Iran, Syria Leaders Brush Aside US Call to Weaken Ties

March 4, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Two countries scrap visa requirements

By Roueida Mabardi, Agence France Presse (AFP)

2010-02-25T152444Z_95987295_GM1E62P1T0201_RTRMADP_3_SYRIA-IRAN

DAMASCUS: The presidents of Syria and Iran signed a visa-scrapping accord on Thursday, signaling even closer ties and brushing aside United States efforts to drive a wedge between the two allies.

“I am surprised by their call to keep a distance between the countries … when they raise the issue of stability and peace in the Middle East, and all the other beautiful principles,” Syrian President Bashar Assad told a news conference in Damascus with his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“We need to further reinforce relations if the true objective is stability. We do not want others to give us lessons on our region, our history,” the Syrian president said.

Ahmadinejad, who flew in to Damascus earlier in the day and later met exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, stressed that ties between the two Muslim states, both outspoken critics of US ally Israel, were as “solid” as ever. “Nothing can damage these relations,” he said.

On the same day in occupied Jerusalem, the United States and Israel resumed an annual “strategic dialogue” for the first time since US President Barack Obama assumed office in 2009, with Iran prominent on the agenda.

US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg met Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.

Assad said his country was always on the alert against Israel.

“We are always preparing ourselves for an Israeli aggression whether it is small or big scale,” he said.

Afterward, Ahmadinejad met Meshaal, Ahmed Jibril – leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – and other Palestinian leaders critical of the peace process for talks focused on “the Israeli threats made against Syria, Iran, the Palestinians and Lebanon,” a participant in the meeting said.

Ahmadinejad told the Palestinian leaders that “Iran places itself solidly beside the Palestinian people, until their land is liberated,” the participant said, and that resistance was the “likeliest path to liberation.”

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington has been pressing Damascus to move away from Iran

Questioned on Clinton, Assad adopted an ironic tone.

“We met today to sign a ‘separation accord’ between Syria and Iran, but because of a bad translation we ended up signing an accord on scrapping visas,” he quipped.

Assad said the agreement would serve “to further reinforce relations in all fields and at all levels” between the two countries, which have been close allies for the past three decades.

In the face of US-led efforts to slap new sanctions on the Islamic Republic over its controversial nuclear program, he also defended Iran’s right to pursue uranium enrichment.

“To forbid an independent state the right to enrichment amounts to a new colonialist process in the region,” he said.

The visit came after Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said Syria was determined to help Iran and the West engage in a “constructive” dialogue over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Western governments suspect that the program in Iran is cover for a drive to produce a bomb.

Tehran vehemently denies the allegation.

On the eve of Ahmadinejad’s visit, Clinton was blunter than ever about the bid to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran.

Testifying in the Senate, she said William Burns, the third-ranking US diplomat, “had very intense, substantive talks in Damascus” last week on what was the highest-level US mission to the Syrian capital in five years.

Syria is being asked “generally to begin to move away from the relationship with Iran, which is so deeply troubling to the region as well as to the United States,” Clinton said.

12-10

Israel Apologizes to Turkey

January 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Zerin Elci and Allyn Fisher-Ilan

2010-01-11T102005Z_118425324_GM1E61B1EY301_RTRMADP_3_TURKEY

Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan arrives at a welcoming ceremony in Ankara January 11, 2010.

REUTERS/Umit Bektas

ANKARA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel apologized to Turkey on Wednesday for publicly dressing down Ankara’s ambassador in a dispute that has strained the once good ties between the Jewish state and the Muslim regional power.

Turkey had demanded a formal apology for Ambassador Oguz Celikkol’s treatment on Monday and threatened to recall him.

But after receiving the letter of apology on Wednesday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan threw a new barb at Israel, saying it should do more for peace in the region.

Turkey, as a Muslim country, is an important ally of Israel and in the past has helped forge contacts between the Jewish state and the Arab world.

But relations have deteriorated following criticism by Erdogan of Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip last year.

The latest row broke out after Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon summoned Celikkol on Monday to protest against a Turkish television drama that portrayed Israeli diplomats as masterminds of a child abduction ring.

Ayalon invited media crews to the beginning of the meeting in Jerusalem and pointed out there was no Turkish flag on the table. He also said he was deliberately avoiding a handshake with the ambassador.

In television images broadcast in Turkey, Celikkol was seen seated on a low couch, accentuating the sense of a slight.

Ayalon later conceded his behavior toward the envoy had been inappropriate. But Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who is scheduled to host Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday, said that was insufficient and demanded a full apology.

Israel sent a formal letter of apology to Celikkol on Thursday.

“I had no intention to humiliate you personally and apologize for the way the demarche was handled and perceived, Ayalon said in the letter, released by the Israeli government.

“Please convey this to the Turkish people for whom we have great respect. I hope that both Israel and Turkey will seek diplomatic and courteous channels to convey messages as two allies should.”

In response, Erdogan said the Turkish foreign ministry had received “the expected, desired answer.”

But he added more criticism of Israel, telling a news conference: “Israel must put itself in order and it must be more just and more on the side of peace in the region.”

Ayalon had said earlier that his protest against the Turkish criticism of Israel remained valid. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamim Netanyahu also said thought the protest was correct but handled badly, according to his office.

As a predominantly Muslim nation, albeit with a secular constitution, as well as a NATO military power, Turkey is a key ally for Israel in the Middle East. As well as providing security cooperation, Ankara has offered Israel diplomatic help in the past, notably mediating with Syria in 2008.

But ties have become frosty since Israel’s war in the Palestinian Islamist-ruled Gaza Strip a year ago, which drew frequent public censure from Erdogan, whose AK Party’s roots lie in political Islam.

Netanyahu has said Turkey was aligning itself with Muslim countries hostile to Israel like Iran since before the Gaza war.

There was similar outrage last year over a Turkish series which featured Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian children.

On Tuesday in London, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu renewed his country’s criticism of Israel over Gaza.

He said its 2008 invasion of the territory had marked the turning point in Turkish-Israeli relations.

Despite the row, a Turkish delegation is currently in Israel to wrap up the purchase of 10 Heron drones in a deal worth $180 million, Turkish defense officials said.

Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald and Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Darren Butler in Ankara, and Michele Kambas in Nicosia; Editing by Angus MacSwan

12-3