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Turkey’s Erdogan said to welcome embassies’ statements amid Kavala row

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October 25, 2021

By Tuvan Gumrukcu

ANKARA (Reuters) -Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan “welcomed” statements on Monday by several Western embassies including the United States that they abide by a diplomatic convention not to interfere in a host country’s internal affairs, state-run media said.

The statements were made almost simultaneously on Twitter as Erdogan entered a cabinet meeting to discuss expelling ambassadors from 10 embassies, a move that would open Turkey’s deepest diplomatic rift with the West in his 19 years in power.

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“The United States notes that it maintains compliance with Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” the U.S. Embassy said on Twitter.

Canada, Netherlands and New Zealand each sent a similar message, while Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland re-tweeted the U.S. message. There was no apparent statement from the German or French embassies on Twitter.

State-run Anadolu news agency, citing sources in the presidency, reported that Erdogan had “welcomed” the statements. Anadolu and state broadcaster TRT described the statements as “a step back” by the embassies.

In response, the Turkish lira rallied after hitting an all-time low of 9.85 to the U.S. dollar, and was at 9.61 at 1343 GMT. It has lost almost a quarter of its value this year.

Erdogan said at the weekend he had ordered the envoys to be declared “persona non grata” for seeking the release of Osman Kavala, a philanthropist detained for four years on charges of financing protests and involvement in an attempted coup.

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The order had not yet been implemented by the Foreign Ministry but could be formally approved at Monday’s cabinet meeting.

The 10 ambassadors represent NATO allies, trade partners and members of the European Union, which Turkey aspires to join despite widening differences with the bloc in recent years.

KAVALA CASE

The diplomatic tension has added to investor concerns about Turkey’s economy after the central bank, under pressure from Erdogan to support growth, unexpectedly slashed interest rates by 200 points last week despite inflation rising to nearly 20%.

“The whole situation is a serious matter but we understand that the concerned countries have not yet been notified about any action,” said a spokesperson for the European Commission, the EU executive.

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The 10 envoys were summoned by the foreign ministry last week after calling for a just and speedy resolution to Kavala’s case, and for his “urgent release”.

Parliament speaker Mustafa Sentop said earlier on Monday that Turkey’s constitution banned discussion of ongoing court cases, including by Turkish politicians in parliament, and that the envoys’ statement marked a “clear and disrespectful” interference.

“Those who are evaluating the stance our president has put forth on this issue as an unprecedented one must see…that the impudence shown by the ambassadors is also unprecedented,” he said in the northwestern province of Tekirdag.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry said it had not received any notification from Erdogan that its envoy would be expelled, and that it had been in contact with France and the United States over the weekend.

Kavala, a businessman and contributor to civil society groups, is charged with financing nationwide protests in 2013 and involvement in a failed coup in 2016. He has been held in detention while his trial continues, and denies the charges.

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Rights groups say his case is emblematic of a crackdown on dissent under Erdogan, and Kavala said on Friday he would no longer attend his trial, as a fair hearing was impossible after recent comments by the president.

The European Court of Human Rights called for Kavala’s release two years ago, saying there was no reasonable suspicion he had committed an offence and finding his detention had been intended to silence him.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul and Sabine Siebold; Writing by Dominic Evans, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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Iran plays hardball as nuclear talks with world powers resume

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November 29, 2021

By Francois Murphy, Parisa Hafezi and John Irish

VIENNA (Reuters) -Iran and world powers resumed talks on Monday after a five-month hiatus to try to salvage their 2015 nuclear deal but with Tehran sticking to its tough stance and Western powers warning that will not work, hopes of a breakthrough appeared slim.

Diplomats say time is running out to resurrect the pact, which then-U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, angering Iran and dismaying the other powers involved – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.

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Six rounds of indirect talks were held between April and June. The new round formally began with a meeting of the remaining parties to the deal, without the United States, shortly after 1400 GMT.

The meeting in Vienna ended an extended break triggered by the election of hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi in June as Iran’s president. The talks are effectively indirect negotiations between Tehran and Washington since Iran refuses to meet face to face with U.S. envoys. Other officials shuttle between them.

Tehran’s negotiating team has set out demands that U.S. and European diplomats consider unrealistic, Western diplomats say.

“Our demands are clear. Other parties and especially Americans should decide whether they want this deal to be revived or not. They abandoned the pact, so they should return to it and lift all sanctions,” an Iranian official close to the talks told Reuters.

Iran has adopted an uncompromising position by demanding removal of all U.S. and European Union sanctions imposed since 2017, including those unrelated to its nuclear programme, in a verifiable process.

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“The United States still fails to properly understand the fact that there is no way to return to the deal without a verifiable and effective lifting of all sanctions,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said in a statement shortly after the talks resumed.

“The return of the U.S. to the nuclear deal would be meaningless without guarantees to prevent the recurrence of the bitter experience of the past,” he said. “This opportunity is not a window that can remain open forever.”

TENSIONS

In parallel, Tehran’s conflicts with the U.N. atomic watchdog, which monitors its nuclear programme, have festered.

As Iran has advanced its uranium enrichment, the International Atomic Energy Agency says its inspectors have been treated roughly and refused access to reinstall monitoring cameras at a site it deems essential to reviving the deal.

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“If Iran thinks it can use this time to build more leverage and then come back and say they want something better, it simply won’t work. We and our partners won’t go for it,” U.S. envoy Robert Malley told BBC Sounds on Saturday.

Since Trump took the United States out of the deal, Iran has breached many of its restrictions meant to lengthen the time it would need to generate enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb https://www.reuters.com/news/picture/explainer-what-remains-of-the-iran-nucle-idUSKBN2ID0E4. Iran says it wants to enrich uranium only for civil uses.

Malley warned that Washington would be ready to ramp up pressure on Tehran if the talks collapse.

Diplomats have said Washington has suggested negotiating an open-ended interim accord with Tehran as long as a permanent deal is not achieved. Several Iranian officials told Reuters Iran had no intention of accepting an interim deal.

Iran’s arch-enemy Israel, which opposed the original deal as too limited in scope and duration, has said military options will be on the table if diplomacy fails.

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“They (Iranians) will play for time, earn billions from the removal of sanctions, continue to deceive the world, and covertly advance their nuclear programme,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told reporters in London https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israels-lapid-urges-world-keep-up-pressure-iran-2021-11-29.

“The intelligence is clear. It leaves no doubt.”

(Writing by John Irish and Parisa Hafezi Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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U.N. chief concerned about southern Africa isolation over Omicron

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November 29, 2021

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday he was deeply concerned about the isolation of southern African countries after COVID-19 travel restrictions were imposed by several countries over the new Omicron variant of coronavirus.

“I appeal to all governments to consider repeated testing for travelers, together with other appropriate and truly effective measures, with the objective of avoiding the risk of transmission so as to allow for travel and economic engagement,” Guterres said in a statement.

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The Omicron variant of coronavirus carries a very high global risk of surges https://www.reuters.com/world/spread-omicron-variant-forces-nations-rethink-plans-global-travel-2021-11-29, the World Health Organization warned on Monday, as more countries reported cases.

Omicron was first identified in southern Africa and many countries, including the United States and Britain, have announced travel curbs and other restrictions on the region. Africa has some of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates worldwide due to a lack of access to doses.

Guterres has long warned about the dangers of vaccine inequality around the world and that low immunization rates are “a breeding ground for variants.”

“The people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of vaccinations available in Africa – and they should not be penalized for identifying and sharing crucial science and health information with the world,” he said.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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Belarus announces military drills with Russia near Ukraine border

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November 29, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarus on Monday announced joint military drills with close ally Russia on its southern border with Ukraine and accused the NATO military alliance of building up offensive capabilities near its borders.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials say Russia has built up forces near Ukraine, sparking fears of a looming attack. Moscow denies any such plan. Belarus is itself locked in a row with the European Union over migrants camped at its western border.

Casting it as a response to new military deployments in countries to the west and south of Belarus, Defence Minister Viktor Khrenin said Minsk would hold an exercise with Russia in the “medium term”. He gave no specific date.

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“We see troop formations around our state borders… We can only be concerned by the militarisation of our neighouring countries, which is why are forced to plan measures in response,” he said in comments on his ministry’s website.

NATO member Lithuania, which lies to the west of Belarus, said on Sunday the Atlantic alliance needed to adjust its stance towards Belarus, whose military, it said, was becoming more integrated with Russia’s armed forces.

On Monday, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said Minsk would not sit idly on the sidelines if the simmering conflict in eastern Ukraine erupted or a war broke out with the West at Russia’s borders.

“…it is clear whose side Belarus will be on,” he said in a clear nod to Russia, whose financial and political backing helped him weather huge protests against his rule that broke out last autumn.

“They understand this, that’s why they’ve begun strengthening their northern Belarus-Ukraine border,” Lukashenko was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

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The comments appeared to contrast with the more neutral stance taken by Lukashenko after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its backing for separatist forces in Ukraine’s east.

Minsk, like most of the world, still recognises Crimea as Ukrainian territory.

(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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