|Southwest Asia News Digest
Turkey at Center of Regional Diplomatic Efforts
July 18 (EIRNS)Turkey appears to be at the center of extraordinary regional diplomatic activity aimed at preventing a new war and establishing peace in the Middle East with some real hints of U.S. involvement. Bearing in mind that for many months, Turkey has been playing a the role of mediator in exploratory peace talks between Israel and Syria, and only last week, signed what Turkey and Iraq have called an historic strategic security agreement, now Turkey could play a role in mediating between Iran and the United States.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan announced yesterday that Turkey wants to help mediate between the United States and China, Russia, France, Britain, Germany, and Iran over the latter's nuclear program. He cited the fact that Turkey is playing a mediating role between Israel and Syria.
Babacan made this statement on the same day that U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley was in Ankara. While the latter made no public statement on Iran, it was widely noted that today Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki will be in Ankara for meetings.
"Turkey is ready to do whatever the parties expect it to do. Indeed, we have been in intensive contact over the past month," Babacan said, as quoted in today's Zaman daily. "We want this issue to be handled through dialogue."
Babacan had met with his Iranian counterpart during the G8 meeting last week in Kuala Lumpur, and is expected to go to Tehran for the upcoming ministerial meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement on July 28-29.
Also yesterday, Mottaki was in Damascus holding talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al Moallem. Among the issues discussed were Lebanon, Syrian-French relations, and the Syrian-Israeli talks which will lead to the return of the Golan Heights to Syria. Commenting on the latter at a joint press conference with his Syrian counterpart, Mottaki said, "The Golan is part of Syria and should be returned, and the Arab and Islamic nations are waiting impatiently for celebrating the liberation of the Golan." He also said that Iran has been cooperating with Syria and Turkey in support of stabilizing Iraq.
Meanwhile, Israeli Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer was also in Turkey yesterday, where he told a press conference that Israel would defend itself against any Iranian attack. He also said that Iran's nuclear program is more of a danger to Europe than to Israel. He also met with Babacan, thanking him for his efforts at mediating talks between Israel and Syria, adding that peace was necessary because a military solution is no longer the answer.
Turkey and Iraq Sign Strategic Cooperation Agreement
July 12 (EIRNS)Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Iraqi counterpart Nouri al-Maliki, signed an agreement in what is being called a strategic "Turkish-Iraqi axis," comparable to the Franco-German peace treaty of 1962, signed by Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer. Such an agreement could potentially overturn a very important part of the British Sykes-Picot chessboard.
Erdogan made his first official visit to Iraq July 10, and was said to have been a red-carpet treatment.
"This is a first for Turkey. We have signed no such agreement with any other country to date," Erdogan is quoted in the Turkish daily, Zaman, as saying about the agreement, which calls for the creation of a high-level council for "strategic cooperation." Ministers for security, energy, trade, investment, and water resources will sit on the council and meet at least once a year to review progress. "A similar deal has been signed between France and Germany," Erdogan told reporters.
Barham Saleh, the Iraqi deputy prime minister said the agreement is "significant enough to change the entire Middle East" and would create a "Turkish-Iraqi axis."
One of the key projects is a proposed gas pipeline to be built alongside the existing oil pipeline from Kirkuk, in northern Iraq, to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Yumurtalik. The gas could then be pumped into the proposed Nabucco pipeline and transported to Europe. Commenting on the project, Erdogan said, "We are not talking about economic relations here. We are actually going into economic integration with Iraq."
An agreement was also signed to allow the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) to explore for oil and gas in Iraq. Erdogan suggested that the TPAO could cooperate with Japanese companies in this field. Turkish construction companies are also expected to expand operations in Iraq, which are already considerable.
The agreement calls for security cooperation as well, by which the Turks could aid in training Iraqi police and military personnel.
As for the situation in the Kurdish region, increased cooperation is developing between Turkish and Iraqi security forces in suppressing the terrorist Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which uses Kurdish Northern Iraq as a refuge. Erdogan also met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is an ethnic Kurd.
Strategic Iran-Pakistan-India Pipeline Meeting in July
July 17 (EIRNS)India, Pakistan, and Iran are expected to meet later in July in Tehran, on developing the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project, the Pakistani Daily Times reported. India renewed its interest in the project after the Pakistani elections in March, and Indian Petroleum Minister Murli Deora went to Islamabad for talks on the IPI and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipelines.
On July 17, the Pakistani Steering Committee for the pipeline project will meet to discuss the gas transit fee to be paid by India, which has been a matter of dispute. They have already approved a draft Gas Sales Purchase Agreement (GSPA) with Iran. The project should benefit the Pakistani economy by some $2 billion.
Despite War Threat, Iran Strengthens Ties with China, Russia
July 14 (EIRNS)Under continued threats of military strike from the United States and Israel, Iran has moved quickly to consolidate its ties with China and Russia. In Beijing, after delivering a letter from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Chinese President Hu Jintao, visiting Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Mohammed Ali Hosseini, in a meeting with Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Zhai Jun on July 14, called for expansion of Tehran-Beijing cooperation in all areas. Hosseini said there is a bright prospect for Iran-China economic cooperation.
On July 13, National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and Russia's Gazprom signed an agreement on development of Iran's oil and gas fields. The agreement was signed in Tehran during an official ceremony attended by the Iranian Oil Minister Gholam-Hossein Nozari and several officials from the Oil Ministry and NIOC. The accord was inked by the NIOC managing director Seifollah Jashnsaz and Gazprom Management Committee chairman Alexey Miller.
The agreement envisaged boosting recovery rates of Iran's oil fields and Russian help in transferring Caspian Sea crude oil to the Oman Sea. The cooperation agreement also included possible participation of Gazprom in the planned peace pipeline that would deliver Iranian gas to India and Pakistan. Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers will be in Tehran on July 29-30 to formally sign an agreement with the Iranian officials.
Iranian Signals on Nuclear Negotiations Seen as Serious
July 16 (EIRNS)Two European-based scholars on Iran, Anoush Ehteshami from the University of Durham (U.K.), and Riccardo Redaelli from the Catholic University of the Immaculate Conception in Milan, are in Washington, D.C., for a week-long schedule of briefings and seminars sponsored by the Stanley Foundation. The two spoke on July 15 at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where both warned in very stark terms that wars are easy to start, but cannot be contained once they begin. Ehteshami, the author of several on Iran since the early 1990s, said that while it is impossible to forecast the next five-six months' developments, it is first it is necessary to successfully get through this week. He said that the prisoner-exchange between Hezbollah and Israel is a very important step and reflects a further desire by Iran and Hezbollah to peacefully join the international community. He also revealed that a recent poll in Iran shows that the Iranians are tired of the tensions and war, and of the 35,000-person sample of the population, only 12% wanted to reject the UN Security Council's 5+1 negotiations, while about 70% either favored the deal as it is or favored accepting the deal with some modifications; those polled don't see the 5+1 offer as an assault on Iran's sovereignty.
Redaelli, who has frequently travelled to Iran in recent years, stressed that the recent signals from former Foreign Minister Velayati, a very senior revolutionary figure, close to Supreme Leader Khamenei and Foreign Minister Mottaki, that Iran may be open to pursuing the deal, must be responded toespecially by the U.S.with utmost seriousness. He said that he has had recent discussions with top leaders, including clergy from the Conservative bloc, who indicate that they might be willing to compromise on the enrichment issue, but they totally distrust the Bush Administration, which they believe will just ask for more and more concessions, such as giving up missiles and air defenses. Redaelli urges "selective diplomacy," not an immediate "Grand Bargain," and suggested that one important convergence of interest between the U.S. and Iran is deeper cooperation on the anti-narcotics front. Redaelli is well aware of the interface between terrorism and dope trade.
Israel-Lebanon Prisoner Exchange a Step Forward
July 16 (EIRNS)The exchange between Hezbollah and Israel of captured and imprisoned individuals took place as scheduled today. The bodies of two enlisted Israeli Defense Forces soldiersEhud Goldwasser and Eldad Regevwhose capture at the Israel/Lebanon border in 2006 led to the Israeli war on Lebanon, were returned to their families. On the Israeli side, Israel handed over five Lebanese prisoners, and the remains of 200 Hezbollah fighters who had been killed by Israel in the last decadesmany of them not yet identified.
A lot of media attention is being given to the grief of the Israeli families, who believed until the deal was finalized that the soldiers were alive. But the media circus and "soap opera," can only serve to inflame further hatred and bitterness. The father of Eldad Regev insists that the exchange was the right move, and many Israelis want to reach a similar agreement with Hamas. The only effective option is to move forward with the principles of the Peace of Westphalia. The right-wing warmongers are already saying that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert should be ousted because of this deal, and that the release of the five Lebanese prisoners, four of them from Hezbollah, just "encourages" further terrorism.