It controls parts of northern Syria where it is setting up a “safe zone” with the United States. It says 350,000 Syrians have already returned and more could follow.
“Our goal is for at least one million of our Syrian brothers to return to the safe zone we will form along our 450 km border,” Erdogan said during a speech in Ankara.
“We are saying we should form such a safe zone that we, as Turkey, can build towns here in lieu of the tent cities here. Let’s carry them to the safe zones there.
“Give us logistical support and we can go build housing at 30 km (20 miles) depth in northern Syria. This way, we can provide them with humanitarian living conditions.
“This either happens or otherwise we will have to open the gates,” Erdogan said. “Either you will provide support, or excuse us, but we are not going to carry this weight alone. We have not been able to get help from the international community, namely the European Union.”
Turkey agreed to curb the flow of migrants to Europe, under a 2016 deal between Ankara and Brussels, in return for aid amounting to billions of euros.
But renewed fighting in Idlib in recent weeks raised prospects of another wave of refugees at Turkey’s borders.
The Russian-backed Syrian army has gained a lot of ground against rebel forces, some of which are supported by Turkey after a truce failed in early August.
Nicholas Danforth, an Istanbul-based senior visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund, told Reuters that warning about refugees in the context of the safe zone allows Erdogan to simultaneously pressure Europe and the United States.
“What seems clear is that it would be impossible to settle that many refugees in any zone achieved through negotiations with the United States and the YPG,” he said.
“This looks like an attempt to build pressure for more U.S. concessions on the safe zone, where some refugees could then be resettled for purposes of domestic (Turkish) public relations.”
Accusing the US of delaying the set up of safe zones, Erdogan announces incursion into Syria to dislodge YPG militia.14 hours ago
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has renewed a pledge to carry out a cross-border military operation into northeastern Syria to dislodge Kurdish fighters close to its border.
In a speech on Sunday during a motorway-opening ceremony in Bursa, Erdogan said Russia and the United States have been informed of the planned operation, but did not say when the offensive would begin.
Turkey had in the past warned of carrying out military operations east of the Euphrates River, but put them on hold after agreeing with the US to create a safe zone inside Syria’s northeastern border with Turkey that would be cleared of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia.
But Ankara has accused Washington of stalling progress on setting up the safe zone and has demanded it sever its relations with the YPG.
The group was Washington’s main ally on the ground in Syria during the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), but Turkey sees it as a “terrorist organisation” allied with the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).
The planned operation would mark Turkey’s third incursion into Syria in as many years. Turkey conducted two operations into northern Syria in 2016 and 2018 to clear the areas of ISIL members and the YPG.
“We entered Afrin, Jarablus, and Al-Bab. Now we will enter the east of the Euphrates,” Erdogan said in the city of Bursa.
Turkey has been deploying large numbers of troops to the border with Syria in recent days.
Finding common ground
Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Gaziantep, Turkey, said that a new delegation is arriving in Ankara on Monday for further talks, but it is difficult to predict whether the two NATO allies will be able to find common ground.
“[Turkey] has carried out cross-border operations over the past two years, but on both occasions, the area of operations was under the sphere of influence of Russia,” Khodr said.
“Turkey and Russia cooperate on Syria. But east of the Euphrates is an area under the control of the US which is allied with the YPG.
“Deep differences remain over a planned safe zone… Turkey is insisting it is 20km deep and Turkey insists that it controls the zone which is something the US so far has not accepted,” Khodr said.
Asked about Erdogan’s comments, a US official told Reuters: “Bilateral discussions with Turkey continue on the possibility of a safe zone with US and Turkish forces that addresses Turkey’s legitimate security concerns in northern Syria.”
Overnight, three Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters were killed during clashes with the YPG, state-owned Anadolu Agency reported on Sunday.
It said the YPG tried to infiltrate the front lines in Syria’s al-Bab area, where Turkey carved out a de facto buffer zone in its 2016 “Euphrates Shield” offensive.
Clashes such as these are frequent in the area, but casualties tend to be rare.
On Thursday, the Kurdish-led administration running north and east Syria issued a statement objecting to Turkish threats to attack the area.
“These threats pose a danger on the area and on a peaceful solution in Syria, and any Turkish aggression on the area will open the way for the return of [ISIL], and that aggression will also contribute to the widening of the circle of Turkish occupation in Syria,” the statement said.
It called on the international community to take a stance that stops Turkey from carrying out its threats.
Tensions have escalated between Turkey and two EU member states – Greece and Cyprus. But that hasn’t stopped another EU country, Germany, to continue exporting arms to Ankara, according to official government data.
In response to a request of leftist MP Sevim Dagdelen (Die Linke), the German economy ministryrevealed that in the first four months of this year, Turkey has received armament supplies amounting €184.1 million from Germany.
Only last year, deliveries to Turkey made up almost one-third of all German arms exports (€770.8 million) with €242.8 million.
According to a government report, the weapons for Turkey are reported to be exclusively “maritime goods” meant for six class 214 submarines, which will be built in Turkey with significant involvement of the German arms concern ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS).
The German government had approved the delivery of the components already in 2009 and secured the export with a so-called Hermes guarantee amounting to €2.49 billion.
Such guarantees for arms exports to Turkey have not been re-issued since the 2016 failed military coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which marked its third anniversary on Monday (15 July). Nevertheless, arms exports already approved in the framework of NATO commitments are still carried out on regular terms.
EU foreign ministers decided on Monday (15 July) to postpone for a few hours the announcement of sanctions against Turkey over its drilling in the sea off Cyprus, following a request by Ankara not to interfere with the third anniversary of the coup, EU officials and diplomats told EURACTIV.com.
The measures include cutting €146 million in EU funds from the pre-accession envelope, freezing the European Investment Bank’s activities in the country, halting the cooperation under the EU-Turkey aviation agreement, and cancelling high-level EU-Turkey dialogues.
The EU foreign ministers even warned about “targeted measures”, against individuals and companies, if the Turkish aggression continues.
“The provocations of Turkey are unacceptable for all of us and we are here on the side of Cyprus,” said German Minister of European Affairs Michael Roth (SPD) in Brussels.
Asked whether the German arms exports to Turkey is still appropriate in view of the EU sanction, MEP Joachim Schuster (S&D), who sits on the Subcommittee for Security and Defence (SEDE), said that “at the moment, I believe that exports should be suspended” as this is a special situation and it should be assessed accordingly.
It would be a far-reaching step to be considered, but there is also need to be cautious as “we have the problem that Turkey is a NATO member, and within NATO, arms exports are common”, he said.
Contacted by EURACTIV, New Democracy MEP Manolis Kefalogiannis (EPP) said the EU foreign ministers’ decision to impose economic and political sanctions against Turkey should be respected by all member states and EU institutions.
According to Kefalogiannis, it was a “decision of solidarity” which makes it clear that the borders of Cyprus and Greece are also European, as well as their exclusive economic zones.
“Europe’s position on Turkey’s provocations and aggressiveness is clear and unequivocal. And it was expressed in the most absolute way,” the center-right MEP added.
European arms export policy
Germany recently announced that it considers banning exports of small side-arms to most countries outside the EU and NATO.
Earlier restrictions on exporting weapons systems to countries involved in the Yemen war have strained ties between Berlin and its allies in Paris and London since the presence of German components in many joint projects risked harming lucrative export deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
So far, the EU’s common position on arms exports is the only legally binding region-wide arrangement on conventional arms exports.
It technically bars sales to countries that don’t respect human rights and when “there is a clear risk that the intended recipient would use the proposed export aggressively against another country or assert by force a territorial claim”.
In reality, however, the scope to decide remains so far in the responsibility of member states and does not touch agreements with NATO partners.
With the increasing European cooperation on defence projects, the question of arms exports has become a pressing issue in the bloc, last surfacing during the recent inauguration of a new joint Franco-German-Spanish construction of Europe’s largest arms project.
The signed text accompanying the project referred to an agreement that Paris and Berlin are meant to finalise by the end of summer.
“I am firmly convinced that the future of exports needs to be European,” then German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen said when asked about changes in export policy.
“We will have to develop a common European attitude since we will harmonise our armed forces together in the European Defence Union, we will collectively procure systems, and here, using the combat aircraft system as an example, it becomes clear,” she told reporters at the time.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday said his country would “stubbornly” continue to push for European Union membership. Speaking in Ankara, he said that “Turkey proceeds on its way persistently despite those trying to exclude it from the European family”. Erdogan accused the EU of leaving Turkey alone to shoulder the refugee burden. It is housing some 3.6 million Syrian refugees. Turkey first applied for EU membership in 1987.
Turkey’s currency fell to its lowest level since October as its bonds came under pressure, after a decision by the country’s election council to nullify the result of a mayoral election in Istanbul sharpened investor concerns. The FT’s Eva Szalay reports
The decision comes after the opposition won a narrow victory in March.
Turkey’s election authorities on Monday annulled the Istanbul municipal vote more than a month after an opposition candidate was elected as the city’s mayor.
The country’s Supreme Electoral Board (YSK) announced that the election would be re-run on June 23, state media reported. A spokesman for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) called the decision an act of “plain dictatorship.”
Ekrem İmamoğlu, the CHP’s candidate, was officially declared Istanbul’s mayor by the city’s election authorities in mid-April after weeks of wrangling over the result following a partial recount.
But President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) repeatedly called for the March 31 Istanbul election to be cancelled, alleging widespread “irregularities” in the vote.
İmamoğlu had scored a narrow victory, beating his rival Binali Yıldırım, a former prime minister, by about 13,000 votes in a city of 10 million eligible voters. Erdoğan declared that with such a small margin, “no one has the right to say they won.”
The YSK’s ruling — made under intense pressure from the government — marks a turning point for Turkey. In past years, the country’s elections were considered unfair but nevertheless competitive, an assumption now called into question by the decision to annul a previously validated opposition victory.
Yet it is not an entirely unprecedented step: in 2015, Erdoğan called a snap vote under controversial circumstances shortly after a general election in which the AKP lost its majority, although only after the breakdown of coalition negotiations.
İmamoğlu’s victory had been heralded as the end of an era, with Erdoğan’s conservative political movement losing control of Istanbul for the first time in a quarter century.
The AKP also suffered heavy losses elsewhere in the nationwide municipal elections in March, with the opposition winning in the capital Ankara and snatching several other provinces from the ruling party. The election will be re-run only in Istanbul.
The Turkish lira, already under strain, fell by more than 2.5 percent after the announcement.
FT calculations suggest foreign reserves held by the central bank have been bolstered by an unusual surge in the use of short-term borrowing, or swaps, underlining concerns about Ankara’s financial defences
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Tuesday that Venezuelan gold would be processed in the Central Anatolian province of Çorum.
Speaking at a rally ahead of local elections on March 31, the president said Çorum would reach a new level in terms of gold trade amid reports that Venezuela sells most of its gold to Turkish refineries.
On Monday Reuters reported that Venezuela uses some of the proceeds to buy consumer goods such as pasta and powdered milk, citing people with direct knowledge of the trade.
Trade between the two nations grew eightfold last year.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s gold program has developed in tandem with his deepening relationship with Turkey’s Erdoğan. Both leaders have been criticized internationally for cracking down on political dissent and undermining democratic norms to concentrate power.
A Nov. 1 executive order signed by US President Donald Trump bars US persons and entities from buying gold from Venezuela.
It does not apply to foreigners.
Ankara has assured the US Treasury that all of Turkey’s trade with Venezuela is in accordance with international law.
Venezuela in December 2016 announced a direct flight from Caracas to İstanbul on Turkish Airlines. The development was surprising given the low demand for travel between the two nations.
Trade data show those planes are carrying more than passengers. On New Year’s Day, 2018, Venezuela’s central bank began shipping gold to Turkey with a $36 million air shipment of the metal to Istanbul. It came just weeks after a visit by Maduro to Turkey.
Shipments last year reached $900 million, according to Turkish government data and trade reports.
Venezuela’s central bank has been selling its artisan gold directly to Turkish refiners, according to two senior Venezuelan officials. Proceeds go to the Venezuelan state development bank Bandes to purchase Turkish consumer goods, the officials said.
Gold buyers include Istanbul Gold Refinery, or IGR, and Sardes Kıymetli Madenler, a Turkish trading firm, according to a person who works in Turkey’s gold industry as well as a Caracas-based diplomat and the two senior Venezuelan officials.
In an interview with Reuters, IGR CEO Ayşen Esen denied the company has been involved in any Venezuelan gold deals. In a written statement, she said she met with Venezuelan and Turkish officials in İstanbul in April to offer her views on compliance with international regulations.
Esen said she advised the Turkish government that working with Venezuela “would not be right for leading institutions or the state.”
As for Sardes Kıymetli Madenler, no one at its İstanbul offices responded to inquiries from Reuters.
Turkish consumer products, meanwhile, are making their way to Venezuelan tables. In early December 54 containers of Turkish powdered milk arrived at the port of La Guaira near Caracas, according to port records seen by Reuters.
The İstanbul-based shipper, Mulberry Proje Yatırım, shares an address with Marilyns Proje Yatırım, a mining company that signed a joint venture with Venezuela’s state mining firm Minerven last year, according to filings with a Turkish trade registry gazette in September.
Greek prime minister wants a closed Orthodox Christian seminary he was visiting in Turkey to be reopened as part of efforts to boost ties between the two countries. Mr Tsipras attended mass and toured the Theological School of Halki on a wooded isle off the Istanbul shoreline
Saudi journalist and former editor-in-chief of the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan Jamal Khashoggi (R) attends the the opening ceremony of 11th edition of Arab Media Forum 2012 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 8 May 2012. [EPA/ALI HAIDER]
Messages obtained from the WhatsApp account of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi shine a light on the possible reasons behind his death, depicting the full extent of his animosity towards Saudi Arabia and his plans to establish an “electronic army” of activists against the regime.
“The more victims he eats, the more he wants,” Khashoggi said in a message sent to Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz, following a series of arrests of women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia. “I will not be surprised if the oppression will reach even those who are cheering him on.”
In other messages, the Washington Post journalist referred to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a “beast”.
In later WhatsApp exchanges between Khashoggi and Abdulaziz, the pair were seen to be plotting a digital offensive against the Saudi regime by establishing an “electronic army” of activists, dubbed the “cyber bees”, who would seek to challenge Saudi propaganda on social media.
Speaking to CNN, Abdulaziz said: “Twitter is the only tool they’re using to fight and to spread their rumours. We’ve been attacked, we’ve been insulted, we’d been threatened so many times, and we decided to do something.”
Research conducted by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab found that military-grade spyware had been used to hack Abdulaziz’s mobile phone before Khashoggi’s death.
The EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini called Saturday (20 October) for a thorough investigation into the “deeply troubling” death of Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi and full accountability for those responsible.
Khashoggi and Abdulaziz’s plot centred around plans to purchase and distribute foreign sim cards to activists in Saudi Arabia which would allow dissidents to evade being traced by authorities. Khashoggi had originally pledged to bankroll the project to the tune of $30,000.
“I sent you some ideas about the electronic army. By email,” Abdulaziz writes to Khashoggi. The latter responded: “I will try to sort out the money. We have to do something.”
However, the text messages also reveal that fears arose about a suspected espionage campaign against Abdulaziz and Khashoggi by the Saudi authorities.
After becoming aware of the fact that the Saudis were most probably tracking their plans, Khashoggi writes to Abdulaziz: “God help us.”
The journalist went on to instruct Abdulaziz to no longer speak about the subject of the ‘cyber bees’ on social media.
Meanwhile, Abdulaziz, who is still exiled in Canada, has accused an Israeli software company of being behind the hacking of his phone messages, which he believes directly led to the killing of Khashoggi.
On Sunday, the Saudi national filed a lawsuit against the NSO Group, under the allegation that it assisted the Saudi regime in gaining access to the WhatsApp exchange.
“The hacking of my phone played a major role in what happened to Jamal, I am really sorry to say,” Abdelaziz told CNN. “The guilt is killing me.”
The European Union should halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl told a German newspaper, saying such action could also help end “the terrible war in Yemen”.
The EU has stood firm in its preference for those accountable to be held responsible for Khashoggi’s death.
At the recent G20 meeting of world leaders in Buenos Aires, EU Council President Donald Tusk announced that there was an “urgent need to establish what happened” to Khashoggi.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May highlighted the “importance of a full, credible, transparent investigation that identifies those who were involved and the importance of ensuring that those who were involved are held to account.”
In addition, the EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini has called for a complete investigation into the “deeply troubling” death of Khashoggi.
In a joint statement published at the end of October, Germany, the UK and France also took a unified approach, saying that “nothing can justify this killing and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms.”
(ZH) Hours after Turkish President Erdogan demanded that Saudi Arabia disclose the whereabouts of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s remains, body parts reportedly belonging to Khashoggi have been found, according to Sky sources, though the exact location wasn’t revealed. According to anonymous sources cited by Sky News, the writer had been “cut up” and his face “disfigured.”
One source suggested that Khashoggi’s remains had been discovered in the garden of the Saudi consul general’s home. “Why has the body of someone who was officially said to be killed not been found yet?” Erdogan asked during his speech at Turkey’s parliament on Tuesday.
He added that all 18 of the Saudi nationals arrested in connection with the killing should stand trial in Istanbul.
The circumstances surrounding the discovery of Khashoggi’s body parts both contradict Saudi Arabia’s explanation for his death. According to the Saudis, Khashoggi’s body was handed off to a local fixer after being wrapped in a rug. Though Erdogan didn’t mention Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in his speech, the kingdom and the prince have denied his involvement.
If accurate, the discovery of Khashoggi’s remains will likely unleash a new round of international pressure on the Saudis, who have seen foreign investors pull money from their stock market while Wall Street CEOs and a handful of industrialists and tech titans have pulled out of the kingdom’s “Davos in the Desert.”
(ZH) In the latest bombshell report involving the Khashoggi murder, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly spoke on the phone with journalist Jamal Khashoggi moments before he was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish pro-government daily Yeni Safak disclosed the new alleged details of the case in a report on Sunday, contradicting claims by Saudi authorities that Prince Mohammed played no part in Khashoggi’s murder.
“Khashoggi was detained by the Saudi team inside the consulate building. Then Prince Mohammed contacted Khashoggi by phone and tried to convince him to return to Riyadh,” the report said.
“Khashoggi refused Prince Mohammed’s offer out of fear he would be arrested and killed if he returned. The assassination team then killed Khashoggi after the conversation ended,” it added.
While the report is so far unconfirmed, the New Arab reports that so far Turkish pro-government media have been receiving a steady stream of leaks many of which turned out to be accurate, including pictures of the hit team as they entered Turkey and reports of audio recordings of the murder said to be in the possession of Turkish authorities.
Meanwhile, the Saudi version of events has been changing significantly over the past two weeks with authorities conceded Saturday that Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist and a Riyadh critic, was killed inside the kingdom’s Istanbul diplomatic compound following a “brawl”. The admission came after a fortnight of denials with the insistence that the journalist left the consulate alive, starting on October 5, when Crown Prince MBS told Bloomberg that Khashoggi was not inside the consulate and “we are ready to welcome the Turkish government to go and search our premises”.
On Saturday, the kingdom announced it had fired five top officials and arrested 18 others in an investigation into the killing – a move that has widely been viewed as an attempt to cover up the crown prince’s role in the murder.
The shifting Saudi narrative of the killing has been met with scepticism and condemnation from the international community, and has left the U.S. and other allies struggling for a response on Sunday. As Bloomberg reports, France demanded more information, Germany put arms sales to Riyadh on hold and the Trump administration stressed the vital importance of the kingdom and its economy to the U.S.
In Sunday radio and TV interviews, Dominic Raab, the U.K. politician in charge of negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union, described the latest Saudi account as not credible; French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called for “the truth’’; and Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his government would approve no arms sales so long as the investigation was ongoing.
Earlier on Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir acknowledged a cover-up attempt. The dramatic reversal, after Saudi officials had previously said the columnist left the building alive, has only complicated the issue for allies.
Saudi Arabia’s al-Jubeir told Fox News on Sunday that the journalist’s death was an “aberration.”
“There obviously was a tremendous mistake made and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to cover up,” he said, promising that “those responsible will be punished for it.”
More importantly, he said that Prince Mohammed had no knowledge of the events, although if the Turkish report is confirmed, it will be yet another major flaw with the official narrative.
Several senior members of US President Donald Trump’s Republican Party said they believed Prince Mohammed was linked to the killing, and one called for a “collective” Western response if a link is proved. In an interview with The Washington Post, President Trump, too, said the Saudi narrative had been marked by “deception and lies.’’ Yet he also defended Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a “strong person,’’ and said there was no proof of his involvement in Khashoggi’s death. Some members of Congress have questioned his willingness to exonerate the prince.
“Obviously there’s been deception and there’s been lies,” Trump said on the shifting accounts offered by Riyadh.
On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to disclose details about the case at a meeting of his AK Party’s parliamentary faction on Tuesday, Haberturk newspaper reported.
Meanwhile, as Western firms and high-ranked officials scramble to avoid any Saudi involvement, Russia is more than happy to step in and fill the power vacuum void left by the US. As a result, Russian businesses are flocking to attend the investment forum in Saudi Arabia, as Western counterparts pull out.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has had considerable success boosting Moscow’s influence in the Middle East at U.S. expense, by standing by regimes that fall afoul of the West, including in Syria and Iran. Last week Putin signed a strategic and partnership agreement with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, backed by $25 billion in loans to build nuclear reactors. Until El-Sisi came to power, Egypt had been closely allied to the U.S.
Meanwhile, all eyes are fixed squarely on the Crown Prince whose position of power is looking increasingly perilous. Congressional leaders on Sunday dismissed the story proffered earlier by the Saudis, with Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bob Corker of Tennessee saying they believed the crown prince was likely involved in Khashoggi’s death.
Lawmakers said they believe the U.S. must impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia or take other action if the crown prince is shown to have been involved. Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, said the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. should be formally expelled until a third-party investigation is done. He said the U.S. should call on its allies to do the same.
“Unless the Saudi kingdom understands that civilized countries around the world are going to reject this conduct and make sure that they pay a price for it, they’ll continue doing it,”’ Durbin said.
The obvious question is what happens and how the Saudi royal family will respond if it is pushed too far, and whether the worst case scenario, a sharp cut in oil exports, could be on the table if MBS feels like he has little to lose from escalating the situation beyond a point of no return.
(ZH) Update (12 pm ET): Speaking again on the subject of Khashoggi, President Trump emphasized the importance of maintaining the US’s business relationship with the Saudis, and added that the public would hear the full story of what happened by “the end of the week.” Trump added that the US “needs Saudi Arabia’s help” in the fight against terrorism. Trump also said he has requested the audio tapes that the Turkish government claims to have which should prove that Khashoggi was murdered “if they exist.”
Meanwhile, after his meeting with Turkish officials in Ankara, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to speculate about whether Khashoggi was alive or dead.
“I don’t want to talk about any of the facts. They didn’t want to either,” Pompeo said.
* * *
Update (8 am ET): Speaking with reporters during his trip to Turkey, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeated his comments about the Saudis promising a “thorough, transparent” investigation that will be conducted “in a timely fashion.”
“They told me they were going to conduct a thorough, complete, transparent investigation”and made a commitment to holding anyone connected to any wrongdoing accountable, Pompeo told reporters Wednesday as he headed to Turkey, where the journalist was last seen entering the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.
Nobody from the Trump administration has responded to the latest explosive allegations about Khashoggi’s death, though it’s worth noting that Turkish officials who have spurred claims about Saudi’s role in Khashoggi’s disappearance haven’t produced any tangible evidence – though Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised a “thorough” investigation.
* * *
While President Trump would love it if the Western media, along with prominent executives in tech and finance, would buy Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s claims that he had “no knowledge” of the confrontation at the Saudis’ consulate in Istanbul that’s believed to have precipitated the killing of insider-turned-Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, yet more evidence has emerged this morning to contradict the official Saudi narrative.
Trial balloons floated by the kingdom in the Western press, as well as Trump’s own suggestions, point to “rogue operatives”, but in a story published last night, the New York Times managed to corroborate Turkish officials’ claims that several suspected members of the 15-man ‘hit squad’ have been directly linked with MbS.
And now, in what has been billed as the first glimpse of the grisly circumstances of Khashoggi’s murder, the Middle East Eye and the Wall Street Journal have reported that “it took seven minutes for Khashoggi to die.”
But in what was probably the most gruesome details from the report, MEM reported that Dr. Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, who was identified by the Times and other media outlets as an “autopsy expert” whose presence cuts against Saudis’ suggestions that the killing wasn’t premeditated, started cutting Khashoggi’s body into pieces while the journalist was unconscious, but still breathing. Previously, Khashoggi had been knocked unconscious after being injected with a mysterious substance.
MEM attributed its information to a person who had listened to the Turkish government’s recording of the murder (its agents had apparently bugged the Saudi consulate, which is unsurprising given the tense relations between the two Muslim powers that only deteriorated during last year’s Qatari crisis). That recording, which hasn’t been publicly shared, has served as the basis for dozens of media reports about Khashoggi’s death. According to this source, after arriving at the consulate, Khashoggi was dragged from the consul-general’s office at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul into his study next door, before being pinned down on the table and injected with an unknown substance. During the attack, horrifying screams were heard by witnesses.
After Khashoggi had been knocked unconscious (never to awaken again), al-Tubaigy put on his headphones and started the grim process of dismembering the body with a bone saw.
Tubaigy began to cut Khashoggi’s body up on a table in the study while he was still alive,the Turkish source said. The killing took seven minutes, the source said.
As he started to dismember the body, Tubaigy put on earphones and listened to music. He advised other members of the squad to do the same.
“When I do this job, I listen to music. You should do [that] too,” Tubaigy was recorded as saying, the source told MEE.
A three-minute version of the audio tape has been given to Turkish newspaper Sabah, but they have yet to release it.
A Turkish source told the New York Times that Tubaigy was equipped with a bone saw. He is listed as the president of the Saudi Fellowship of Forensic Pathology and a member of the Saudi Association for Forensic Pathology.
Later, the NYT reported that the hit squad cut off Khashoggi’s fingers while he was still conscious during an interrogation where he was also beaten and tortured before being dragged into another room where they finished butchering him.
According to WSJ, voices on the tapes can be heard asking the Saudi consul to leave his office before the hit squad murdered Khashoggi. The consul, Mohammad al-Otaibi, departed Turkey for Riyadh Tuesday afternoon after the Saudis, in a sudden reversal, denied Turkey’s requests to search Otaibi’s residence, saying his home was off limits to investigators.
When Otaibi objected to the killing happening in his office, he was told to shut up “if he wanted to live.”
“Do this outside. You will put me in trouble,” Mr. al-Otaibi, the consul, told them, according to the Turkish official and the report in Yeni Safak, both citing audio recordings said to have been obtained by Turkish intelligence.
“If you want to live when you come back to Arabia, shut up,” one of the agents replied, according to both the official and the newspaper.
“Horrendous tortures were committed on Khashoggi, who came to the consulate for documents,” the Yeni Safak account said.
Should other media organizations confirm these reports (which has become a pattern since Khashoggi disappeared into the consulate on Oct. 2 after being asked to return to pick up a marriage license), calls for sanctions, an arms sales ban – or even the deposing of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman could grow louder.
But while MbS remains ensconced in his protective shield of power, those directly involved in the killing have good reason to be afraid. The United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has called for the lifting of diplomatic immunity for any facilities and persons tied to the killing, which means that, even if Saudi Arabia gives its nominal “rogue operatives” a pass, extradition requests from Turkey or another UN member would greatly increase their chances of arrest.
Sitting in the Oval Office with Brunson, Trump congratulated the pastor repeatedly and thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for facilitating the release.
“Everybody wanted this to happen. I think we can say this was bipartisan. I think if there was ever a bipartisan event, this was it,” Trump said.
Brunson thanked Trump, his administration and Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who he said visited him while he was imprisoned. Brunson’s wife, Norine, and their children also thanked Trump.
“You really fought for us,” Brunson said.
Trump praised Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who he said brought Brunson’s case up frequently.
“I would say we spoke about this at least once a day,” Trump said. “We thought we had it done two months ago. Sometimes it doesn’t always work out, but I can only tell you that’s better than anybody else could have done.”
Trump also championed his role in facilitating the release of Americans held in North Korea and Egypt.
“Right now the whole world is fan of yours,” Trump said, referring to numerous faith leaders, members of Congress and his administration who advocated for Brunson’s release. “The whole world is your fan and your family’s fan.”
Brunson later asked to pray over the president, which Trump joked he needed “more than probably anybody in this room.” Kneeling before Trump, Brunson asked God to give the president “supernatural wisdom to lead the country.”
Norine Brunson also offered her prayers to Trump. The president then replied, “Can I ask you a question? Who did you vote for?”
Trump joked that he already knew the answer, and Andrew Brunson offered that he “sent in an absentee ballot from prison.”
The president also joked that he wouldn’t ask Brunson if he had plans to return to Turkey.
“We do love Turkey. We were there for 25 years and we love the Turkish people” Brunson said.
Bruson said he and his wife plan to go home, pray, and “see what God wants for the next part of our lives.” He said he planned to discuss his treatment in Turkish prison at a later date.
“This is a time to thank the administration and people in government who supported us … We love this country,” Brunson said.
While speaking to media Trump also answered questions about Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post journalist, who was alleged to have been killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
When asked if the timing of Brunson’s release and Khashoggi’s suspect death were in any way related, Trump said the timing was purely coincidental.
Trump and Pompeo said they have not yet seen or heard any tapes that would prove what happened to Khashoggi, and added that they’re going to “determine what happened first” before considering any action.
NBC News reported a day before Brunson’s release that a deal had been struck between the U.S. and Turkey that would result in certain charges against him being dropped. Senior Trump administration officials told NBC News that discussions between the two countries included a commitment by the U.S. to ease economic pressure on Turkey.
But Trump tweeted on Saturday that there was no deal made with the Turks and that he doesn’t “make deals for hostages.”
Donald J. Trump
There was NO DEAL made with Turkey for the release and return of Pastor Andrew Brunson. I don’t make deals for hostages. There was, however, great appreciation on behalf of the United States, which will lead to good, perhaps great, relations between the United States & Turkey!
Brunson, a North Carolina native, was one of two dozen Americans charged with helping Kurdish militants and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric whom the government blames for planning a failed coup in 2016. Brunson, who had lived Turkey for more than two decades, has denied the charges.
The evangelical pastor who led a small congregation in Turkey had been convicted and sentenced to more than three years in prison. But he was ordered released for time served and allowed to leave the country after spending nearly two years in detention. A separate charge of espionage was also dropped.
Trump was among many politicians celebrating his release. It’s viewed as a triumph for both the president and Republicans who are counting on the support of evangelical Christians in the November election.
Trump told a crowd of thousands of supporters in Lebanon, Ohio, on Friday, “We’ve had a lot of success.”
The German city of Wiesbaden has removed a 4m (13ft) golden statue of Turkey’s president after it was defaced with the words “Turkish Hitler”.
The statue of Recep Tayyip Erdogan was installed in a square as part of Wiesbaden’s Biennale arts festival.
Organisers said they had hoped it would spark discussions linked to this year’s theme – “bad news”.
Instead, it prompted conflict between Mr Erdogan’s supporters and critics. Firefighters moved it on Tuesday night.
City councillor Oliver Franz told the Wiesbadener Kurier newspaper that angry words had escalated into physical scuffles, and “bladed weapons were spotted”.
“In agreement with state police, Mayor Sven Gerich decided to have the statue removed as security could no longer be guaranteed,” the city’s government tweeted.
Germany has a significant Turkish minority, whose varied attitudes to Mr Erdogan reflect those in Turkey itself. Some back his nationalist politics, while others accuse him of authoritarian tendencies.
(Reuters) Ratings agency Moody’s sounded more alarm about Turkey’s banking sector on Tuesday, downgrading 20 financial institutions and citing the increased risk of a deterioration in funding.
The comments from Moody’s are the latest to highlight the risk to Turkey’s banking sector from an ongoing currency crisis. It said the operating environment is now worse than previously expected.
The lira TRYTOM=D3 has fallen some 40 percent so far this year, hit by investor concern about President Tayyip Erdogan’s grip on monetary policy and a widening rift with the United States. Investors are concerned the Turkish economy is set for a hard landing and lenders could see a spike in bad debts.
“The downgrades primarily reflect a substantial increase in the risk of a downside scenario, where a further negative shift in investor sentiment could lead to a curtailing of wholesale funding,” Moody’s said in a statement.
It lowered its “standalone baseline credit assessments” of 14 lenders by one notch, and those of four other banks by two notches. It downgraded the “corporate family ratings” of two finance companies by a notch.
For years Turkish firms have borrowed in euros and dollars, to take advantage of lower rates, but that has exposed firms to substantial currency risk.
In the next 12 months, around $77 billion of foreign currency wholesale bonds and syndicated loans, or 41 percent of the total market funding, needs to be refinanced, Moody’s said.
Turkish banks hold around $48 billion of liquid assets in foreign currency and have around $57 billion in compulsory reserves with the central bank, Moody’s said, adding the latter would not be entirely available.
“In a downside scenario, where investor sentiment shifts, the risk of a prolonged closure of the wholesale market would lead most banks to materially deleverage, or to require external funding support from the government, or the Central Bank.”
In Berlin, a German government official said Germany is not considering providing Turkey with a financial lifeline to help it overcome its currency crisis.
A second German official told Reuters: “You can’t do much from outside but to stress that Turkey must reform itself.”
I want to flag a point about the President’s current trade spat with Turkey.
First, Turkey has moved in a decidedly negative direction in recent years, both in terms of internal repression and attempts to find a working alliance with Russia, despite being a NATO member state. There are lots of reasons for the US to be down on Turkey. But the Trump administration has actually been fairly indulgent toward Turkey and the man who is increasingly synonymous with the Turkish state, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He’s the kind of guy Trump likes – autocratic, intolerant of dissent. But the current flare-up in US-Turkish relations is unrelated to any of that. It has to do with the detention of American Pastor Andrew Brunson.
Brunson was arrested in October 2016 on charges of being a member of the Gulen Movement and complicit in the July 2016 failed coup, as well as possibly being an American spy. (Gulen is a Muslim cleric who lives in exile in the US. Erdogan holds his movement responsible for the coup, which may or may not be true.) The Erdogan government arrested tens of thousands of Turks for alleged ties to the coup and conducted a massive purge of the state sector. This was a dramatic acceleration of the growing repression and autocracy that preceded the coup. Point being, the Erdogan government is bad news and they clearly used the coup to deepen their grip on Turkey. In this context I really have no idea whether Brunson’s arrest has some merit to it or is completely trumped up.
But Brunson is not the only US citizen swept up in the crackdown. And even if we believe that he’s a victim in this – which is entirely possible, perhaps even probable – states don’t destroy their bilateral relationships over the fate of a single national caught up in another country’s legal system.
Here we get to the real issue. It is quite clear that the only reason Brunson has become the central issue in US-Turkish relations is because he is an evangelical pastor and he’s become a top issue for US evangelicals who are the core of Trump’s power base. What is important to them is non-negotiable for him. Full stop. So here we have the US President wreaking havoc with the Turkish economy and putting the bilateral relationship into crisis as a payoff to his evangelical supporters. That is simply terrible.
The situation is murkier because of all the good reasons for downgrading relations with Turkey. But the fact is that this is another prime example that President Trump doesn’t want to be President but rather more like a faction leader or warlord who uses his control of the state to direct nonstop payoffs to his core supporters.
(FXstreet) According to the Financial Times (FT), Tusiad, the Turkish Industry and Business Association, and Tobb, the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey have urged the Turkish President Erdogan to tighten monetary policy, introduce austerity measures and urgently resolve a dispute with the US in a bid to stabilize the battered the Lira.
Leading Turkish business groups said that “tighter monetary policy is required in order to stabilize exchange rates”, as were accompanying “austerity measures”.
The business organizations called for continued “diplomatic efforts to urgently resolve the problems in the US-Turkey relationship”.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported that for a second consecutive day Turkey’s central bank was not lending at its benchmark interest rate of 17.5 percent, instead of making funds available at 19.25 percent.
(GlobalNews) Turkey’s currency and stock market kept on falling Monday, weighed down by investor fears about the country’s economic policies and worsening relations with the United States.
The lira fell as low as 6.89 to the dollar Monday, down about 7 per cent on the day and 45 per cent since the start of the year. The main stock index fell 3.5 per cent.
Here is a look at some of the reasons behind the plunge and how it might affect the rest of the world.
Why is Turkey’s currency suddenly so weak?
The country’s economy has grown strongly in recent years, booking 7 per cent growth last year. A favourable global environment has given an added push. Central banks in the rich world kept interest rates at or near zero for years, making it attractive for companies in Turkey to borrow in foreign currencies. Investors facing sparse returns on short-term investments in the more developed world, like the U.S., found higher returns if they sent their money to emerging markets such as Turkey. Low oil prices helped, too.
Now, those factors working in reverse. The U.S. Federal Reserve is raising rates, and oil prices are higher.
How has Turkey hurt itself?
Turkey’s economy has long shown signs of overheating. Inflation hit 15.9 per cent annually in June. The country has run a large trade and investment deficit with the result of the world, buying more than it sells and relying on foreign investment and lending. That deficit — called the current account — can weigh on a currency, especially when foreign investment stops flowing in.
As the currency weakens, it can make foreign investors pull their money out of Turkish stocks and bonds as their lira investments lose value. To do that, they have to sell lira — worsening the rout.
Is it politics or economics?
The lira’s fall has been made worse by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statements on economic policy. He has urged the central bank to not raise interest rates. Rate increases are the central bank’s main tool to support the currency and fight inflation, though they can slow growth. The central bank appears to have heeded Erdogan and has not raised rates when many — including the International Monetary Fund — have urged it to. That drained investor confidence in the central bank, leading to a further sell-off of the currency.
Erdogan’s decision to name his son-in-law as finance minister also made people wonder about the direction of the country’s economic policy.
What about the dispute with Trump and the U.S.?
Turkey’s decision to jail Protestant pastor Andrew Brunson from the U.S. has led to the U.S. imposing sanctions on two Turkish government ministers. Conservative evangelical Protestants are a key constituency for U.S. President Donald Trump.
The mere fact that the U.S. would impose sanctions on Turkey — a stalwart NATOally for decades during the Cold War — has increased uncertainty about the future in Turkey.
Trump raised the stakes Friday when he said his administration would double its tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum. That caused a further drop in the lira. The U.S. was Turkey’s biggest export market for steel last year, though exports have fallen since.
How is the fall in the lira a problem?
It is a problem for Turkish businesses and banks that get revenues in lira and owe money in dollars or euros. The lira has fallen about 40 per cent against the dollar this year. That makes a loan in dollars that much more expensive to repay. So the sudden fall raises the possibility of corporate bankruptcies or bank failures that could hurt the economy.
The currency drop will also increase the cost of living for people in Turkey by making imports more expensive. Prices are already up 16 per cent since last year and this week’s drop will make that worse.
What impact could the turmoil have outside Turkey?
There are some concerns about whether European banks would suffer losses on loans in Turkey. The euro currency dropped to a 13-month low on Friday, and bank shares fell.
Tom Kinmonth, senior fixed income strategist at ABN Amro Bank, has calculated that European bank exposure is limited in Turkey. Spain’s BBVA has significant exposure, with 31 per cent of pre-tax profit coming from Turkish operations. UniCredit, BNP, ING and HSBC have smaller businesses there.
Outside those five banks, he said, European exposure is “minimal.”
Trouble in Turkey could make investors reassess their holdings in other emerging markets. So far, however, Turkey has not sparked a global rout in emerging markets.
Additionally, Europe is nervous because depends on Turkey to restrain the flow of migrants from conflict in the Middle East in return for aid. Some 4 million displaced people, most them from Syria, are currently living in Turkey. Any resumption of serious migrant flows from Turkey would be a big political issue in Europe, where opposition to immigration has fueled the rise of right-wing parties.
How is Turkey trying to fix this?
In theory, Erdogan could turn to the International Monetary Fund for financial help. He could also impose limits on money transfers to keep capital from fleeing. So far he’s shown no sign of doing either.
Having to obey IMF conditions in return for assistance would be a blow to his prestige. Money controls could backfire because Turkey needs foreign investment.
WATCH BELOW: Trump welcomes Erdogan to the White House in 2017
Instead, Erdogan has doubled down. He has mainly blamed foreigners for trying to destabilize the country and equated the financial turmoil to the 2016 coup attempt that sought to depose him. He told supporters to “change the euros, the dollars and the gold that you are keeping beneath your pillows into lira at our banks. This is a domestic and national struggle.”
The central bank has taken steps to make short-term credit more easily available to banks, but has not raised interest rates.