Israeli plane violates North Cyprus airspace

Turkey said on Thursday it had scrambled military jets to intercept an Israeli plane that violated northern Cypriot airspace this week, and demanded an explanation for the incursion.

An Israeli military spokesman declined to comment on the accusation. But the incident marked a fresh source of tension between the former allies.

Relations between Turkey and Israel fell apart after Israeli commandos raided the Mavi Marmara aid vessel in May 2010 to enforce a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip and killed nine Turks in clashes with pro-Palestinian activists.

Monday’s reported air incursion coincided with tensions on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus over oil and gas exploration plans there, which could hinder U.N.-backed efforts to reunite wthe island.

“A plane belonging to Israel, the model of which could not be identified, violated KKTC (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) airspace (above its territorial waters) five times,” the Turkish military said in a statement posted on its website.

“In response to this situation, our 2XF-16 plane based at Incirlik was scrambled and our planes carried out patrol flights in KKTC airspace, preventing the said plane from continuing to violate KKTC airspace,” said the statement.

Turkey’s foreign ministry said it had contacted Israel’s mission in Ankara, seeking an explanation for the incursion.

In Jerusalem, an Israeli military spokeswoman said she was checking the report.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when the Turkish military invaded the island after a short-lived Greek Cypriot coup engineered by the military junta then in power in Athens.

Turkey still keeps about 30,000 troops in the north and is the only nation that recognises the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

 

ENERGY EXPLORATION TENSIONS

The internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government reported an offshore natural gas discovery in December but its attempt to exploit the reserves has been challenged by Turkey.

Ankara has in turn given approval for Turkey’s state-run oil firm to carry out oil and gas exploration in six offshore areas around northern Cyprus, drawing condemnation from the Greek Cypriot government, which lays claim to the territory.

Israel has separately reported two major energy finds offshore in the sea separating it from Cyprus.

Israel has worked to enhance ties with Cyprus and Greece as its relations with Turkey have frayed.

The eastern Mediterranean has recently seen joint Israeli military manoeuvres with its partners, as well as long-distance training by Israel’s air force for a possible strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Israel uses warplanes and pilotless drones, as well as naval craft, to patrol its offshore natural gas fields.

Turkey stirred fears of a possible confrontation at sea by saying last year it would boost its naval patrols in the eastern Mediterranean.

But a senior Israeli military officer said that there had been no discernible increase in Turkish naval operations in Israel’s economic waters, which extend 187 km (117 miles) from its coast.

U.S. drone strike kills 10 in Pakistan

An armed Predator drone flying over a desert.

A U.S. drone aircraft killed at least ten people on Saturday in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region near the Afghan border, Pakistani security officials said.

In Saturday’s strike, a drone fired missiles at a house in the Shawal area of North Waziristan, killing the ten, said the officials who declined to be identified.

Shawal is a remote area of forested ridges and valleys that spreads out on both sides of the border.

The identity of those killed in the strike was yet not known and officials said they were trying to collect more information from the far-flung mountainous area.

Saturday’s attack was the second strike since parliament in March approved new guidelines on relations with the United States, which included a call for an end to drone attacks on Pakistani territory.

A Pakistani parliamentary committee recently demanded an end to drone strikes on Pakistani territory as part of its recommendations for how its relationship with the United States should change.

The United States has given no indication it intends to halt the campaign, and the administration of President Barack Obama has said the use of the remotely piloted aircraft is legal under international law.

Saturday’s U.S. drone strike is the 12th of its kind in Pakistan since this year. Up to date, at least 93 people have reportedly been killed in such strikes in 2012. The New America Foundation think-tank in Washington says drone strikes have killed between 1,715 and 2,680 people in Pakistan in the past eight years.

WB

Iran dismisses claims of military site clean-up

In this Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010 file photo, the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant is seen, just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010. (AP photo)

Iran on Tuesday dismissed claims it was clearing away traces of suspected nuclear weapons research activities from a closed military site, saying the allegations were “propaganda”.

The sprawling Parchin military site, located 30 kilometres (20 miles) east of Tehran, “is conducting normal military activities,” foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters in a regular briefing. “Declarations about the cleaning up of nuclear traces from this site — and those who are technically savvy know you cannot remove traces of such activity from an area — these declarations are propaganda,” he said.

The head of the UN nuclear watchdog, Yukiya Amano, said early last week that satellite images suggested there were unspecified “ongoing” activities at the Parchin base. Western diplomats said they suspected Iran was removing evidence from the site.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has focused suspicions on Parchin since receiving intelligence, outlined in a November report, that Iran may have been testing normal explosives in a big metal cylinder there with the aim of researching implosion triggers for an eventual nuclear bomb. Iran has twice this year refused requests by a visiting IAEA team to inspect Parchin. Although the IAEA inspected parts of Parchin two times in 2005, it says it did not see the area alleged to contain the explosives test cylinder.

Mehmanparast highlighted those 2005 visits and said Iran had accepted the “principle” of another visit, but that the IAEA should have been “more patient” in reaching agreement on the framework of such an inspection. Parchin will be one of the key issues in a new round of talks being prepared between Iran and world powers likely to take place in coming weeks. Last week, the group of nations to sit down with Iran — the so-called P5+1 comprising the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany — issued a statement urging Iran to “fulfill its undertaking to grant access to Parchin.”

The talks will revive negotiations that broke down in Istanbul in January 2011. Iran, under pressure from sanctions and the threat of military strikes on its nuclear facilities, agreed on February 14 to a P5+1 proposal to resume the discussions and has indicated it again favoured Istanbul as the venue.

Mehmanparast, though, said “several countries have declared themselves ready” to host the talks, which he said should begin “soon”. He added that Iran stood by its view that uranium enrichment — one of the most contentious activities to be addressed — was permitted under the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty supervised by the IAEA, as long as it was destined for peaceful nuclear use. “The level of enrichment for peaceful activities is a technical question, and experts can determine what level of enrichment is within a peaceful framework,” he said. Iran is currently enriching uranium to 3.5 percent, needed for nuclear energy generation, and to 20 percent, for isotopes to treat cancer patients.

Uranium needs to be enriched to 90 percent or higher to make an atomic bomb. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last weekend warned that the West should drop its “bullying” stance against his country. “As God is my witness, the Iranian nation will not give a damn for (your) bombs, warships and planes,” he said in a televised speech on Sunday in the city of Karaj west of Tehran.

The United States and its EU allies “should talk politely, and recognise the rights of (other) nations, and cooperate instead of showing teeth, and weapons and bombs,” he said. Iran has repeatedly insisted its nuclear programme is purely for civilian purposes and has no military component. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called nuclear weapons a “sin”. Khamenei also praised US President Barack Obama’s recent comments cautioning against “bluster” in talking about possible war with Iran — although he also called US determination to press on with sanctions an “illusion”.

CIA chief holds talks in Ankara on Syria, PKK

The United States’ top intelligence chief paid an unannounced two-day visit to Ankara to discuss deepening instability in Syria and the joint fight against terrorism.

David Petraeus, chief of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), held meetings with top Turkish officials both yesterday and on March 12, the Hürriyet Daily News learned.

Petraeus met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday and his Turkish counterpart, Hakan Fidan, head of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), the previous day. The visit is Petraeus’ second to Ankara since he was appointed CIA chief last July.

According to Prime Ministry officials, Erdoğan and Petraeus exchanged views on the ongoing crisis in Syria while also discussing the joint battle against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The officials further discussed an intelligence-sharing mechanism launched in 2007.

Petraeus’ visit coincided with that of Kofi Annan, the United Nations and Arab League’s special envoy to Syria.

Though both officials stayed in the same hotel in Ankara, there was no confirmation of a potential meeting between the two.

Annan, who is trying to push the Syrian leadership to end its measures against anti-government rebels, is the latest international figure to have met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union.

Israel bags $1.6 billion weapons deal with Azerbaijan

 

IAI Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

Israeli military officials say the Tel Aviv regime plans to sign a major arms deal worth USD 1.6 billion with Azerbaijan.

The officials said on Sunday Israel Aerospace Industries will sell “drones, anti-aircraft and missile defense systems worth USD 1.6 billion” to Azerbaijan.

Meanwhile, Israeli media said Angolan Finance Minister Carlos Alberto Lopes has traveled to Israel to sign a military agreement.

Reports say the Israeli-Angolan deal is worth about USD 1 billion.

The latest report on the Israeli military agreements comes a couple of days after Israeli officials said on February 16 the Tel Aviv regime had reached a “USD-one-billion preliminary” agreement with Italy to buy 30 Italian military training jets.

PressTV

 

NATO ‘to base missile shield command in Germany

BRUSSELS – NATO will locate the command centre for its US-led missile shield at the alliance base in Ramstein, Germany, a diplomat told AFP on Thursday.

“The command for the NATO missile shield will be based at the NATO base in Ramstein,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

The centre will be operational following a Chicago summit in May, the source added.

NATO already announced last year that Spain would host US ships with interceptor missiles while an early warning radar system will be based in Turkey.

Land-based interceptors will be located in Romania by 2015 and in Poland by 2018, when the system is expected to be fully operational.

The United States insists that the missile shield aims to counter missile threats from Iran, but Russia has voiced concerns that it would target its own strategic deterrent.

AFP

France backpedals on Armenian ‘genocide’

Sarkozy

French lawmakers appealed to their country’s highest court yesterday (31 January) to overturn a law that makes it illegal to deny that the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks nearly a century ago was genocide.

The move raises the possibility that the law, which sparked an angry reaction in Turkey, will be dismissed as unconstitutional.

The legislation, which received final parliamentary approval on 23 January, prompted Ankara to cancel all economic, political and military meetings with Paris.

More than 130 French lawmakers from both houses of parliament and across the political divide, who had originally voted against the bill, appealed to the Constitutional Council.

The court has one month to make its decision.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who branded the legislation “discriminatory and racist,” thanked the lawmakers who opposed it.

“On behalf of my country, I am declaring our heartfelt gratitude to the senators and deputies who gave their signatures,” he said. “I believe they have done what needed to be done.”

The lawmakers argued in their appeal that the event was still the subject of historical contention, and therefore the legislation infringed on the freedoms of historians, analysts and others to debate it, ultimately violating the right to free speech.

They insisted their move did not aim to deny “the suffering of our compatriots of Armenian origin and of all Armenians across the world.”

‘Patience’

Last week, Erdoğan said Turkey was in a “period of patience” as it considered what measures to take.

As a member of NATO and the World Trade Organisation, Turkey may be limited in its response by its international obligations. However, newspapers have listed possible measures that Ankara might take against France.

These included recalling its ambassador in Paris and expelling the French ambassador in Ankara, thus reducing diplomatic ties to charge d’affaires level, and closing Turkish airspace and waters to French military aircraft and vessels.

President Nicolas Sarkozy must still ratify the law, a move now on hold pending the court’s decision.

Mostly Muslim Turkey accuses Sarkozy of trying to win the votes of 500,000 ethnic Armenians in France in the two-round presidential vote on April 22 and May 6. France’s Socialist Party, which has a majority in the upper house, and Sarkozy’s UMP party, which put forward the bill, supported the legislation.

AFP agency quoted Sarkozy as saying that the move of the French parliamentarians to seize the Constitutional Council was not in his favour ahead of the April-May election.

“French companies in Turkey … wanted the Constitutional Council to be involved because it’s the best solution to calm the Turks,” said Dorothée Schmid, head of the Turkish program at the French Foreign Relations Institute in Paris.

“The Turkish government accused the French government of being racist and discriminatory, yet this matter stems from the inability of the Turks to handle the genocide case. Now there is a discussion on it.”

France is Turkey’s fifth biggest export market and sixth biggest supplier of imports of goods and services, and bilateral trade was €10.3 billion in the first 10 months of last year.

EurActiv.com

NATO-Russia Disagree on Missile Defense

NATO has made little progress on missile defense cooperation with Russia, possibly jeopardizing a planned summit in May, said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

“Maybe we won’t clarify the situation until a few weeks before the [Chicago] summit,” Rasmussen said Jan. 26 at his monthly press conference.

A summit with Russia is scheduled to take place just before the NATO summit May 20-21.

“If there is no deal, there will probably be no [NATO-Russia] summit,” Rasmussen added.

Asked what he expected to come out of the NATO summit in terms of smart defense, Rasmussen said he hoped NATO would “adopt a political declaration” containing “a political commitment to a number of specific projects.”

It was “premature” to talk about them today, he said, adding that missile defense was “an excellent example of smart defense” with a number of allies providing input, such as hosting radar facilities.

He cited air policing as another example.

“At some stage, we’ll have to decide on a long-term arrangement for air policing in the Baltic countries,” he said. He cited it as a good example “because a number of allies do it on behalf of the Baltic countries so that the Baltic countries can focus on deployable armed forces for international operations.”

In summary, he described smart defense as “a combination of a number of concrete multinational projects and a long-term political vision of how to do business in the future.”

Looking ahead to the Chicago summit, he said, “We must renew our commitment to the vital trans-Atlantic bond” as it is “the best security investment we ever made.”

Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities are an area that NATO is looking into in terms of its smart defense project. According to a NATO official, it is “no coincidence” that NATO officials have been invited to the U.S.’s Schriever space and cyber defense war games in the last week of April, before the Chicago summit.

As to the growing concerns over the Strait of Hormuz, Rasmussen said individual allies are involved in the Iran question but that “NATO as an organization is not.” He urged Iran’s leadership “to live up to its international commitments, including stopping its [uranium] enrichment program and ensuring free navigation in the Strait of Hormuz.”

Referring to his 2011 annual report, Rasmussen said NATO had weakened the insurgency, strengthened Afghan forces and brought enemy attacks down by 9 percent; had conducted a “highly effective operation protecting the civilian population” in Libya; and captured 24 pirate ships off Somalia (half the figure for 2010).

Asked about Libya, he said, “NATO is not present in Libya and has no intention to return.”

DefenseNews

Ahmadinejad: Iran Is Ready For Nuclear Talks

Even as he became the latest and most senior member of the Iranian government to publicly declare his readiness for nuclear talks, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday lashed out at the West over its tough new economic sanctions that he said have hurt the Iranian people.

Addressing students in the southern city of Kerman, Mr. Ahmadinejad blamed the West for what he called its “excuses” for not restarting negotiations and heaped scorn on the United States and Europe over new sanctions, which target Iran’s oil industry. While they have hurt ordinary Iranians, he said, the sanctions have done nothing to weaken Iran’s resolve in the face of “bullying” over its nuclear program.

“You are the real enemy of the people and are putting pressure on them,” the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Mr. Ahmadinejad as saying. “I admonish you to pave the right track and do not make any excuses while the time is ripe for negotiations.”

The remarks come ahead of a visit by United Nations nuclear inspectors to Iran next week and March 2 parliamentary elections in Iran, where the economy has sputtered under the weight of sanctions and high inflation. With the country’s currency, the rial, having weakened to a record low against the dollar, Mr. Ahmadinejad on Wednesday reversed himself and allowed interest rates on bank deposits to rise in an attempt to ease inflationary pressure. The move was seen as a rare tacit admission of the effect the sanctions have exerted in Iran.

The uranium enrichment program in Iran has become the most urgent point of contention between Iran and the West, which has long suspected the Iranians are working to build a nuclear weapon despite their repeated denials. Iran has said it is enriching uranium for civilian energy and medical purposes. Israel, which considers Iran its most dangerous adversary, has hinted at the possibility of a pre-emptive military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Mr. Ahmadinejad said publicly on Thursday that the sanctions had created hardships for average people in Iran but that they would weather the difficulties. He added that Western insistence that sanctions are aimed at curtailing its nuclear program and not at the Iranian people was “a big lie.”

While Mr. Ahmadinejad said he was ready to resume nuclear talks, his comments did not appear to bring Iran closer to resuming negotiations with Europe and the United States. The previous round of negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program broke down over a year ago after Iran presented conditions considered unacceptable to the West.

European leaders are waiting for Iran to respond to an October letter seeking a resumption of talks without preconditions if Iran agreed to discuss its nuclear enrichment program. During the last talks, Iran refused to discuss that main issue, seeking instead the removal of sanctions and the recognition of a right to enrich uranium before negotiating could begin.

Some Western diplomats have viewed Iran’s latest public offers of negotiations as an effort to buy time, allowing the country to enrich more uranium as talks get under way. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statements on Thursday did not appear to coincide with any official diplomatic response, European officials said. Earlier this month during a visit to Turkey, the Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said that his country was ready to resume negotiations. He said discussions were under way about the site and date, Iranian news media reported, and that the talks would “most probably be held in Istanbul.”

Steven Erlanger contributed reporting from Paris.

The NYT

Davutoglu: NATO threatens neither Iran, nor Russia

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has given an interview to Interfax in the wake of negotiations with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow in which he speaks about pressing international issues like Syria and Iran, as well as Turkish-Russian energy cooperation.

Question:At a press conference with Mr. Lavrov I noticed that you never mentioned that Turkey insists on Bashar Assad stepping down. Does this mean that Turkey still thinks that if Bashar Assad makes all the necessary reforms he can stay in power and he does not have to leave?

Answer:Syrian people will decide on this: who will be in power or who will not be in power, not us. But I think that who fights against his own people cannot have legitimacy. Therefore, the important thing is how Syrian people perceive the Syrian regime and President Bashar Assad. That is to decide for the people of Syria. The important thing is that Syrian people was not given the right to decide on this. Now the massacre must be stopped, the Syrian losses should be ending, and there should be no more attacks against civilians in the cities by the army, and full security and reforms should be together. That‘s our position. We ask Bashar Assad to listen to his own people.

Q.:If the Syrian crisis ends and Bashar Assad stays in power, will there be a possibility of improving relations…

A.:That is an ‘if-question‘. No president can stay if conflicting with his own people this scenario is impossible. Leaders and regimes an survive only if there is a support by the people of that country. Fighting against people and staying in power is not possible.

Q.:The Russian side has repeatedly insisted that the international community must do its best to stop violence either from the authorities of Syria and the armed opposition. Do you agree with this approach?

A.:Of course, the Syrian administration must stop using army against the people and should stop [] casualties and at the same time we always advise the Syrian opposition to express themselves people peacefully and using peaceful methods to express their demands. But the problem here is that the Syrian regime does not allow to demonstrate peacefully. That‘s the problem.

Q.:Turkish authorities have same contacts with a part of the Syrian opposition, it gives its territory for the Syrian opposition to meet and discuss the problems. Does Ankara has any relations with armed opposition in Syria?

A.:Turkey is democratic country. Everybody can met in Turkey. Even Syrian opposition meets in Turkey, even those who are supporting the Syrian regime meet in Turkey. Turkey is a free country, but we never supported any armed group in any country. Turkey has been a place where refugees, those who are escaping from oppression, can come to Turkey, and they are coming. There are 9,500 Syrian refugees staying in Turkey. They are our guests because they are our relatives and there are our ancestors escaping from oppression.

Q.:What do you think about the new EU sanctions on the Syrian regime? Do you think it will help to solve the problem?

A.:Unfortunately, the Syrian administration did not listen to our advice: the advice of its neighbors, like Turkey, the advice of Arab countries of the region and the advice of the international community, including Russia and others, for functioning the reform process and providing security to the civilians. This is the problem. Therefore, that is the Syrian administration responsibility to fulfill this.

Q.:Recently the EU has imposed an oil embargo on Iran. Ankara has good relations with Tehran. Is there any possibility that Turkey can increase supplements of Iranian oil to help Iran to go thorough this negative period?

A.:We have very good relations with Iran, and we have been working very hard for the negotiations with Iran within P5+1. This policy, Turkish policy, will continue in order to find a solution, peaceful solution to this issue. And of course the UN Security Council resolutions are binding, but other unilateral sanctions are not binding, and Turkish-Iranian economic relations will continue within the framework the international law.

Q.:Turkey is a NATO member. NATO does not hide that the target of its European anti-missile shield…

A.:There is no special reference to any special country regarding the missile defense issue.

Q.:But various politicians say…

A.:I do not see any NATO statement officially made by any NATO official declaring the name of any country as a threat or a target regarding the missile defense system.

Q.:Does Turkey think that Iran poses any nuclear threat to Europe?

A.:No. Not to us, Turkey. We do not see such a threat. We do not see any threat from any of our neighbors.

Q.:And what about Europe?

A.:That is not an issue for us. For us we do not see any threat. And NATO makes no reference to any country: neither to Iran, nor Russia.

Q.:You spoke today about the Turkish-French relations. Turkey said it will take some time in order to answer the French legislators who decided to criminalize the denial of the Armenian genocide. What measures you were talking about?

A.:Now we are waiting for the constitutional process to be finalized. There is an attempt by some members of the Senate to go to the Constitutional Council, and we will wait for the results of this process. If these effort do not produce a positive result, than everybody will see our measures, but at this moment we are expecting the results of this process.

Q.:As far as I understood that that your negotiations with Mr. Lavrov were a part of preparations for the Russia-Turkey summit. Is there any specific date and place of the summit?

A.:This summit is Turkish-Russian High Level Cooperation Council meeting, which is being held annually. Every year one meeting is of joint strategic planning committee, what we did today. The other part is the summit. We plan the meeting in the coming months, of course it will be after the election in Russia. Then we expect the date from our Russian counterparts, the most appropriate date in the following months after the election.

Q.:And it will be organized in Turkey?

A.:Yes, in Turkey.

Q.:The Turkish energy minister said that Turkey is ready to talks about some partnership on South Stream as we know Turkey is not a partner in this project. Now Turkey is not a partner, it only give its territory. What this will look like?

A.:We think that it was giving permission to the construction of South Stream in the Turkish economic zone. This is a strategic decision in our bilateral cooperation. It show a strong political will on the Turkish side to cooperate with Russia on energy issues. I am sure there will be a huge potential on how to cooperate on all these issues, and our energy ministers will be talking this possible cooperation prospects.

Q.:Another energy question. Do you have any information about how the talks between Gazprom and private Turkish companies in order to replace the contract with Botas that expired last year.

A.:It is going well. It is the issue of mutual interest.

Q.:How did the last year bilateral agreement that increased the supplements of Russian gas to Turkey can influence the talks between Gazprom and private companies?

A.:This is an economic issues between the two campmates. So it absolutely another issue. The talks have continues. There is a potential between the two countries for official projects for future cooperation, so that is important. But the negotiations will continue between companies .

Q.:Let me return to Bashar Assad. Must the international community prosecute him, if he leaves his post?

A.: The Syrian people will decide on all of these issues. We cannot decide on their behalf. So an important thing for us as a neighbor of Syria is to complete this process in a peaceful manner based on aspirations of the Syrian people.

Interfax