in other countries, especially in the field of basic education,” he said.

Jihad Azour: Director of the IMF Middle East and Central Asia Department

Jihad Azour.

Washington – In parallel with the 2017 Spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, the new director of the IMF Middle East and Central Asia Department and Lebanon’s former Finance Minister Jihad Azour will unveil a report on the economies in the Middle East, tackling challenges and threats facing the region, as well as the expected growth rates for 2017.

Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF appointed Azour as the new IMF director of the Middle East and Central Asia, replacing Masood Ahmed who left the Fund in October.

Azour served as Lebanon’s Finance Minister from 2005-2008 and held a wide range of posts in the private sector.

In an interview with Asharq al-Awsat, Azour talks about efforts to expand the scope of cooperation between the IMF and the Arab region, as well as the means to face geopolitical challenges to implement urgent economic reforms.

The former finance minister holds a PhD in International Finance and a post-graduate degree in International Economics and Finance from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris.

Asked about the main challenges in his new role, Azour said: “The Middle East region is going through an important phase, as changes over the past five years happened swiftly.”

“Since the financial crisis to this day, many transformations occurred and affected a number of countries; citizens felt the need for a clearer vision and the translation of their ambitions into reality,” he stated.

Azour stressed that his deep knowledge in the Middle East would help him convey the right message to officials that difficult reforms are less costly than stalling their implementation.

“My mission is to create an expanded a common platform for cooperation between the region and the Fund,” he added.

“Prosperity cannot be established without stability,” Azour said, noting in this regard that a country’s government, political forces and the public sector should assume the responsibility of promoting stability and attracting foreign investments.

Asked about the chances of achieving economic development in the region, the former finance minister said: “Some countries have a growth rate ranging between 3 to 5 percent, and such rates are not enough to receive newcomers into the job market.”

He explained that such situation would force the government to become the main employer.

“Consequently, one of the missions of the Fund is to enable the region to become an active partner, allow it to benefit from economic transformations in the world, and protect it from lurking threats,” Azour said.

He added that the IMF was assisting war-stricken countries in preserving their institutions, such as central banks and ministries.

He noted that IMF projects include Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as countries affected by the region’s crises, including Lebanon and Jordan.

On the second of May, the IMF will issue its annual report on the Regional Economic Outlook in the Middle East and Central Asia in 2017.

Azour said the report would be announced from Dubai and would update growth rates for 2017 as well as expectations of the upcoming challenges and changes in the region’s economies.

Deputy Secretary General of YSP: ‘Peace Doesn’t Mean Impunity for War Criminals’

Yemen

Aden – Deputy Secretary General of the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) Dr. Mohammed al-Mekhlafi stressed the need to bring those who committed war crimes before the courts.

Mekhlafi noted the importance of distinguishing between criminals as individuals and the social force that led them to war.

The former Minister of Legal Affairs in the Yemeni government of national accord said that the state monopoly on arms eradicated terrorism.

He confirmed that Yemenis realized that ending the crisis in their country and achieving a successful transitional period require partnership and consensus, which was confirmed by the Gulf initiative agreement and the mechanism adopted for the transfer of power.

“Partnership and consensus here mean the partnership of political parties and their consensus in managing the transitional period until achieving the transition to a federal state and carrying out elections,” Mekhlafi explained.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Mekhlafi spoke about Yemen’s current issues, including the transitional justice, the recovery of looted funds as well as extremism and terrorism and the ambitions and capabilities of some regional parties and their efforts to spread chaos in the region.

Regarding the risks of declaring state of emergency in provinces that fall under the control of Houthi militias, Mekhlafi said that the state of emergency is usually declared by legitimate authorities, and according to the Yemeni constitution it should be announced by the President, based on emergency law and continues with the approval of the legislature.

He explained that these rules are put to maintain the constitution and the law from violations.

However, he said, declaring state of emergency by a rebelled and outlawed group proves nothing but their attempts to breach rights and freedoms.

He urged peace forces and human rights defenders all over the world to seek lifting this threat on the Yemenis and ending the coup to restore the state.

When asked about warnings that Yemen is up to suffer from the most humanitarian catastrophe in the world and mean of preventing it in light of the continuation of the war, Mekhlafi said that indicators for this catastrophe is right before everyone.

“There are three million displaced Yemenis in the country and abroad, and there are more than seven million Yemenis suffering from starvation, especially in Hodeidah, Taiz and Sana’a,” Mekhlafi said.

He added that there are around 19 million Yemeni citizens who need urgent humanitarian aid, and the main reason behind these numbers is “of course, the war.”

The former Minister said that it is not possible to end this humanitarian catastrophe in light of war, and there are extra factors that made things worse for people.

According to Mekhlafi, these extra factors include not paying the employees in the public sector their salaries, the control of humanitarian aids by Houthi militias, the siege imposed on several provinces, selling products that people use as their basic needs in black market and lack of world concern, which means weak international assistance to war victims.

Turkish Foreign Minister Warns Europe again on Refugees’ Agreement

Turkey

Ankara – Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Turkey’s relation with European countries is going through a difficult period, considering that the European Union’s actions let Ankara down following the failed coup attempt in July 15.

At the time when Turkish Minister confirmed that Turkey will take a positive initiative if Europeans do so, he also warned that his country will abandon the role it has taken in the Aegean Sea; referring to the possibility of returning refugees’ boats that were heading to Europe from Turkey if the EU did not adhere to its obligations mentioned in the migration agreement with Ankara.

Cavusoglu stressed that the upcoming referendum carried out in Turkey on constitutional changes for a new system of governance is part of the democratic process. He stated: “Whatever the result will be, Turkey will remain a strong, stable and democratic country and a reliable actor for its global partners.”

Q: How would Turkey look like after the referendum?

A: Turkey has a historical tradition for statehood and democracy. Our people have always stood up for their democratic rights, as we have seen last July when masses resisted coup plotters.

Turkish people have always shown resilience and devotion towards protecting their country, their democracy and their Republic. The upcoming referendum is about constitutional changes for a new system of governance.

The referendum is part of the democratic process and passes through parliament. Proposed changes, if accepted, will change the system of government. Whatever the result will be, Turkey will remain a strong, stable and democratic country and a reliable actor for its global partners.

Q: How will the referendum translate in terms of foreign policy?

A: The referendum is not about Turkish foreign policy. Turkey is an active member of NATO, G-20, OIC and almost all of the European institutions and adopts a multi-dimensional foreign policy. Turkey’s enterprising and humanitarian foreign policy addresses global as well as regional issues in a dynamic and principled manner.

Amidst many difficulties arising from conditions in neighboring states, Turkey remains playing a positive role. We uphold our international obligations and the rule of law. We ask our partners to do the same. Therefore, whatever the result of the referendum, Turkey will remain a bulwark for stability, peace and prosperity at home and in the world.

Q: Given current tensions, what is to become of European-Turkish relations?

A: Our relations are going through a difficult period. The attitude of the EU and some European countries has been a great disappointment. Instead of receiving solidarity and support, Turkey has faced unfair criticism concerning measures it took in the aftermath of the aborted coup.

Furthermore, some European countries have saved no effort in presenting difficulties that would keep Turkish Ministers and deputies from meeting with their own citizens, while PKK and affiliated groups are permitted to demonstrate and display their symbols freely. This is a clear example of having double standards.

It is also disappointing for us to see that Turkey very often becomes an issue in domestic politics of some European countries, particularly during election campaigns. Issues related to Turkey appear in some European media on a daily basis and predominantly from a very negative point of view.

Political obstacles in the way of our EU accession process are another factor, which causes difficulties in European-Turkish relations. EU membership remains a priority for us.

Our relations with the EU, dating back to the Association Agreement of 1963, are established on a number of central axes such as the Customs Union and accession negotiations. Also, Turkey and the EU should cooperate against common challenges such as the migration crisis and the threat of terrorism.

However, there is a loss of trust towards the EU in Turkey, stemming from the EU’s latest attitude. We still are expecting positive concrete steps to overcome the confidence crisis.

Within this framework, we expect the blockages to be lifted, visa liberalization to be granted and all other commitments that the EU had made to be met.

Despite these difficulties, possibilities do exist to bring our relations back on a positive track. Turkey will certainly reciprocate if it is met with good intentions, as well as positive and constructive approach from European partners and the EU.

Further improvement to the Customs Union presents a vital opportunity to advancing our relations with the EU. This process will be in the interest of both sides and should not be blocked by political hindrances and shortsighted goals of domestic politics.

The EU is now in a process of self-review and integration of cultures and civilizations. This process could also be utilized for self-criticism and reform with a view to becoming a stronger entity in world politics. Turkey, as a reliable partner, is ready to contribute to this process.

Q: What are the provisions, or outlines, defining the migrant (refugee) deal you will present to the European Union?

A: The 18 March Agreement which has been a success story in the fight against irregular migration is functional due to Turkey’s tremendous efforts. Among others, visa liberalization for Turkish citizens was one of the commitments by the EU to be addressed in 2016.

We’ve been under the visa liberalization process since 2013 and we fulfilled almost all conditional benchmarks. This was acknowledged by the European Commission in its report dated May 2016.

However, we see no will on the EU side to move forward on this issue as it is also the case for other commitments it made.

We have prepared a work plan about preparations being taken for remaining benchmarks. We will present this plan to the EU which will in turn constitute Turkey’s final proposal in order to complete the visa liberalization process. We expect visa liberalization to be granted at the earliest.

If the EU does not give its green light on this issue, we will be obliged to review the heavy burden we assumed in the Aegean Sea.