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Ankara snubs US warning on Hamas as Greek-Turkey tensions escalate


Turkey flatly dismissed a US State Department objection to a recent Istanbul meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and two leaders of the militant group Hamas, whom the State Department has designated as “global terrorists”. The move will further strain relations in NATO and ratchet-up the already “fever pitch” tensions in the Aegean.

Instead, the Turkish Foreign Ministry called on the United States to use its regional influence for a “balanced policy” that will help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict instead of “serving Israel’s interests”.

The United States strongly objected to Erdogan’s hosting of the two Hamas leaders on August 22, according to a statement issued by the State Department on August 25. The Turkish snub followed the same day.

“Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization by the US and EU and both officials hosted by President Erdogan are Specially Designated Global Terrorists. The U.S. Rewards for Justice Program is seeking information about one of the individuals for his involvement in multiple terrorist attacks, hijackings, and kidnappings,” the State Department’s statement said, before adding, “President Erdogan’s continued outreach to this terrorist organization only serves to isolate Turkey from the international community, harms the interests of the Palestinian people, and undercuts global efforts to prevent terrorist attacks launched from Gaza. We continue to raise our concerns about the Turkish government’s relationship with Hamas at the highest levels. This is the second time President Erdogan has welcomed Hamas’ leadership to Turkey this year, with the first meeting occurring February 1.”

Dismissing the statement, Turkey’s foreign ministry said that it considers the US “Declaring the legitimate representative of Hamas, who came to power after winning democratic elections in Gaza and is an important reality of the region, as a terrorist will not be of any contribution to efforts for peace and stability in the region.”

This is more of Ankara’s posturing, as it is vying to be seen as the protector of Palestinian interests after the UAE and Israel reached a landmark agreement early this month to establish diplomatic relations, a senior Western analyst told New Europe.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) with one of Hamas’ senior leaders, Ismail Haniyeh (L), during an earlier meeting in Ankara. EPA-EFE/YASIN BULBUL

The latest war of words between Washington and Ankara comes amid a conflict that appears to be waiting to happen in the Eastern Mediterranean and amid fresh negotiations between Ankara and Moscow over the purchases of a second battery of the Russian-made S-400 anti-aircraft missile system.

Ankara has already bought an S-400 battery for $2.5 billion in 2017 and installed it in 2019. The decision was a major snub of Turkey’s NATO allies who said the Russian hardware was incompatible with NATO anti-aircraft systems and its integration into Turkey air defense would enable Russian experts to study how to counter NATO gear and electronics. This prompted the US to threaten sanctions against Turkey and remove it from its F-35 Lightning II jet program in July.

To further deepen the rift, the Kremlin and Erdogan’s government signed a contract for a second delivery of S-400s to Turkey, Russia’s state arms exporter Rosoboronexport said on August 23.

The S-400 missile system is considered the most advanced of its kind in Russia, capable of destroying targets at a distance of up to 400 kilometers and a height of up to 30 kilometers.

Turkey is the first member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to purchase an air defense missile system from Russia. Ankara’s stubbornness and its blatant ignoring of NATO’s rules and guidelines are seen as a serious affront by most members. This will help many NATO members make up their minds to jump to Greece’s aid should the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean evolve into a full-fledged confrontation.

The German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, who just visited Athens and Ankara in a shuttle diplomacy move that was aimed at defusing the tensions and to bring the two sides to the negotiating table, warned on August 25 that “The current situation in the Eastern Mediterranean is … playing with fire, and any spark – however small – could lead to a disaster,” Maas said after meeting with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias.

Though Greece and Turkey are two NATO allies, they are historically bitter rivals with a mutual animosity that dates back centuries. The two are pitted against one another over energy resources, both claiming exploration and exploitation rights in the Mediterranean and both have launched rival navy drills in close proximity of each other. Their militaries are on high alert and both countries have deployed warships to shadow each other.

Members of Israel’s IDF watch as a Greek F-16 jet takes off at the Ovda airbase in the Negev Desert, near Eilat, in southern Israel, EPA-EFE//ABIR SULTAN

The dispute has in drawn in the European Union, with Maas saying that Germany, and the whole of the EU, will stand by Greece “in firm solidarity”.

Cyprus’ Defense Ministry said warplanes and navy ships from France, Italy, Greece, and Cyprus would be holding air and sea military exercises in the Eastern Mediterranean starting on August 26. France and Greece will deploy both aircraft and warships as part of the drills, while Cyprus will activate its air defense system to test its capabilities.

Ankara seems to be overstretching its capabilities and is hell-bent on making fresh enemies by the day, a senior analyst told New Europe. The Turks are now involved militarily against the Kurds in Syria and Iraq and are providing active combat support to anti-Syrian government forces in Idlib. Erdogan also has his military involved in ongoing operations in Libya and now the Mediterranean, and is now stepping on everybody’s toes in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, parts of North Africa, and even as far as Afghanistan.

All of this suits Moscow just fine, for the moment, the analyst warned. It will continue to be that way until the time and price are right for the Kremlin to play a constructive role. At that moment Ankara finds itself alone and overstretched.



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Greece-Egypt EEZ deal doesn’t sit easy with Turkey



Greece and Egypt signed a maritime border deal on August 6 with Turkey saying the deal falls in its continental shelf.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry reportedly said the agreement allows his country and Greece to move forward in developing promising natural resources, including oil and gas reserves in their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ).

“First, this is a positive development,” Charles Ellinas, a senior fellow at the Global Energy Center at the Atlantic Council, told New Europe on August 7. “The agreement is based on UNCLOS, recognising the right of islands, as it should. But it needs to evolve further to cover the eastern part of the two EEZs, delineation of which is affected by Cyprus and Kastellorizo. But it is an excellent start, reinforcing internationally accepted maritime principles,” Ellinas added.

But he argued that neither Greece nor Egypt will rush into drilling. He noted that both countries will need to complete EEZ delineation first – including Cyprus – and then divide their respective EEZs into exploration blocks. That would eventually enable the two countries to proceed with licensing rounds. Its only then that exploration and drilling can start, Ellinas said.

Greece hopes that the agreement between Athens and Cairo will effectively nullify an accord between Turkey and the internationally recognised government of Libya. Last year, Turkey and Libya agreed to maritime boundaries in a deal Cairo and Athens decried as illegal and a violation of international law. Greece maintains it infringed on its continental shelf and specifically that off the island of Crete.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said the deal between Greece and Egypt falls in the area of Turkey’s continental shelf and violated Libya’s maritime rights.

Constantinos Filis, director of research at Institute of International Relations, told New Europe on August 7 Turkey and Greece were close in revitalising the exploratory talks on the demarkation of maritime zones. “Under the new circumstances, Ankara will freeze them, without providing a timeline. This entails that we should expect more tensions but I don’t think that we will reach a point of no return or that a ‘hot’ incident will emerge,” Filis said. Still, it seems possible that both the Turkish government and the government of Tripoli, which unfortunately acts as a puppet of the former, will rush to issue licenses to (Turkish state oil company) TPAO for blocks near Rhodes, Karpathos and Kassos as well as south of Crete. Then, Ankara might ask Athens to enter in the exploratory talks, in order to prevent seismic surveys in the aforementioned places,” he added.

Filis argued that the dire condition of the Turkish economy makes rapprochement with the European Union imperative. He noted that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, despite his rhetoric, has to improve ties with the Europeans, if he wants to restore credibility and attract foreign capital. “So, under the current circumstances, he should have no desire to enter into ‘adventures’ with Greece and the EU,” Filis said.

Tensions between Athens and Ankara flared up recently after Turkey said it would send a seismic research vessel into an area south of the Turkish coastal city of Antalya and the Greek island of Kastellorizo.

Ellinas reminded that Ankara since said it will hold off on the survey as both countries planned to revitalise talks. “Following Germany’s intervention, last week Turkey ‘paused’ activities to carry out offshore surveys near the Greek islands, south of Kastellorizo, in order to enable dialogue with Greece to address the disputes between the two countries,” he said, adding that it is not now clear how Turkey intends to proceed. Reportedly, not only it denounced the EEZ delineation agreement between Egypt and Greece, but it also terminated preparatory discussions with Greece. “This could be an over-reaction, but it is perhaps in line with Turkey’s approach to these issues – to enforce its views through intimidation and aggression,” Ellinas said, adding, “The only sensible way forward is dialogue. Let’s hope that this will eventually prevail”.

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At IEA Summit, UN chief urges countries to scrap coal, boost clean energy transition



United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged countries on July 9 to invest in reliable, clean and economically smart renewable energy.

“I am encouraged that some COVID response and recovery plans put the transition from fossil fuels at their core,” he said at the first-ever International Energy Agency (IEA) Clean Energy Transitions Summit.

At a virtual meeting chaired by IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol, ministers representing over 80% of the global economy discussed how to achieve a definitive peak in global carbon dioxide emissions and put the world on course for a sustainable and resilient recovery.

EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson participated as well as ministers from the world’s largest energy users, including, China, United States, India, Japan, United Kingdom, Brazil, Canada, Italy, South Africa, Mexico, Indonesia and Spain.

Speakers highlighted that the IEA Summit comes at a pivotal moment when the world faces urgent and shared challenges to build back economies, create jobs and accelerate clean energy transitions, the IEA said in a press release.

Guterres noted that the EU and the Republic of Korea have committed to green recovery plans. Nigeria has reformed its fossil fuel subsidy framework. Canada has placed climate disclosure conditions on its bail-out support.

“And a growing number of coalitions of investors and real economy stakeholders are advocating for a recovery aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement. But many have still not got the message. Some countries have used stimulus plans to prop up oil and gas companies that were already struggling financially. Others have chosen to jumpstart coal-fired power plants that don’t make financial or environmental sense,” Guterres said, citing new research on G20 recovery packages released this week, which shows that twice as much recovery money — taxpayers’ money – has been spent on fossil fuels as clean energy.

“Today I would like to urge all leaders to choose the clean energy route for three vital reasons — health, science and economics,” the UN Secretary General said.

He warned that worldwide, outdoor air pollution is causing close to 9 million early deaths every year and shortening human lifespans by an average of three years.

Moreover, he noted that all around the world, every month, there is new evidence of the increasing toll of climate disruption. “We must limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius to avert more and worse disasters. This means net-zero emissions by 2050, and 45 percent cuts by 2030 from 2010 levels. This is still achievable,” Guterres said.

He stressed that clean energy makes economic sense. “Per kilowatt hour, solar energy is now cheaper than coal in most countries. If we had any doubt about the direction the wind is blowing, the real economy is showing us. The business case for renewable energy is now better than coal in virtually every market. Fossil fuels are increasingly risky business with fewer takers,” he said.

The IEA Executive Director issued a first call in March to put clean energy at the heart of the Covid-19 recovery. This early marker was followed by a comprehensive series of ‘damage assessments’ for how the crisis is impacting all fuels and all technologies; actionable recommendations for economic recovery plans; and the full utilisation of the IEA’s ever-growing convening power, the EIA said.

The World Energy Investment report in May warned of a 20% plunge in global energy investment in 2020, with worrying implications for clean energy transitions and security.

The IEA’s Sustainable Recovery Plan sets out 30 actionable, ambitious policy recommendations and targeted investments. The Plan, developed in cooperation with the International Monetary Fund, would boost global economic growth by 1.1% per year, save or create 9 million jobs per year, and avoid a rebound in emissions and put them in structural decline. Achieving these results would require global investment of USD 1 trillion annually over the next three years.

According to the IEA’s Sustainable Recovery Plan, 35% of new jobs could be created through energy efficiency measures and another 25% in power systems, particularly in wind, solar and modernising and strengthening electricity grids. Participants at the IEA summit underlined the particular importance of energy efficiency, and expressed appreciation for the work of the Global Commission for Urgent Action on Energy Efficiency.

In the Summit’s High-Level Panel on Accelerating Clean Energy Technology Innovation, co-chaired by Norway’s Minister of Petroleum Tina Bru and Chile’s Energy Minister Juan Carlos Jobbed participants commended the new Energy Technology Perspectives Special Report on Clean Energy Innovation, which shows the vital importance of innovation for meeting shared energy and climate goals, the IEA said. Participants drew upon the IEA’s five key innovation principles and discussed how to scale up critical emerging technologies like batteries; hydrogen; carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS); and bioenergy.

In the High-Level Panel on an Inclusive and Equitable Recovery, co-chaired by Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan of and Morocco’s Energy, Mining, and Sustainable Development Minister Aziz Rabbah, participants discussed the need to put people at the centre of recovery plans, including the most vulnerable, in order to fully harness diverse talents, backgrounds and perspectives. According to the IEA, they underscored the need to protect workers in the short term and to develop skills necessary for the sustainable, resilient energy systems of the future. Participants reinforced the importance of having a clear understanding for how to advance inclusive growth and to track progress, and held up the Equal by 30 campaign to advance gender equality as a valuable model.

Also, in the the High-Level Panel on a Resilient and Sustainable Electricity Sector co-chaired by Commissioner Simson and Thailand’s Energy Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong, participants recognised how indispensable electricity has been for citizens across the world during the crisis. A number of participants emphasised the transition towards a climate-neutral economy, the IEA said, adding that they noted the crucial role of electricity in clean energy transitions, participants underscored the historic opportunity to modernise and improve the sustainability, reliability and security of electricity systems with a diverse generation mix and higher flexibility to integrate larger shares of variable renewables.



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Ankara dismisses Egypt’s warning of Libya intervention



Ankara will no stop supporting its Libyan allies despite Egypt’s warnings that it could proceed with a “direct” intervention if forces loyal to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) march towards the strategic city of Sirte, Reuters reported on Tuesday, citing a senior Turkish official.

On Saturday, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi also ordered the country’s army to be ready to carry out missions inside or outside of the country to protect its national security amid tensions over Turkey’s intervention in Libya.

Later in the day, GNA denounced el-Sisi’s threat of military intervention, labelling it as a “declaration of war.”

“This is a hostile act, direct interference and amounts to a declaration of war,” the Tripoli-based GNA, led by Fayez al-Sarraj said in a statement.

“Sisi’s statements have no basis,” the Turkish official told Reuters on condition of anonymity, adding that “Turkey and Libya will not turn back from their determination.” He added that GNA with Turkish support is continuing preparations to recapture Sirte and the Jufra region further south.

Libya has been torn by conflict since 2011, when the NATO-backed uprising overthrown the longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

In the war-torn country, the internationally-recognised GNA is clashing with the forces of Libya’s National Army (LNA) under the command of General Khalifa Haftar.

On June 6, el-Sisi proposed the “Cairo Declaration and Cairo Initiative” and called for a number of measures, including a ceasefire on June 8, elections for a presidential council by the Libyan people under the auspices of the UN, the departure of all mercenaries from Libya, and the resumption of the 5+5 military talks.

 



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Netanyahu, Gantz sign coalition deal to form emergency government



Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz have announced that they have forged a deal to form an emergency coalition government, aimed to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. The announcement comes after months of political paralysis in the country.

“I promised the state of Israel a national emergency government that will work to save the lives and livelihoods of the citizens of Israel,” Netanyahu tweeted.

Under the three-year deal, both leaders will switch positions, with Netanyahu serving as prime minister for the first half, and Gantz taking the job for the second half. Gantz’s Blue and White party will take control of a number of senior government ministries, including foreign affairs and defence, while Netanyahu’s Likud party will gain influence over judicial appointments.

“We have prevented a fourth election. We will protect democracy. We will fight coronavirus and care for all Israel’s citizens”, Gantz said.

The deal comes after Gantz and Netanyahu missed the deadline to form a government, and president Reuven Rivlin asked the parliament to choose a new prime minister, giving it three weeks to agree upon a leader or push the country into a fourth election in about a year.

According to the deal, no laws are to be introduced that have nothing to do with the coronavirus. However, Netanyahu will be allowed to annex Jewish settlements and other land in the occupied West Bank. The settlements are widely considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

Palestinians condemned the formation of an “Israeli “annexation” government, saying the agreement would wreck hopes of peace.



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Ukraine to boost renewables, energy efficiency with EU help



Ukraine can focus in developing the country’s renewable energy sector and improve the much-delayed energy efficiency now that the former Soviet republic has concluded the gas transit agreement with Russia, the European Union’s energy chief said on 12 January.

“Meeting with Ukraine’s Minister of Energy Oleksiy Orzhel: after the conclusion of the gas transit agreement, Ukraine can focus on the future of energy and the development of renewable and energy efficiency” European Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson wrote in a tweet, adding that the EU would support Ukraine’s efforts. Simson also said that the Commissioner is looking forward to the next high-level dialogue between the EU and Ukraine.

The former Soviet republic that is reliant on fossil fuels is planning to reduce CO2 emissions by developing a green energy transition and increasing energy efficiency, especially in industry and buildings.

Simson met Orzhel on the sidelines of the 10th session of the International renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) General Assembly in Abu Dhabi at the United Arab Emirates. She also held a meeting with UAE Climate Change and Environment Minister Thani Bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi on the EU Green Deal and the way to reach climate neutrality. “I am happy to see their active engagement and readiness to continue cooperation,” she said.



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Turkey, Libya delimitation deal raises geopolitical tensions



Turkey has signed an agreement with Libya’s internationally recognised government on maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean Sea that could affect oil and gas exploration of other countries and heighten geopolitical tensions in the volatile region.

Ankara reportedly announced the accord and a deal on expanded security and military cooperation on 28 November.

Cyprus Natural Hydrocarbons Company CEO Charles Ellinas told New Europe on 29 November that the immediate impact of the Libya-Turkey agreement is on the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of Greece and Egypt.

Both Greece and Egypt, but also Cyprus, have already strongly condemned this as not being in agreement with international law, blatantly ignoring the rights of islands. Cairo dismissed the deal between Ankara and Tripoli as “illegal” and Athens said the accord is “completely unacceptable” because it ignored the presence of the Greek island of Crete between the coasts of Turkey and Libya and summoned Turkish Ambassador Burak Ozugergin to the Greek Foreign Ministry, Greece’s Kathimerini newspaper reported.

Cyprus’ Foreign Ministry on 29 November also condemned the deal. “Such a delimitation, if done, would constitute a serious violation of international law,” an announcement said, CyprusMail reported. “It would be contrary to the recognised principle of the convention on the law of the sea and the rights of islands’ EEZ,” it added. “With the distortion of the law of the sea and the counterfeiting of geography – Turkey will gain no footing in the Eastern Mediterranean,” it concluded.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu claimed that with the memorandum of understanding on the “delimitation of maritime jurisdictions Turkey is protecting “rights deriving from international law.” Reuters quoted him as saying that such accords could be agreed with other countries if differences could be overcome and that Ankara was in favour of “fair sharing” of resources, including off Cyprus.

Constantinos Filis, director of research at Institute of International Relations, told New Europe on 29 November Turkey’s illegal acts do not have legal repercussions. “Ankara’s attempt to agree with an unstable regime, which represents only part of Libya and therefore any deal it signs is uncertain, is a result of its isolation particularly from energy developments. Given that Turkey cannot agree with any other regional actor not only in the delimitation of the continental shelve or EEZ but also on how to stabilize the region and make it prosperous, it is left with no option but to approach a semi-rogue regime in order to showcase its regional power,” he said, adding that the message it wants to send is that any agreement or plan, including energy projects, cannot be fulfilled without Ankara’s consent.

Ellinas said the Libya-Turkey agreement indirectly affects Cyprus as well, as Turkey uses the same justification to delineate its ‘EEZ’ in the Mediterranean. “In effect, this ignores the entitlement of islands, including Cyprus and Crete, to an EEZ. Turkey defines its ‘EEZ’ to be coextensive with its continental shelf, based the relative lengths of adjacent coastlines, which completely disadvantages islands. It is a ‘unique’ interpretation not shared by any other country and not in accordance to the United Nations UNCLOS treaty, ratified by 167 countries but not Turkey,” Ellinas said.

He argued that Ankara appears to be picking and choosing, as it has used UNLOS principles to delineate its ‘EEZ’ in the Black Sea but does not accept them in the Mediterranean. “That may be challengeable under customary international law,” the Cyprus Natural Hydrocarbons Company CEO said.

“In all likelihood Turkey is doing this, as well as through its aggressive actions in carrying out exploration and drilling in Cyprus’ EEZ, in order to establish a position of strength from which eventually to enter into negotiations. But also as a reaction to the growing cooperation among almost all the other countries bordering the East Med. Turkey’s claims have no internationally recognised legal basis,” Ellinas said.

According to Filis, it is not clear whether there is an agreement – rather, it seems to be a preliminary step of expressing their intention to sign an agreement in the future. “But the most dangerous repercussion might be Turkey’s attempt to use it as a basis for projecting its supposed sovereign right to proceed with seismic activities in the area between Rhodes and Crete, especially in the southeastern part of the matter, thus confirming its strategic interest for the triangle between Crete, Kastellorizo and Cyprus,” he said.

Asked what could be the US and EU reaction to this agreement and how does it affect geopolitics in the region, Ellinas said both Washington and Brussels, and all other neighbouring countries in the East Med, recognise Cyprus’ and other countries’ rights to their EEZs declared in accordance to UNCLOS. He explained that as UNCLOS is not legally enforceable against a state that declines to sign and ratify it, the way to resolve this may eventually be through negotiations or arbitration on the basis of internationally recognised law and not through aggressive actions as Turkey is now pursuing.



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