Turkey Alludes to Giving up Purchase of S-400 System from Russia


Ankara – Ankara did not rule out on Monday the possibility of giving up a deal signed in September with Moscow to arm its forces with the Russian S-400 missiles system, after the issue created controversy with Washington and other NATO allies.

In an interview with local Turkish newspaper Aksam, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his country might give up the purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense missile systems if no agreement was reached on their joint production.

“If Russia doesn’t want to comply, we’ll make an agreement with another country. But we haven’t gotten any official negative replies (from Russia),” he said.

The Turkish minister said that Ankara needs to purchase the S-400 urgently.

“We need them. We have to protect our airspace. But if some anti-Russia-minded countries do not want Turkey to purchase S-400 from it, then they must provide their alternative,” Cavusoglu said.

After signing the deal in September, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had asked his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to speed up the delivery of the advanced air defense system and to start its deployment to allow Turkish soldiers be trained on their use.

Also last month, Russia’s Undersecretary for Defense Industries İsmail Demir has said that his country may start the delivery of its S-400 air defense system to Turkey as early as within the next two years.

Russia’s S-400 is the latest long-range anti-aircraft missile system that went into service in 2007.

Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that Russia and Turkey are continuing negotiations on the deliveries of S-400 long-range air defense missile systems.

“I can say that the contacts and negotiations are continuing at the expert level in the context of this deal,” he said.

Iraq’s Kurds: Independence Referendum will not be Postponed… Except with Guarantees

Erbil– Iraq’s Kurds have expressed their commitment to hold the independence referendum on September 25, despite repeated demands by the United States to postpone such a move to prevent the deterioration of relations with the central government in Bagdad.

The Higher Council for the Referendum in Kurdistan, during a meeting on Wednesday chaired by President Masoud Barzani, reviewed the results of the recent visit conducted by the Kurdish delegation to Baghdad, as well as the outcome of Barzani’s talks with US Defense Secretary James Mattis in Erbil on Wednesday.

The council’s meeting was held ahead of the arrival of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to Erbil, following a visit to Baghdad, where he met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to discuss developments of the battle to liberate Tal Afar, relations between Erbil and Baghdad and the deadline set by the Kurdistan region to hold the referendum on September 25.

Sources in the higher council noted that the Kurdish delegation held a series of meetings with the different Iraqi parties in Baghdad on the process of the referendum and presented a detailed report on the results of these meetings to Barzani and the council’s members.

While Washington, Baghdad, Ankara and Tehran have called on the Kurdish leadership to postpone the independence referendum, Barzani and the region’s political leaders have reiterated their adherence to decide on the fate of the region on September 25.

“The response is very clear: the referendum will not be postponed even for one minute except by an alternative, and the alternative is international guarantees signed by all parties, especially the main parties, represented by Baghdad, the United States, and even Turkey and Iran”, Kurdish president’s media advisor Kifah Mahmoud told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“These guarantees must be made in writing, and will set another date for the referendum, and undertake to respect its results,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Turkish foreign minister visited Iraq on Wednesday to warn Iraqi and Kurdish leaders against next month’s independence referendum.

“The decision to hold this referendum is a mistake,” Cavusoglu was quoted by AFP as saying, during a joint news conference with Jaafari.

“We have said it before (to Iraqi Kurdish leaders) and today during my visit to Erbil I will repeat that it is a mistake,” he added.

Ankara Intensifies Consultations with Moscow, Tehran to Face ‘Nusra’ in Idlib


Ankara, Moscow- Ankara has started intensifying its consultations with Tehran and Moscow regarding the situation in Syria and the latest developments that are related to al-Nusra Front’s control over wide areas in Idlib Governorate, which is close to the Turkish borders.

It has discussed means of facing the terrorist front and preventing the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the Syrian governorate and the emergence of a new wave of refugees, while Moscow has warned of the growing strength of al-Nusra Front in Idlib and its attempt to control the border-line with Turkey through the Syrian governorate.

Meanwhile, the guarantor states are continuing their consultations at the level of technical experts on the details of the implementation mechanisms of the “Idlib de-escalation zone.”

“Lately, an active regrouping of Nusra Front forces was noted as well as the flow of radical members of the armed opposition to this terrorist organization. This endangers the general situation in Syria as it strengthens terrorists’ positions,” a military-diplomatic source in the International Syria Support Group task forces told RIA Novosti news agency.

“They are carrying out active actions to establish control over financing sources and are trying to take control of main border crossings with Turkey,” the source warned.

In this context, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the TRT Haber news channel Wednesday that Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov will visit Turkey to discuss the Syrian crisis.

He added that the clashes continue in Syria, pointing out that his country is working on keeping the process of Astana vital and that the most important role of this process is to stop the clashes on the ground, form areas of stability and reach de-escalation.

Cavusoglu explained that his country continues its technical talks with Russia and Iran with regard to de-escalation zones in Syria, adding that after fully securing de-escalation zones, the political solution must be presented.

He stressed that his country is involved in all processes aimed at achieving peace in Syria, and it is providing positive contributions to those processes.

For his part, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, the chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, visited Turkey on Tuesday together with a high-ranking political-military delegation upon an official invitation from Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar.

Fighting against terrorism, regional developments, bilateral relations in the defense industry and border cooperation are some of the topics that have been discussed during the three-day meetings.

The Iranian commander, who is visiting Turkey for the first time, was planned to meet Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other Turkish senior officials during his stay.

Saudi Arabia Stresses Geneva as Basis of Syria Settlement


Jeddah, Moscow, Beirut – Saudi Arabia stressed on Sunday its firm position regarding the Syrian crisis and said a solution should be based on the Geneva I Declaration and United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254.

The resolution stipulates establishing a transitional entity that manages the affairs of the state, drafting a new constitution for Syria and preparing for elections to build a new future for Syria without Bashar Assad.

An official source at the Saudi Foreign Ministry clarified the inaccuracy of the statements attributed to its minister, Adel Al-Jubeir, by some media sources.

Several media said al-Jubeir had informed the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC) of the Saudi decision to consider a political transition in Syria the first phase of which sees Assad remain in power.

The source reaffirmed the Kingdom’s support of the Syrian opposition’s HNC and the procedures it is considering in order to expand participation of its members and achieve a unified front among the opposition.

Separately, the three guarantor countries of a ceasefire agreement in Syria, Turkey, Russia and Iran and were still studying an implementation mechanism for the de-escalation zones deal in the province of Idlib.

“Work is currently underway on the third zone, the largest and probably the most complicated, in the Idlib province… It will not be easy to coordinate the parameters of the de-escalation zone,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists on Sunday.

On the sidelines of the ASEAN regional forum in Manila, Lavrov discussed the Syrian crisis in two separate meetings held with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Lavrov said Moscow is ready to normalize its dialogue with the US, if Washington gives up its confrontational approach, a Foreign Ministry statement said.

After his talks with Lavrov, Cavusoglu said they discussed the ongoing Syrian conflict and the Astana talks, describing their meeting as “positive.”

The Turkish foreign minister also said he would later meet Tillerson on the sidelines of the summit.

Turkey, Iran FMs Discuss Latest Developments in Syria


Ankara – Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu held talks on Tuesday with his Iranian counterpart on the latest developments in Syria, revealed Turkish diplomatic sources.

They said that Cavusoglu and Mohammed Javad Zarif met on the sidelines of the emergency Organization of Islamic Cooperation executive committee meeting that was held in the Turkish city Istanbul.

The two officials tackled the agreements on a ceasefire in Syria and its de-escalation zones amid the eruption of clashes in some of these areas.

Spokesman for the Turkish presidency Ibrahim Kalin said that the suggestion of the de-escalation zones was made amid the state of fragmentation in the country.

He added however that the Russian-Turkish agreement over the zones “is not an alternative to Geneva, but comes to complement it.”

Meanwhile, the war of words between Ankara and Washington escalated as US Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS Brett McGurk implied that Turkey may have ties with the terrorist organizations operating in Syria’s Idlib.

Kalin said that Ankara rejected the claims, deeming them “unacceptable”

He said in a televised interview on Tuesday that McGurk is one of the remaining figures of the administration of former US President Barack Obama, adding that he is known for having close ties with the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Cavusoglu had previously demanded that McGurk be replaced, accusing him of cooperating with the “Kurdish militias in Syria.” Turkish media even circulated photographs of the US official meeting with members of the Syrian Democratic Forces in the Syrian city of Raqqa.

Kalin added that Turkey has not seized Idlib, but it is helping thousands of refugees who have been evacuated from Aleppo and been brought closer to its border.

Furthermore, he said that the international community’s failure to reach a solution to the Syrian crisis, pushed extremist groups to head to the war-torn country from neighboring Iraq and other nations.

UN Chief Announces Failure of Cyprus Reunification Talks


United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres announced on Friday the collapse of the talks to reunify the divided island of Cyprus, marking a dramatic end to more than two years of efforts.

“I’m very sorry to tell you that despite the very strong commitment and engagement of all the delegations and different parties … the conference on Cyprus was closed without an agreement being reached,” Guterres told a news conference after a stormy last session.

The talks collapsed amid anger and recriminations in the early hours of Friday, marking the end of a process seen as the most promising in generations to heal decades of conflict that erupted when the island was split between its Greek and Turkish Cypriot populations in 1974.

Guterres had flown in on Thursday to press Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci to seal a deal reuniting the east Mediterranean island, while US Vice President Mike Pence had phoned to urge them to “seize this historic opportunity”.

Diplomatic efforts to reunite Cyprus have failed since the island was riven in a 1974 Turkish army invasion triggered by a coup by Greek Cypriots seeking union with Greece.

Security arrangements for an envisioned federal Cyprus were the linchpin to a reunification deal.

The issue revolves around the more than 35,000 troops that Turkey has kept in the island’s breakaway Turkish Cypriot north since 1974, when it invaded following a coup mounted by supporters of uniting Cyprus with Greece.

Greek Cypriots in the island’s internationally recognized south perceive the Turkish soldiers as a threat and want them to leave. The island’s minority Turkish Cypriots want them to stay as their protectors.

The week of talks in the Swiss Alps, which the United Nations said was the “the best chance” for a deal, ground to a halt as the two sides failed to overcome final obstacles.

Diplomats said Turkey had appeared to be offering little to Greek Cypriots wanting a full withdrawal of Turkish troops from the island, although the Greek Cypriots had indicated readiness to make concessions on Turkish Cypriot demands for a rotating presidency, the other key issue.

Guterres finally called a halt at 2 a.m. after a session marred by yelling and drama, a source close to the negotiations said.

“Unfortunately… an agreement was not possible, and the conference was closed without the possibility to bring a solution to this dramatic and long-lasting problem,” Guterres said.

“That doesn’t mean that other initiatives cannot be developed in order to address the Cyprus problem,” he added.

Guterres declined to elaborate on what exactly had caused the collapse, but said there was still a wide gap between the two delegations on a number of questions.

Without a fallback option, it was unclear what, if any, peace process could continue. Reunification attempts have always been under the umbrella of the United Nations, which has one of its longest-serving peacekeeping forces on the island.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who with his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias had been attending the peace talks at the Swiss Alpine resort of Crans-Montana for a week, spoke of different options.

“This outcome shows the impossibility of reaching a settlement within the parameters of the Good Offices Mission,” Cavusoglu wrote on his twitter feed, using a term referring to the UN.

“No use in insisting on them.”

Greek Cypriots, due to launch gas drilling off the island in coming weeks that Turkey opposes, pointed the finger of blame at the Turkish side.

Nicos Christodoulides, spokesman for the Greek Cypriot government, said Turkey had refused to relinquish its intervention rights on Cyprus or the presence of troops on the island.

“Tonight’s development is in no way positive, but it is not the end of the road either,” he said, without elaborating.

“The existing, unacceptable situation can’t be Cyprus’ future and the president will redouble his efforts,” Christodoulides said.

He faulted Turkey’s “obsession” with having a troop presence in Cyprus and the right to militarily intervene. He said Turkish positions on other key issues deviated from a UN framework and “were such that they could not be accepted under any circumstances.”

Kotzias posted on his personal Twitter account that it wasn’t possible to accept Turkey’s right to militarily intervene on the whole of Cyprus.

“The dream and the plan for solving the Cyprus problem remain alive,” said Kotzias.

Other key disagreements were on how much territory would make up the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot federal zones.

Another key difference was Turkey’s insistence that a peace accord grant Turkish nationals the right to relocate and transfer money, services and goods to a reunified Cyprus. Greek Cypriots were reluctant to cede unregulated access to Turkish nationals over concerns that the small island of 1.1 million people would be overwhelmed economically and demographically.

Turkey Offers Mediation to Resolve Qatar Dispute


Ankara – Turkey said on Monday that it was “saddened” by the Arab and Islamic countries’ decision to sever diplomatic ties with Qatar, saying it was ready to mediate with them to “reach a solution to the crisis.”

The Turkish Foreign Ministry hoped in a statement that members of the Gulf Cooperation Council would be able to reach a solution to the crisis through dialogue and bridging the divide over differences.

It called on all sides “not to forget the challenges the region is experiencing, starting with combating terrorism, which requires everyone to work together.”

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a new conference after meeting his German counterpart Sigmar Gabriel on Monday: “We see the stability in the Gulf region as our own unity and solidarity.”

“Countries may of course have some issues, but dialogue must continue under every circumstance for problems to be resolved peacefully. We are saddened by the current picture and will give any support for its normalization,” he added.

Cavusoglu later discussed the developments with his Iranian counterpart Mohammed Javad Zarif during a telephone call.

He revealed that they shared the same position on the need to resolve the dispute with Qatar through dialogue, said diplomatic sources.

The dispute was also tackled at a Turkish cabinet session chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday.

Turkey: US Arming of Syrian Kurds ‘Extremely Dangerous’

Turkey on Tuesday said the US arming of a Kurdish militia force deemed a terror group by Ankara was “extremely dangerous”, a day after Washington announced that it started distributing arms to the militia.

The Pentagon on Tuesday said it had begun to transfer small arms and vehicles to the Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-Syrian Arab alliance fighting ISIS and containing Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) fighters.

The weapons include AK-47s and small-caliber machine guns, Pentagon spokesman Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway said.

“Such steps are extremely dangerous for Syria’s unity and territorial integrity,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.

“If we are looking for stability in Syria, we should row back from those mistakes,” he told a press conference with Slovenian counterpart Karl Erjavec in Ankara.

Turkey views the YPG as a “terror group” and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, waging an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984 that has killed more than 40,000 people.

But Washington believes the YPG is the most effective fighting force against ISIS jihadists in Syria, causing tensions between the NATO allies.

The US weapons transfers began ahead of an upcoming offensive to recapture Raqqa, the last major bastion and ISIS’ de facto capital in Syria.

The SDF have now advanced to within a few miles of Raqqa on several fronts, and this month captured the strategic town of Tabqa and the adjacent dam from the jihadists.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with US counterpart Donald Trump in Washington for the first time where the issue of US support for the YPG was discussed on May 16, the Turkish foreign minister said.

Less than a week before Erdogan’s visit, Trump approved arming fighters from the YPG.

“The president clearly expressed our position and concerns during his Washington visit. It was stressed how risky and dangerous the support given to the YPG was,” Cavusoglu said.

“These weapons could be used against all humanity, not just Turkey.”

US officials have told Reuters that Washington was also looking to boost intelligence cooperation with Turkey to support its fight against the PKK.

It was unclear if the effort would be enough to soothe Turkey, however.

Erdogan to Meet EU Leaders

EU leaders Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk will meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Brussels next Thursday, the European Commission.

“President Jean-Claude Juncker, together with (EU Council) President Donald Tusk, meets Mr Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey, in Brussels,” Juncker’s office said Friday in a calendar entry for May 25.

Juncker, who heads the European Commission, and Tusk, who heads the council of 28 EU member states, are due to meet Erdogan on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels.

Earlier this month, Erdogan told Brussels it had no other “option” than to open new “chapters”, or policy areas, in Turkey’s long-stalled accession talks which began in 2005.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu insisted at the time that Turkey was not seeking to become an adversary to the EU, but complained about the approach.

He said only 16 policy chapters had been opened out of a total of 35 since the negotiations began, even though Ankara’s bid to be a part of the bloc dates back to the 1960s.

Ankara on Sinjar Raids: We Informed Washington, Moscow

Ankara, Beirut- Ankara announced that it had informed Washington and Moscow before launching strikes against Kurdistan Workers’ Party and People’s Protection Units in northern Iraq’s Mount Sinjar and areas in northeastern Syria.

Ankara criticized the visit of US officers to the sites of the strikes, reflecting tension between the two NATO allies that expressed contradictory stances on Kurds.

“Two hours before this operation, we shared information with the US and Russia that we would undertake an operation in the region, and warned the US to withdraw its soldiers in the region 20-30 kilometers away,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters on a trip to Uzbekistan.

For his part, Turkish EU Affairs Minister Omar Celik criticized the statement made by State Department spokesman Mark Toner who has expressed concern over the Turkish strikes, saying “these kinds of actions frankly harm the coalition’s efforts” against ISIS.

Celik said “what we should worry about is the visit of a US officer to a terrorist camp that was hit Tuesday morning.”

While stressing the importance of investigating the motives behind this visit, Celik outlined that the cooperation between US forces and Kurdish members in Syria is unacceptable to Turkey and might bring tension to Ankara-Washington ties.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the death toll from the Turkish raids in northestern Syria had reached 28.

On the Turkish-Syrian border, tension mounted in areas that fall under the control of Kurds in Afrin and other areas ruled by the Syrian regime.

ARA News said that the Turkish army along with opposition factions clashed with People’s Protection Units on Wednesday.