Obama, Erdogan Seek Common Ground on Middle East

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Matt Spetalnick and Laura MacInnis

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U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan shake hands in New York September 20, 2011. World leaders have gathered in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.  

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan sought common ground on counterterrorism and Middle East policy on Tuesday even as Washington pressed Ankara to ease tensions with close U.S. ally Israel.

Their talks on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly came as a showdown loomed this week over Palestinian statehood at the world body, another source of rising tensions in a region in political upheaval.

Washington has watched with concern as NATO ally Turkey’s once-friendly ties with Israel have deteriorated rapidly over Israel’s 2010 killing of Turkish activists in a Gaza-bound aid convoy. The crisis has underscored Israel’s growing isolation and the new limits of U.S. influence in the Middle East.

“The president underscored his interest in seeing a resolution of that issue between those two countries and encouraged continuing work toward that end,” White House adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall told reporters after the meeting, saying Obama also emphasized the need to calm tensions throughout the region.

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Obama would make the same points to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he meets him on Wednesday.

The two leaders also discussed Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad’s unrelenting crackdown on anti-government protests has alarmed neighboring Turkey and led to U.S. calls he step aside.

Obama and Erdogan agreed on the need to increase pressure on Assad and agreed to consult on possible further steps that “could include sanctions, political pressure, other measures,” Rhodes said.

Obama and Erdogan, in their public comments to reporters, focused on deadly attacks in Turkey on Tuesday that they agreed underscored the need for cooperation on counterterrorism.

“This reminds us that terrorism exists in many parts of the world, and Turkey and the United States are going to be strong partners in preventing terrorism,” Obama said.

An explosion from a suspected car bomb ripped through a street in the Turkish capital, Ankara, near a neighborhood housing government buildings, killing three people.

Also on Tuesday, Kurdish guerrillas attacked a police college in southeastern Turkey, killing four people in a passing vehicle, broadcaster CNN Turk reported on its website.

NEED ‘TO WORK TOGETHER’

Erdogan said the United States and Turkey needed to “work together in planning, use technology so that we can continue to take more steps in trying to fight against terrorism.”

Turkey is in talks with the United States to provide a base for a fleet of U.S. Predator drones now stationed in Iraq. It is reported to want surveillance drones to carry out operations against Kurdish separatist rebels based in northern Iraq.

The Obama administration is seeking to preserve close ties with Turkey, an increasingly assertive economic and military power in the region that has become a champion of democracy movements roiling the Arab world.

Ankara backed efforts that led to the ouster of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and aids U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan, and plays a crucial role in neighboring Iraq.

Obama praised Erdogan for “great leadership” in promoting democracy in the region. But problems remain.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Turkey on Monday not to do anything to worsen its relationship with Israel.

Israeli-Turkish relations have spiraled downward in recent weeks with the release of a U.N. report on the 2010 flotilla raid, in which Israeli commandos raid killed nine Turkish activists, and Israel’s refusal to apologize to Ankara.

Erdogan’s government has expelled Israel’s envoy, frozen military cooperation and warned that the Turkish navy could escort future aid flotillas — raising the prospect of confrontation between Turkey and the Jewish state.

Erdogan has also kept up a stream of harsh rhetoric against Israel, using a tour of Arab states last week to support a Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations and chide Israel as a spoiled client of the West.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Peter Cooney)

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The Long Overdue Palestinian State

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mahmoud Abbas

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (C) gestures as he arrives for a meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah May 9, 2011.

REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

Ramallah, West Bank–SIXTY-THREE years ago, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was forced to leave his home in the Galilean city of Safed and flee with his family to Syria. He took up shelter in a canvas tent provided to all the arriving refugees. Though he and his family wished for decades to return to their home and homeland, they were denied that most basic of human rights. That child’s story, like that of so many other Palestinians, is mine.

This month, however, as we commemorate another year of our expulsion — which we call the nakba, or catastrophe — the Palestinian people have cause for hope: this September, at the United Nations General Assembly, we will request international recognition of the State of Palestine on the 1967 border and that our state be admitted as a full member of the United Nations.

Many are questioning what value there is to such recognition while the Israeli occupation continues. Others have accused us of imperiling the peace process. We believe, however, that there is tremendous value for all Palestinians — those living in the homeland, in exile and under occupation.

It is important to note that the last time the question of Palestinian statehood took center stage at the General Assembly, the question posed to the international community was whether our homeland should be partitioned into two states. In November 1947, the General Assembly made its recommendation and answered in the affirmative. Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued. Indeed, it was the descendants of these expelled Palestinians who were shot and wounded by Israeli forces on Sunday as they tried to symbolically exercise their right to return to their families’ homes.

Minutes after the State of Israel was established on May 14, 1948, the United States granted it recognition. Our Palestinian state, however, remains a promise unfulfilled.

Palestine’s admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.

Our quest for recognition as a state should not be seen as a stunt; too many of our men and women have been lost for us to engage in such political theater. We go to the United Nations now to secure the right to live free in the remaining 22 percent of our historic homeland because we have been negotiating with the State of Israel for 20 years without coming any closer to realizing a state of our own. We cannot wait indefinitely while Israel continues to send more settlers to the occupied West Bank and denies Palestinians access to most of our land and holy places, particularly in Jerusalem. Neither political pressure nor promises of rewards by the United States have stopped Israel’s settlement program.

Negotiations remain our first option, but due to their failure we are now compelled to turn to the international community to assist us in preserving the opportunity for a peaceful and just end to the conflict.

Palestinian national unity is a key step in this regard. Contrary to what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel asserts, and can be expected to repeat this week during his visit to Washington, the choice is not between Palestinian unity or peace with Israel; it is between a two-state solution or settlement-colonies.

Despite Israel’s attempt to deny us our long-awaited membership in the community of nations, we have met all prerequisites to statehood listed in the Montevideo Convention, the 1933 treaty that sets out the rights and duties of states. The permanent population of our land is the Palestinian people, whose right to self-determination has been repeatedly recognized by the United Nations, and by the International Court of Justice in 2004. Our territory is recognized as the lands framed by the 1967 border, though it is occupied by Israel.

We have the capacity to enter into relations with other states and have embassies and missions in more than 100 countries. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union have indicated that our institutions are developed to the level where we are now prepared for statehood. Only the occupation of our land hinders us from reaching our full national potential; it does not impede United Nations recognition.

The State of Palestine intends to be a peace-loving nation, committed to human rights, democracy, the rule of law and the principles of the United Nations Charter. Once admitted to the United Nations, our state stands ready to negotiate all core issues of the conflict with Israel.

A key focus of negotiations will be reaching a just solution for Palestinian refugees based on Resolution 194, which the General Assembly passed in 1948.

Palestine would be negotiating from the position of one United Nations member whose territory is militarily occupied by another, however, and not as a vanquished people ready to accept whatever terms are put in front of us.

We call on all friendly, peace-loving nations to join us in realizing our national aspirations by recognizing the State of Palestine on the 1967 border and by supporting its admission to the United Nations. Only if the international community keeps the promise it made to us six decades ago, and ensures that a just resolution for Palestinian refugees is put into effect, can there be a future of hope and dignity for our people.

Mahmoud Abbas is the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the president of the Palestinian National Authority.

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