US presses Egypt for swift return to civilian rule, against arbitrary arrests

Share

President Obama met with his national security team on Egypt on the July 4th holiday, as US officials consulted with allies and pressed Egyptian officials for a swift transition back to civilian rule.

US officials “have been in touch with Egyptian officials and our regional partners to convey the importance of a quick and responsible return of full authority to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible,” the State Department said. They also pressed for “a transparent political process that is inclusive of all parties and groups; avoiding any arbitrary arrests of President Morsy and his supporters; and the responsibility of all groups and parties to avoid violence.”

Secretary of State John Kerry discussed developments over the past two days with Egyptian opposition leader Mohammed ElBaradei, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Emirati Foreign Minister bin Zayed, the Norwegian Foreign Minister Kai Eide, and Qatari Foreign Minister al-Attiya, the State Department said Thursday.

Defense Secretary Hagel spoke with Egyptian army chief al-Sisi and Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Bogie Ya'alon.

New US National Security Advisor Susan Rice spoke with her Israeli counterpart, National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror. Continue reading

Morsi ousted: Egypt army suspends constitution, calls early elections

Egypt's military chief announced Wednesday that it was stepping in to transfer power from Egypt's Islamist President Mohammad Morsi to a technocratic government ahead of early parliamentary and presidential polls.

“President Mohammad Morsi has failed to meet the demands of the Egyptian people,” Egyptian army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sissi said in a televised address to the nation Wednesday, al-Arabiya reported.

Flanked by Muslim and Christian clerics and opposition leader Mohammed ElBaradei, al-Sissi vowed “not to exclude anyone or any movement” from Egypt's political process.

He said Egypt's military did not plan to become involved in politics, but was responding to the demands of the people, as witnessed in some of the largest protests ever seen. But shortly after he spoke, to fireworks and ecstatic cheers of anti-Morsi protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Sqaure, the Muslim Brotherhood's television station “went blank,” the Associated Press reported.

Morsi was reported to have been taken to an undisclosed location. A statement on his Facebook page said “that the measures announced by the Armed Forces' General Command, are considered a 'military coup,' …and this is rejected,” Al-Arabiya reported.

“What we are seeing now is a major change in the dynamics in the region,” an Egyptian official, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor Wednesday. “The idea that you need a secular dictator to protect you from religious autocracy is falling apart.”

The “lively forces of the population are the ones who will oust the dictatorship–secular or religious,” the Egyptian official continued.

Egyptians did not accept that they have to choose between an autocratic Muslim Brotherhood government or military rule, he said. If they didn't like the next government, he said, Egyptians would take to the streets again and bring it down, too.

Morsi's ouster came as the United States had steadily distanced itself from him over the past 48 hours, while insisting that it wasn't taking sides.

President Morsi, in a speech Tuesday, “had an opportunity to lay out some specific steps” to show responsiveness to the demands of the protesters, “and he did not take the opportunity to do that,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told journalists at a press conference Wednesday. Meantime, the State Department on Wednesday also ordered non-emergency U.S. personnel and diplomats' family members to leave Egypt, and urged American citizens to defer travel to Egypt due to the unrest.

The Saudi King and UAE Foreign Minister both sent congratulations to the Egyptian caretaker government and its appointed head, Supreme Court Justice Adli Mansour.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton spoke with ElBaradei Wednesday, and “urged all sides in Egypt to return rapidly to the democratic process,” her spokesperson Michael Mann said.

(Top Photo: Protesters, who are against Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, react in Tahrir Square in Cairo July 3, 2013. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem. Second photo: Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi addressing the nation on Egyptian State Television Wednesday, July 3, 2013. AP Photo/Egyptian State Television.)

zp8497586rq

White House to step up aid to Syria rebels, after US confirms Assad chemical use

President Obama has decided to provide military support to the Syrian rebels after the U.S. intelligence community concluded with high confidence that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale numerous times, the White House announced Thursday.

“The President has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has,” US Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said in a statement Thursday.

“Put simply, the Assad regime should know that its actions have led us to increase the scope and scale of assistance that we provide to the opposition, including direct support to the SMC,” the Syrian rebel Supreme Military Council, the White House statement continued. “These efforts will increase going forward.”

The US assistance provided to the Syrian rebels “is going to be substantively different than what we were providing before our initial chemical weapons assessment in April,” Rhodes told journalists in a press call Thursday evening.

While declining to provide a full inventory of the assistance the US might provide to the rebels, Rhodes said the U.S. aim “is to be responsive to the needs of the SMC on the ground…There will be an increase in support to both the political and military side.”

Among the types of assistance the US was looking to provide, in coordination with allies, Rhodes said, was aid to enhance the Syrian rebels’ cohesion and effectiveness. “Communications equipment, transport, … medical assistance” [such as ambulances] “relevant to their effectiveness…to allow them to cohere as a unit that can challenge the regime.” The US would also provide small arms and ammunition, and would consider supplying anti-tank weapons, the New York Times reported late Thursday.

Representatives of the US, UK and France are expected to meet SMC military commander Gen. Salim Idriss in Turkey on Saturday, wire reports said Thursday.

The US announcement was made during a week of intensive, high level White House consultations on Syria, including a meeting Wednesday between US Secretary of State John Kerry and visiting UK Foreign Secretary William Hague. It also comes ahead of the first meeting between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G-8 summit in the United Kingdom next week.

Notably, the United States has briefed Russia on its latest Syria chemical weapons assessment, Rhodes said in the call Thursday. It has also provided the information to the United Nations, which Rhodes said had been unable to get its Syria chemical weapons investigation team on the ground in Syria due to Assad’s obstruction.

The announcement came as the United Nations said Thursday that it assesses 93,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict to date.

“We’re at a tipping point” in Syria, Martin Indyk, Bill Clinton’s former top Middle East diplomat told Al-Monitor in an interview Tuesday.

Recent gains by Assad forces, backed by Hizbollah, on the ground have thrown plans for transition talks in Geneva into doubt.

“There can’t be any political solution on an agreement on a post-Assad transition if Assad thinks he is going to see victory,” Indyk, vice president of the Brookings Institution, said.“What happens on the battlefield determines what happens in the conference room.”

Full White House statement below the jump:

Continue reading

Turkey tensions foretold: AKP overreach, booze ban politics & the PKK


While the Turkey Pulse team covers the protests in Turkey, don’t miss some of the prescient analysis Al-Monitor ran in recent months about growing domestic concern at creeping authoritarianism and AKP overreach that explains and anticipates the tensions that erupted in recent days.

Yavuz Baydar, in Turkey’s ‘moral majority’ tests its power, wrote May 27, 2013:

…The trap of populism has become more attractive for the AKP ahead of three critical elections and a possible constitutional referendum expected in 2014, and, notably, in the wake of the strategic regional “synchronization” with the White House, which effectively means also a blank check for arbitrary action in domestic politics.

In other words, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP will either steer the 12-year “Turkish Glasnost” era in the right direction, or Turkey will continue to be a semi-democracy under a hegemonic political power and in a tutelage system where the only change is the identity of the government that opts for the easy way of its own convenience and interests. […]

Other suffocating moves are likely to follow the alcohol bans, the kissing ban and the punishment of opinions deemed to offend religion and sacred values.

But one has to see all those controversies in the big picture to realize that the threats looming for Turkey are all essentially problems of democratization.

One thing is certain: No matter what you call it — be it Islamism, post-modern authoritarianism or high-handedness — this “Kulturkampf” will have no winner.

Mustafa Akyol introduced post-Kemalist Turkey, writing April 4, 2013:

…Most of these secular liberals are now becoming concerned about the AKP’s own authoritarian tendencies, real or perceived. Some of them also note that, despite enormous changes, some things never change in Turkey, such as the patriarchal political culture and the hubris of whomever comes to power.

Kadri Gursel explained the politics behind Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s anti alcohol push:

Why really is the AKP in a rush about alcohol bans? Why the hurry? Continue reading

Top US Syria envoy expected to step down


The top US diplomat on Syria Robert Ford plans to step down this summer, several US officials tell the Back Channel.

Ford, who was confirmed as US Ambassador to Syria in 2011 after serving there since 2010 under a recess appointment, saw his job transformed by the unrest that has long since escalated into a full scale civil war. Earlier this month Ford traveled into Syria from Turkey with a convoy of US food aid, to meet with Syrian rebel commanders and urge them to support transition talks planned to be held in Geneva next month.

Ford was again in Turkey Wednesday trying, along with his French, Arab and Turkish diplomatic colleagues, to push Syria’s opposition to agree to expand and diversify its leadership ranks.

He is said by multiple officials to be exhausted, including from his efforts trying to unify the fractious Syrian opposition. The Back Channel was unable to reach Ford Wednesday.

Ford is expected to stay on for the Syria peace conference in Geneva next month, and possibly step aside in July. (One source thought Ford might next take a job at the State Department Inspector General office, but that couldn’t be confirmed.) It is still unclear who will succeed him in the Syria job, or if the role might be revamped to create a special US envoy to the Syrian opposition, State Department sources said.

(The Back Channel previously reported that US Middle East peace envoy David Hale will be nominated to be the next US Ambassador to Lebanon. Secretary of State John Kerry’s Middle East senior advisor Frank Lowenstein is expected to succeed Hale working the Middle East peace portfolio that Kerry has personally spearheaded. US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson will be nominated to be the next Assistant Secretary of State for the Near Eastern Affairs.)

Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones will travel to Geneva next week to meet Russian counterparts to prepare for the Geneva 2 conference, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki announced Wednesday.

Continue reading

Anne Patterson for Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs

As the Back Channel reported Friday, US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson will be the Obama administration’s nominee to be the next Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, a senior US official confirmed to the Back Channel Saturday.

Patterson has been asked and has agreed to take the job if confirmed, the US official, who spoke not for attribution, said.

Patterson did not respond to a request for comment from the Back Channel.

It’s unclear who will succeed Patterson in Cairo, but US diplomatic sources suggested that US Ambassador to Jordan Stuart Jones was likely to be considered. Continue reading

Iran, Jordan call for Syria transition talks


Iran’s Foreign Minister, on a rare visit to Jordan Tuesday, called on the Syrian regime and opposition to enter talks on forming a transitional government.

“We have called for talks between the Syrian government and the peaceful opposition to form a transitional government,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said at a joint conference with his Jordanian counterpart Nasser Judeh in Amman Tuesday, Agence-France Press reported.

“We have advised the Syrian government to sit with the opposition but not with Al-Nusra,” Salehi added, referring to the Syrian offshoot of Al Qaida in Iraq, that has been listed as a terrorist group by the United States but been among the more militarily effective anti-Assad militias on the ground in the conflict.

Salehi’s two day visit to Jordan, a close US ally, comes amid a flurry of intensified regional and international diplomacy on the Syria conflict, and as the United States and Europeans consider stepped up measures to aide the Syrian opposition on the ground while pushing the two sides into transition talks.

“We’re working intensively with a range of partners to strengthen the Syrian opposition and help shift the balance on the ground, which is essential to any chance of shifting Asad’s calculus,” Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said in a speech at Princeton University Saturday.

Secretary of State John Kerry was in Russia Tuesday for meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to try to find “common ground” on Syria. Kerry is due to meet with Jordan’s Nasser Judeh in Rome on Wednesday.

Salehi, meantime, was scheduled to travel on to Damascus later Tuesday for a meeting with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, IRNA and AFP reported. Qatari Prime Minister Hamad al-Thani, a key backer of the Syrian opposition, is due to make a rare visit to Iran next week.

Iran’s stepped up diplomacy on Syria in the wake of Israeli strikes in Syria over the weekend is part of Tehran’s “hedging” strategy, to ensure “the Islamic Reublic retains influence in Damascus irrespective of he outcome of the civil war,” Iran analyst Suzanne Maloney wrote at the Brookings Institution website Tuesday.

“Iran hopes to preserve at least a vestige of its ally Bashar, but has also sought a seat at the table in shaping post-Asad Syria in any formal regional dialogue,” Maloney wrote. Tehran also has “a genuine national interest in precluding the expansion of Sunni extremism.”

Iran has continued to be involved in a regional dialogue on how to resolve the Syria crisis with Egypt and Turkey, a member state diplomat, speaking not for attribution, told al-Monitor Monday. (Saudi Arabia has refused to attend the meetings of the regional ‘quartet’ because of Iran’s presence, the diplomat said.)

A high level US Defense Department delegation is also currently in Jordan for meetings of the US-Jordan Joint Military Commission, that got underway Monday. Continue reading

Netanyahu apologizes to Turkey over Gaza flotilla raid

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday apologized to Turkey for a 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla that killed 10 Turks, in what US officials hailed as “a first step” toward reconciliation between the former allies.

The apology was made in a thirty minute, three-way call between President Obama, Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, conducted from a trailer on the airport tarmac in the last hour of Obama’s historic visit to Israel, the US officials said.

“Netanyahu apologized for the Mavi Mara flotilla incident and acknowledged ‘operational mistakes,'” said one senior US official, according to the White House pool report.

“Prime Minister Erdogan accepted the apology on behalf of Turkey,” the US official added.

Netanyahu also agreed in the call to set up a humanitarian fund to pay compensation to the families of those killed in the raid, making way for the restoration of full diplomatic ties between the two countries, which are both important US allies.

Erdogan, in the call, spoke “of the importance he attaches to the shared history and centuries old ties of strong friendship and cooperation between the Jewish and Turkish peoples,” a statement from the Turkish prime minister’s office said.

The U.S. nudge towards restoration of Turkish-Israeli diplomatic ties marks a significant “get” in Obama’s visit to Israel that has been otherwise short of concrete deliverables, while long on warm words and upbeat reassurances on the strength of the US-Israeli alliance and security ties.

Nine Turks and one Turkish-American citizen were killed in the May 2010 Israeli assault on the Mavi Marmara flotilla, which had sought to break Israel’s blockade to deliver humanitarian supplies to the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip. Turkey downgraded diplomatic ties with Israel following the incident, and said it would not restore them until Israel formally apologized and paid compensation.

A past US effort to broker a resolution reportedly fell apart at the last minute after Netanyahu, under pressure from his then foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, decided not to issue the agreed-upon apology language. Temporarily out of the new Israeli government while awaiting trial on alleged corruption charges, Lieberman on Friday railed against the Israeli apology, saying it endangered Israeli troops and counterterrorism operations.

Once close Israeli-Turkish ties have grown increasingly strained since Israel’s 2008 Cast Lead operation against Hamas, and more broadly as Erdogan’s ruling Islamist Justice and Peace (AKP) party has moved to bolster ties with Arab countries and peoples in the region, while also moving to subvert the country’s once dominant secular military command.

Military ties formed the backbone of the Turkish-Israeli strategic alliance at its height, said Dan Arbell, Israel’s recent Deputy Chief of Mission in Washington, who is studying the relationship as a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution Saban Center. Even the restoration of formal diplomatic ties now–as well as brisk economic trade–is not likely to return Israel and Turkey to the level of rapport they enjoyed in the past, given the reduced role the Turkish military plays under Erdogan and the AKP, he said.

“This begins a process of normalization, but I do not see it bringing the countries back to the level of relations they had between them in the 1990s,” Arbell told Al-Monitor in an interview Friday. However, an opening for rapprochement has arisen amid a growing “convergence of interests” between Ankara and Jerusalem in the region, he said, including shared concerns about spillover from the Syria conflict, and Ankara’s deepening rift with Iran.

Though Turkish-Israeli reconciliation was expected to be an agenda item during Obama’s conversations in Israel this week, Arbell said he was pleasantly surprised at the speed of the diplomatic breakthrough.

“The pace of this was surprising,” he said, adding that the parties would not have been able to overcome the diplomatic impasse wihout Washington’s mediation.

Following the call Friday, Obama traveled to Amman, Jordan for the final leg of his Middle East trip. In Jordan, he will meet with King Abdullah and then travel to the ancient city of Petra.

Roundup: Obama to dine with Miss Israel; Iran's man in Iraq

Iran, world powers agree to new nuclear talks in Istanbul, Almaty

Almaty, Kazakhstan__ Negotiators from Iran and six world powers announced they would hold two more meetings over the next month to discuss a new international proposal aimed at curbing Iran's 20% enrichment and nuclear breakout capacity, in exchange for some sanctions relief. The announcement came at the conclusion of two days of talks here that have seemingly turned out to be among the most positive of the past year, though both sides say they still have some work to do to narrow differences.

The parties agreed to hold an experts meeting in Istanbul on March 18, followed by a political directors meeting, again in Almaty, Kazakhstan on April 5-6, negotiators from the P5+1 and Iran announced in a joint statement at the conclusion of talks Wednesday.

Iran's chief negotiator Saeed Jalili described the Almaty meeting as “positive,” while his American and European counterparts characterized it, more cautiously, as “useful,” stressing the imperative is results, not atmospherics.

“I would say it was a useful meeting,” a senior US official told journalists Wednesday. “The day we have concrete results, I will use a different adjective.”

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, speaking at the conclusion of talks Wednesday, said she welcomed if the Iranian side “are looking positively at proposals we put forward.” But, she added, “I believe in looking at what the results are.”

The centerpiece of the two-day meeting was a presentation Tuesday by Ashton of a revised international proposal focused on curbing Iran's 20% enrichment, suspending operations at the fortified Fordow enrichment facility, and increasing nuclear safeguards, transparency and IAEA inspections that would prevent a rapid Iranian breakout capability, the US diplomat said.

The updated offer somewhat eases demands to entirely “stop, shut and ship” its 20% stockpile made in a proposal put forward in Baghdad last May.

Unlike the past proposal, the updated one would allow Iran to keep a sufficient amount of its 20% enriched fuel to fuel a research reactor that produces isotopes to treat Iranian cancer patients, the US diplomat said.

The revised proposal also calls for “suspension of enrichment” at Fordo–rather than shuttering the fortified facility, built into a mountain in Qom– and would “constrain the ability to quickly resume operations there,” the American official said. It also calls for enhanced IAEA monitoring measures “to promote greater transparency…and provide early warning” of any attempted breakout effort, the official said.

In exchange, the proposal offers an easing of some sanctions. The US official said the proposed sanctions relief at this stage does not involve oil or financial sanctions, but other US and European Union imposed sanctions, which the official declined to specify. It would also offer to not impose new UN Security Council or European Union proliferation sanctions, as the previous offer also had. “We never regarded sanctions as an end in themselves,” the American official said.
%%anc%%

The US official declined to say whether the updated proposal asks Iran to halt installation of more advanced centrifuges at its Natanz enrichment facility, that could considerably speed up Iran's enrichment capacity.

Jalili offered rare praise for the international proposal, acknowledging it demonstrated a clear effort to respond to Iranian concerns. “We believe this is a…turning point,” he said through at a translator at a press conference Wednesday. The six parties “have moved closer to our proposal.”

Continue reading