Turkey, US Decide to Meet to Solve Diplomatic Row

Turkey- US

Turkish and US authorities decided to meet to settle the strategic emergency between the two NATO partners, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Thursday.

The spat erupted last week when Turkey arrested a Turkish employee of the American consulate on suspicion of links to the group blamed for last year’s failed coup.

In response, the United States suspend non-immigrant visa services there. Hours later, Ankara issued a similar suspension on visas for US citizens in a tit-for-tat move.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke by telephone with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday to discuss the reciprocal suspension of visa services — their first talks since the eruption of one of the worst crises between Washington and Ankara in years. Tillerson expressed his “profound concern” about the arrests, the US State Department said in a statement.

“Talks between the foreign minister and (US Secretary of State) Tillerson were very constructive. Representatives from both sides decided to meet and work together,” Bozdag said in an interview with broadcaster Haberturk.

He also said a US consulate employee arrested in Turkey had not demanded lawyer access and the US mission could apply to send a lawyer to see him.

During the conversation, Tillerson said Turkey needed to present evidence for the accusations against the consulate employee, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday that US and Turkish military forces continue to work well together amid the diplomatic row.

“We maintain a very close collaboration, very close communication, the military-to-military interaction and integration has not been affected by this,” Mattis told reporters as he traveled to a military headquarters in Florida.

“We are doing good work with them, military to military,” he stressed.

On Tuesday, a Pentagon spokesman said the spat had not affected NATO or US military ties with Turkey.

The United States relies heavily on an air base at Incirlik in southern Turkey to launch air strikes against the ISIS group in neighboring Syria and Iraq. Yet, US-Turkish relations have been strained over US military support for Kurdish fighters in Syria and the United States’ unwillingness to extradite Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally whom Ankara views as the mastermind behind last year’s failed military coup.

Car Bomber Hits NATO Convoy in Afghanistan

A car bomber attacked a Danish convoy belonging to the NATO-led military mission in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Sunday.

International forces were all safe, however, the attack let a number of civilians wounded, according to security officials. Security officials say five civilians had been wounded while the interior ministry put the figure at three.

Some civilians may have been killed but Afghan officials reported no fatalities, a Danish military spokesman stated.

Captain William Salvin, a spokesman for NATO’s Resolute Support mission, confirmed an attack had occurred and said a team was on the scene to recover the vehicle, according to Reuters.

“There are no Resolute Support casualties as a result of the explosion,” Salvin he said in an emailed statement.

The Danish spokesman said the Danish soldiers were part of a security team who normally take part in protecting advisers traveling to and from the Afghan military academy near Kabul.

Romanian Soldier Killed in Taliban Convoy Attack

A Romanian soldier from a NATO-led mission was killed and two others wounded in southern Afghanistan on Friday in a Taliban claimed suicide attack, the Romanian defense ministry said.

The soldiers were traveling in a convoy in the Kandahar region, the ministry said in a statement. The assailant drove a vehicle packed with explosives into the foreign patrol as they drove through Daman district.

Romania, a NATO member since 2004, is contributing more than 620 troops to NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan which faces attacks from Taliban militants.

“The security situation in Afghanistan remains unstable, with the majority of incidents occurring in eastern and southern provinces,” the ministry said in its statement, according to Reuters.

“NATO forces … remain permanent targets of potential insurgent attacks.”

General John Nicholson, who heads up US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, condemned the attack and said it was further evidence the Taliban “are not interested in peace”, AFP reported.

“This loss only continues to strengthen our resolve and support to the Afghan government and its citizens as we work toward a secure and stable Afghanistan,” Nicholson said.

US military commanders in Afghanistan have requested for more additional troops, however, the request is held up in Washington, where US president Donald Trump has expressed scepticism over extending the American commitment.

The Taliban’s latest assault follows the group’s pledge to turn Afghanistan into a “graveyard” for foreign forces.

Earlier this month two Taliban suicide bombers launched separate attacks around Bagram Airfield, America’s largest base in the country, that wounded several US soldiers and civilians, according to AFP.

Russian War Games on NATO’s Eastern Flank

Russia on Thursday began major joint military exercises with Belarus along the European Union’s eastern flank, the biggest Russian war games since 2013.

Named Zapad-2017 (West-2017), the maneuvers, scheduled to last until September 20, are taking place on the territory of Moscow’s closest ally Belarus, in Russia’s European exclave of Kaliningrad and in its frontier Pskov and Leningrad regions.

According to Moscow, the exercise, which is not far from the borders of NATO allies Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, will involve 12,700 troops, 70 aircraft, 250 tanks and 10 battleships testing their firepower against an imaginary foe.

In a statement announcing the start of the exercises Russia’s defense ministry insisted the maneuvers are “of a strictly defensive nature and are not directed against any other state or group of countries.”

But NATO claims Russia has kept it in the dark and seems to be massively underreporting the scale of the exercises, which some of the alliance’s eastern members insist could see more than 100,000 servicemen take part.

NATO said last month it will send three experts to observe the military exercises but alliance Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg wanted the two countries to allow broader monitoring.

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said the three experts will attend “Visitors’ Days” in Belarus and Russia after they were invited to attend.

But she said international rules permit monitors to have much wider access, including briefings on the exercise, opportunities to talk to soldiers and overflights.

The war games come with tensions between Russia and NATO at their highest since the Cold War due to the Kremlin’s meddling in Ukraine and the US-led alliance bolstering its forces in eastern Europe.

NATO allies are concerned that Moscow might leave military equipment behind in Belarus when the exercises are over, perhaps to use later should President Vladimir Putin want to send troops quickly across the border, as he did in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014.

But Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister, Lt. Gen. Alexander Fomin, has rejected what he described as Western “myths about the so-called Russian threat.”

Russia, Turkey Sign S-400 Deal despite Criticism and Suspicion


Moscow – Moscow and Ankara confirmed on Tuesday that they signed a deal in which Moscow would sell Ankara S-400 missiles.

“Signatures have been made for the purchase of S-400s from Russia. A deposit has also been paid as far as I know,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday.

He stated that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin “are determined on this issue.”

This is the largest deal that Turkey signs with a country from outside NATO. It represents an advanced political step in the journey of normalizing relations between the two sides after a crisis that erupted when a Turkish jet shot down a Russian aircraft over Syria in 2015.

Turkey’s announcement of its intention to purchase the Russian missile system triggered however negative reaction from Ankara’s allies in NATO.

US Defense Secretary James Mattis stated earlier that the US will not impede the S-400 missiles deal, saying that it is a Turkish “sovereign decision”. He did complain however over the incompatibility between the Russian system and the NATO systems.

Russian analysts also voiced their skepticism.

Center for Strategic Studies Director Ivan Konovalov declared that the prospect of signing the deal “is part of the political game,” but he added that nothing “can be ruled out at this current time.”

Russia says that S-400 missiles are designed to protect vital political, economic, administrative and military facilities from airstrikes, and are considered of the most advanced systems in the air- and anti-missiles defense.

China was the first country to purchase this system from Russia.

NATO to Keep Close Eye to Major Russian Military Drill

NATO said it will be keeping a close eye on a major military exercise with Belarus next week, in a region still on edge after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

NATO and the US have powerful airborne radars deployed in drones that they can use to track the movement of tanks, trucks and other equipment on the ground from as much as 200 to 300 kilometres (120 to 180 miles) away, Brooks Tigner of IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly told AFP.

This synthetic aperture radar “can switch its beam in microseconds from one target to the next and start calculating and use algorithms to determine how everything is moving… that of course will reveal to NATO what kind of exercise this is,” he said.

The Sept. 14-20 exercises known as Zapad, or “West” in Belarus, the Baltic Sea, western Russia and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, are stirring unease in NATO despite Moscow’s assurances troops would rehearse a purely defensive scenario.

Similar drills in the past included a simulated invasion of Poland by tens of thousands of Russian troops culminating in a nuclear strike on Warsaw, and the coming show of force, codenamed “Zapad 2017” (West 2017) has sparked months of speculation and fears along NATO’s eastern flank.

Observers say that while there is little chance of Russia using the exercise as cover for an actual invasion, there are concerns about what troops and equipment it will leave behind afterwards.

Moscow has said about 12,700 Russian and Belarusian troops will take part in the exercises, to be held in Belarus and Russia’s exclave of Kaliningrad from September 14 to 20, but Lithuania and Estonia have put the figure as high as 100,000.

“We are concerned about the nature and the lack of transparency of the exercise,” Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas said Wednesday on a visit to NATO troops at the Tapa base in his country’s north with alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg.

Stoltenberg himself poured doubt on Russian claims about troop numbers in July, saying that based on past experience “we have every reason to believe that it may be substantially more troops participating than the official reported numbers”.

Russia says the exercises are “purely defensive”, with an “anti-terrorism focus” and an “artificial” enemy, but the Belarus army chief has given a rather different scenario, in which his forces respond to an attempt at “destabilisation” by a coalition of Western countries.

To counter growing Russian assertiveness in recent years, NATO has posted around 4,000 troops in the three Baltic countries and Poland — the biggest reinforcement in Eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War.

Western allies have been urging Moscow for months to be more open about the Zapad exercises and to allow expert observers to key parts of the event, particularly briefings on the scenario being used.

Three NATO observers have been invited to “distinguished visitors” days at the end of the exercise, but Stoltenberg warned on Wednesday that Russia was failing in its obligations under international agreements on military exercises by limiting observers’ access to the drills.

But the alliance is taking steps to follow the operations, with or without Russian cooperation.

“The means will obviously be put in place by NATO to watch what is happening. That’s fair enough,” a diplomatic source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Washington Remains United Behind NATO

Partisanship and contentiousness typically dominate Washington news. In the clamor, it’s easy to overlook the national consensus on a significant issue: the need to revitalize America’s most crucial security alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

I was nominated as United States ambassador to NATO by President Trump in late June. As I made my rounds of congressional offices before my confirmation hearing, I found near unanimity from Republicans and Democrats alike on NATO’s future.

There is no appreciable difference of views among the president, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and senators of either party on the need to revitalize NATO so it can meet today’s security needs while maintaining the fundamental principle of Article 5 of the organization’s founding treaty — that an attack on one is an attack on all.

There is a strong consensus that a renaissance of NATO offers the best hope to unite our Western allies against threats including intolerable Russian aggression in Ukraine, international terrorism, nuclear and missile capacities of rogue nations, and efforts to wipe out religious and individual freedoms around the globe.

NATO is the most successful alliance in world history. It was founded on the conviction that a potent joint effort by the democracies of Europe and North America was the most effective way to deter and counter Communist expansion and prevent World War III. That idea held the alliance together more than 40 years, through many changes of government, and it won the Cold War.

After the Soviet Union dissolved in the 1990s, NATO’s future was uncertain. With the immediate military threat reduced, was NATO even needed any longer? In a brief era of good feelings, security concerns appeared less important and reductions in defense preparation were widespread. Some voices even called for Russian membership in NATO.

Those days are long gone. New security challenges have appeared, and not only in the form of Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine. We also face attacks aimed at the heart of our democratic institutions, and terrorism has become a worldwide threat, notably in Europe, as the recent attack in Spain demonstrated.

As an essential start to revitalization, all NATO members must meet the defense-spending pledge made at the 2014 summit meeting in Wales — namely, 2 percent of gross domestic product should be spent on defense and 20 percent of each member’s national defense budget should be devoted to major equipment and modernization. If all 29 NATO countries were already meeting this level of funding, more than $100 billion in defense funding would have been generated in 2016, spreading a burden now being carried disproportionately by United States taxpayers. Allies must increase their investment because their own security and our collective security require it.

Under Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s leadership, NATO members agreed to outline concrete plans for reaching their 2 percent military spending goal. In June, members individually agreed to take on, for the first time, the full set of military capability targets assigned to them by NATO.

For America’s part, President Trump has proposed spending nearly $4.8 billion on the European Deterrence Initiative, an effort to shore up security in NATO’s eastern edge, as a demonstration of our will to defend our allies. But I know well from my time in the Senate that this cannot continue if the other NATO members do not meet their obligations.

In my meetings with senators this summer, I was heartened to see unified bipartisan commitment to NATO. There was no space between the priorities of Republicans and Democrats about our duty to defend our common values of individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Congress and the Trump administration believe that an alliance of 29 Western democracies is far more effective at ensuring our security than one country acting alone. That unity sends an important message to friends and adversaries alike.

The New York Times

Kay Bailey Hutchison is the United States ambassador to NATO.

NATO’s Stoltenberg Contacts Turkey, Germany FMs over Airbases Dispute


NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg contacted each of the German and Turkish foreign ministers last week in an attempt to resolve the dispute over Turkish airbases.

The dispute centers over visits by German officials and lawmakers to Turkish airbases, which is part of a wider row between the two allies.

“We hope that Germany and Turkey are able to find a mutually acceptable date for a visit,” a NATO spokesman said.

Stoltenberg had called Sigmar Gabriel and Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday to ask them to settle the disputes.

Germany has refused to extradite asylum seekers Turkey says were involved in last year’s coup attempt, Berlin is demanding the release of a Turkish-German journalist and Ankara has refused to let German lawmakers visit soldiers at two airbases.

German soldiers contribute to a NATO air surveillance mission at Konya, 250 km (155 miles) south of the Turkish capital Ankara, and its troops stationed at another air base, in Incirlik, have already been moved to Jordan.

Germany’s armed forces are under parliamentary control and Berlin says the lawmakers must have access to its soldiers.

On Friday, Berlin said that Ankara once again blocked a visit by its lawmakers to German troops stationed at Konya.

Turkey asked the legislators to postpone a scheduled visit next Monday, the German foreign ministry said, adding that it regretted the decision.

The dispute comes after Germany last month pulled out 260 troops from Turkey’s Incirlik base, from where a multinational coalition is fighting the ISIS terror group, and redeployed them and their Tornado surveillance jets to Jordan.

Some 20-30 German troops have remained at Konya as part of an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACs) mission, part of the coalition’s campaign against ISIS in neighboring Syria and Iraq.

The German foreign ministry insisted that all sides, including NATO, remained in talks on setting a new date for a visit.

Lawmaker Wolfgang Hellmich, head of the parliamentary defense committee, said Turkey’s latest move amounted to another denial of the right to visit German troops, and that Ankara had referred to the “strained bilateral relations”.

Hellmich added that he saw no chance now of parliament renewing the mandate for the smaller contingent later this year.

Kiev Pledges Reform for NATO Roadmap as US Urges Russia to Ease Tensions in Ukraine


Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko vowed on Monday that his country will carry out reforms for it to meet the necessary standards to be able to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

He added that Kiev and NATO will begin discussions on a roadmap to get Ukraine into the alliance by 2020.

His announcement came a day after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged, during a visit to Kiev, Russia to take the “first steps” in easing the violence in eastern Ukraine.

At loggerheads with Russia and fighting a Kremlin-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine, Ukraine passed a law in June prioritizing NATO membership as a foreign policy goal.

Speaking alongside Poroshenko on a visit to the Ukrainian capital, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg pledged the alliance’s support for Ukraine as it faces a bloody insurgency by pro-Russian separatists in the east.

“Russia has maintained its aggressive actions against Ukraine, but NATO and NATO allies stand by Ukraine and stand on your side,” Stoltenberg said in his opening remarks of the NATO-Ukraine Commission session in Kiev.

Ukraine and the West accuse Moscow of smuggling weapons and troops across the porous border, a charge it denies. The US and European Union have imposed sanctions on Russia, though Moscow has denied backing the rebels.

“Ukraine has clearly defined its political future and future in the sphere of security,” Poroshenko told reporters.

“Today we clearly stated that we would begin a discussion about a membership action plan and our proposals for such a discussion were accepted with pleasure.”

NATO leaders agreed at a summit in 2008 that Ukraine would one day become a member of the alliance and the country already contributes troops to NATO missions including in Afghanistan.

A formal NATO membership plan for Ukraine would mean meeting targets on political, economic and defense reforms, with national plans submitted annually to show progress.

But there are even larger barriers.

NATO rules state that aspiring members must “settle their international disputes by peaceful means”, meaning Ukraine would need to resolve the Donbass conflict — an insurgency by pro-Russian forces — that has so far killed more than 10,000 people.

Responding to Stoltenberg’s comments, the Kremlin said on Monday that Russia does not have troops in Ukraine.

It added: “Ukraine’s possible NATO membership will not boost stability and security in Europe.”

On Sunday, Tillerson visited Kiev and said Russia must make the first move in staunching the violence in eastern Ukraine.

Russia must take the first steps to de-escalate violence in eastern Ukraine, he said after meeting Poroshenko. He added that Washington’s primary goal is the restoration of Ukrainian territorial integrity.

Tillerson’s tough talk clearly pleased Poroshenko, who has long complained about Russian interference in his country’s east and has watched nervously as the Trump administration has sought to improve ties with Moscow.

He thanked Tillerson for the continued US commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and expressed deep appreciation for his “symbolic and timely visit immediately after the meetings at the G20 in Hamburg” where US President Donald Trump met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014 have driven ties between Moscow and the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.

“We are also here to demonstrate NATO’s solidarity with Ukraine and our firm support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of your country,” Stoltenberg said.

“NATO allies do not and will not recognize Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea.”

Ukraine sees NATO accession as a way to bolster its defenses against former master Moscow.

However, Kiev has yet to officially apply to start the lengthy and politically challenging process of joining the alliance.

NATO Agrees to Send more Troop Trainers to Afghanistan but No Combat Role

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Two years after winding down its military operation in Afghanistan, NATO decided to increase troop numbers in the war-ravaged country to help train local forces facing a resurgent Taliban.

“I can confirm we will increase our presence in Afghanistan,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday as he arrived for a defense ministers meeting at the 29-nation alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.

The alliance ended its longest-ever military operation in 2014 when it handed over post-9/11 frontline duties to the Afghan military and took on an advice and training mission.

But NATO commanders have asked for more troops following recent Taliban gains, stoking fears that NATO could get sucked back into the conflict just as it faces a host of new threats including Russia, terrorism and cyberattacks.

An increase of up to 3,000 troops from the current figure of 13,500 soldiers is under consideration, diplomatic sources said, though Stoltenberg did not give a precise figure.

He said 15 countries had already pledged more contributions and he hoped for more.

“We have to understand this is about training, assistance, advice… It is not to conduct combat operations but to help the Afghans fight,” Stoltenberg said.

The extra troops could help bolster Afghan special forces, improve Kabul’s air force to provide ground support and evacuations, and step up officer training, he added.

About half of the soldiers in what is known as the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan are currently from the US.

US President Donald Trump has pushed the Cold War-era alliance to do more to counter terror and for the allies to increase defense spending to ease the burden on Washington.

British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said London would provide just under 100 troops, on top of 500 already in Afghanistan.

Separately, a senior NATO military official played down concerns that the alliance would get embroiled once again in Afghanistan, where it took over the lead role from US forces in 2003.

The real increase would number only in the hundreds to meet fresh tasks contained in a new Afghan government plan for the war, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

It only comes to thousands if current shortfalls in Resolute Support Mission numbers were included, the official said.