Germany: US Troops Welcome Here

Germany’s foreign minister said Friday he is glad the U.S. Congress appears to believe U.S. troops should stay in his country at current levels. At a news briefing Friday in Berlin, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas commented on the final version of the U.S. Defense Authorization Act released Thursday by Congress. That bill says U.S. troops stationed in Germany may not be withdrawn below current levels until 120 days after the secretary of defense submits a detailed analysis of the move to Congress. About 36,000 U.S. troops are in the country. FILE – German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas addresses the media during a statement at the foreign ministry in Berlin, Germany, June 3, 2020.In July, U.S. President Donald Trump called for a reduction of about 12,000 troops stationed in Germany. Trump told reporters at the time that Germany had not contributed its share to the NATO defense alliance.  The move shocked some U.S. military officials, who see the troops as a safeguard to U.S. interests in Europe. Maas told reporters that despite comments by the president and the Defense Department in July, Germany has “never been given any information about the troop reductions that were announced in July,” so he could not say for sure what the plans are or if they even exist. But, referring to the measure agreed upon in Congress this week, he said Germany is glad there appears to be bipartisan support among U.S. lawmakers for revisiting the decision. He said his government plans to discuss the situation with the incoming administration and make it clear that Germany stands by its promises and its American allies. He said, “American soldiers are welcome here. They contribute not just to Germany’s but also to Europe’s security.”
 

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UN Rights Chief Condemns Deteriorating Human Rights in Belarus

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet condemned gross violations of human rights in Belarus on Friday, calling on the government to put an end to the abusive treatment of its people.Bachelet told the U.N. Human Rights Council that conditions in Belarus have deteriorated since the council held an urgent debate on the human rights situation in September, following Belarus’ widely criticized presidential elections August 9.FILE – United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet adjusts her mask during the 45th session of the Human Rights Council, at the European U.N. headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Sept. 14, 2020.More than 27,000 people have been arrested, including senior citizens participating in peaceful marches, she said, adding that penalties imposed on protesters appear to be growing more severe, with over 900 people reportedly having been treated as suspects in criminal cases. Security forces have used tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets and stun guns to disperse crowds, Bachelet said, and at least four people have been killed. “We also have multiple and credible reports of people beaten by members of the security forces during and after their transport to police stations or detention centers,” she said. “If confirmed, such incidents should constitute ill-treatment and, in some cases, may amount to torture. Moreover, masked men, without insignia or identification, have frequently taken part in the dispersal of protests, alongside riot police.” Up to 2,000 complaints of torture of people while in custody were lodged by the end of October. Such actions heighten a climate of fear and an atmosphere of lawlessness and impunity, she said. “Many people who have been detained have reported being held in overcrowded cells, without adequate ventilation — despite the risks linked to the COVID-19 pandemic — denied food, water, access to the toilet and medical treatment,” Bachelet said. “They have further reported violent and random beatings as well as acts of humiliation, insults and threats.” FILE – Belarusian law enforcement officers block opposition supporters during their rally to reject the presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Nov. 1, 2020.The high commissioner is calling on the government to immediately release all those unlawfully detained, to respect the right of peaceful assembly, and to ensure independent and impartial investigations into cases of alleged torture and other human rights violations. Belarus Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva Yuri Ambrazevich accused the U.N. of distorting the situation. He said full-fledged wars have received less attention than is being directed at his country. The pressure being exerted on Belarus violates the U.N. Charter on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state, he said, blasting the European Union for imposing sanctions on Belarus, which he said clearly violated international law. 
 

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Will Erdogan Complaint About Anti-Turkish Conspiracy Become Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has complained about an international conspiracy forming against Turkey, and he says it’s attempting to frustrate his projection of Turkish power and influence abroad.Domestic and foreign critics counter that there isn’t yet a conspiracy, but if one does emerge, it largely will be due to his picking fights with his country’s neighbors, including the European Union and Turkey’s NATO allies. They are exasperated by his threats, whenever he is crossed, to throw open the doors for migrants to once again flock into Europe.Erdogan has in recent months frequently blamed invisible, malevolent foreign enemies for Turkey’s sharply deteriorating economy. For most of this year, foreign investors have shunned the country, and an already weak Turkish lira plunged last month to record lows in value against the dollar and euro. Western critics say Turkish economic woes are the result of his own mishandling of the economy.FILE PHOTO: A merchant counts Turkish lira banknotes at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey, March 29, 2019.Additionally, the Turkish leader and his aides have accused European nations of ganging up to sabotage his geopolitical ambitions, especially in the eastern Mediterranean, where Ankara is locked in an escalating maritime quarrel with Greece and Cyprus that risks getting out of hand over lucrative gas and oil drilling rights.The huge energy potential of the eastern Mediterranean has drawn other powers in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East into the destabilizing standoff. Western Europeans and Turkey’s other regional neighbors say maritime law is on the side of Athens and Cyprus, accusing Ankara of brinkmanship in a deadlock that’s seen opposing warships come close to clashing.“We see ourselves as an inseparable part of Europe,” Erdogan told members of his ruling Justice and Development Party [AKP] in a speech last month. “However, this does not mean that we will bow down to overt attacks to our country and nation, veiled injustices and double standards,” he added.Civilians flee from Idlib toward the north to find safety inside Syria near the border with Turkey, Feb. 15, 2020.In October, as European criticism mounted about Turkish adventurism, including a military intervention into northern Syria aimed at dislodging Syrian Kurds, Erdogan, retorted, “Hey EU, wake up. I say it again: If you try to frame our operation as an invasion, our task is simple — we will open the doors and send 3.6 million migrants to you.”Conspiracy theories have long been a feature of cultural and political life in Turkey, certainly since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. And during his 17-year-long rule, political critics have accused Erdogan of stoking the long-held Turkish fear of being surrounded by foreign powers and beset by shadowy outside forces eager to weaken the country and to prevent it from restoring Ottoman greatness.“In fueling the current disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean, the [Turkish] leadership is using a narrative revolving around themes such as conquest—referring to the 1453 Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, today’s Istanbul—battles and wars, a huge [and undefined] foreign conspiracy, and a return to glory,” Marc Pierini, an analyst at the research group Carnegie Europe, noted in a posted commentary.Erdogan’s frequent complaint about an anti-Turkish foreign conspiracy risks turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy, warn some analysts and Western diplomats.French President Emmanuel Macron greets Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a joint news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Jan. 5, 2018.From a diplomatic row with NATO ally France over the enforcement of an international arms embargo on Libya, to the deployment of special forces and Ankara-paid mercenaries to the strife-torn North Africa country, from military adventurism in northern Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh, to Turkey’s illegal drilling in Cypriot waters, the Turkish leader is amassing an impressive list of opponents.Ankara seems ever more willing to challenge allies and enemies alike in pursuit of a larger role on the world stage. If Western nations, and Turkey’s near neighbors, start coordinating containment strategies, it will be as a consequence of Erdogan’s aggressive aim to expand, through assertive diplomacy and military means, Turkish influence in the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Sea, say Western diplomats and analysts.There are increasing signs that Turkey’s NATO partners are tiring with Erdogan’s assertive geopolitical ambitions and irredentist claims against his neighbors. “The totality of Turkey’s policies and actions have now reached a point of dangerous escalation,” according to analysts Heather Conley and Rachel Ellehuus of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a research group in Washington.They noted in a commentary for CSIS that Erdogan’s actions “substantially challenge the coherence of NATO’s collective defense posture in the Mediterranean and weaken its political cohesion.”“To avoid this,” they say, Western allies “should approach the growing instability in the Mediterranean through an integrative policy that seeks to de-escalate tensions and define, with Ankara, common interests by identifying some agreed principles to guide regional behavior.” They add: “If Turkey is unwilling to join such an initiative, greater transatlantic tensions lie ahead.”NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, left, and Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speak to the media after their talks in Ankara, Turkey, Oct. 5, 2020.Turkey’s wrangling with allies and neighbors have increased since 2015, when Erdogan adopted as policy the so-called Blue Homeland Doctrine, originally drawn up by Turkish Admiral Cem Gurdeniz in 2006. The doctrine outlined an ambitious goal to expand Turkish influence with an aim to improve access to important energy and other economic resources. Its implementation has seen Erdogan resorting to ad hoc arrangements, reversing bilateral understandings, and backsliding on multilateral agreements and Turkish obligations to NATO—creating even greater regional instability, say critics.Despite his complaints about an anti-Turkey international conspiracy, some analysts say Erdogan has been helped by the absence of coordination between Western allies and by their circumspection.They say Western officials have held off imposing further sanctions on Turkey or enforcing sanctions that have already been announced. In July, EU foreign ministers asked the bloc’s diplomatic corps to draw up possible enforcement options for sanctions imposed on Turkey for its gas and oil drilling activities in Cypriot territorial waters and what they see as Ankara’s “gunboat diplomacy” in the eastern Mediterranean.A man reads walks past Cypriot newspaper with a front page carrying a photo montage about Turkey’s actions over Cyprus and international companies exploration for gas in the eastern Mediterranean in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Feb. 13, 2018.Likewise, the U.S. has held back. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said Turkey’s illegal drilling in Cypriot waters is “unacceptable,” but the Trump administration hasn’t followed up with concrete action and has not yet imposed sanctions for Turkey’s recent purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system, an acquisition seen as breaching Ankara’s NATO commitments.Western diplomats and analysts say there are increasing signs, though, that Turkey’s NATO partners are wary of Erdogan’s adventurism and go-it-alone strategy. Impatience is likely to build quickly next year when U.S. President-elect Joe Biden enters the White House.Erdogan clashed often with Donald Trump, but Washington backed off confronting Ankara and opted for backroom deal-making. The two leaders were at least united in antipathy toward the EU. But that won’t be the case next year, and Erdogan is likely to find himself dealing with a less forgiving U.S. leader, according to Western diplomats.FILE – Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak speaks during a conference to ease investor concerns about Turkey’s economic policy, in Istanbul, Turkey, Nov. 8, 2020.Since the U.S. election, Erdogan has shown signs he knows he will need to adjust. Hours after the U.S. election, Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, resigned as Turkey’s economy minister. Albayrak had a close friendship with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law.The Turkish president has also since the election vowed to launch a period of economic and legal reforms, saying he will prioritize legislation to strengthen democracy and improve human rights, an announcement widely seen as anticipating the changed circumstances in Washington. Biden has promised to host next year a global Summit for Democracy.

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Greek-UAE Defense Deal Corners Turkey

Turkey is voicing concern over a new military alliance between Greece and the United Arab Emirates, warning it threatens to change the balance of power in the region. Turkey and Greece are engaged in a bitter dispute over territorial waters, as Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul

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Western Frustration With Turkey Likely to Build Under Biden Administration

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has complained about an international conspiracy forming against Turkey, and he says it’s attempting to frustrate his projection of Turkish power and influence abroad.Domestic and foreign critics counter that there isn’t yet a conspiracy, but if one does emerge, it largely will be due to his picking fights with his country’s neighbors, including the European Union and Turkey’s NATO allies. They are exasperated by his threats, whenever he is crossed, to throw open the doors for migrants to once again flock into Europe.Erdogan has in recent months frequently blamed invisible, malevolent foreign enemies for Turkey’s sharply deteriorating economy. For most of this year, foreign investors have shunned the country, and an already weak Turkish lira plunged last month to record lows in value against the dollar and euro. Western critics say Turkish economic woes are the result of his own mishandling of the economy.FILE PHOTO: A merchant counts Turkish lira banknotes at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey, March 29, 2019.Additionally, the Turkish leader and his aides have accused European nations of ganging up to sabotage his geopolitical ambitions, especially in the eastern Mediterranean, where Ankara is locked in an escalating maritime quarrel with Greece and Cyprus that risks getting out of hand over lucrative gas and oil drilling rights.The huge energy potential of the eastern Mediterranean has drawn other powers in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East into the destabilizing standoff. Western Europeans and Turkey’s other regional neighbors say maritime law is on the side of Athens and Cyprus, accusing Ankara of brinkmanship in a deadlock that’s seen opposing warships come close to clashing.“We see ourselves as an inseparable part of Europe,” Erdogan told members of his ruling Justice and Development Party [AKP] in a speech last month. “However, this does not mean that we will bow down to overt attacks to our country and nation, veiled injustices and double standards,” he added.Civilians flee from Idlib toward the north to find safety inside Syria near the border with Turkey, Feb. 15, 2020.In October, as European criticism mounted about Turkish adventurism, including a military intervention into northern Syria aimed at dislodging Syrian Kurds, Erdogan, retorted, “Hey EU, wake up. I say it again: If you try to frame our operation as an invasion, our task is simple — we will open the doors and send 3.6 million migrants to you.”Conspiracy theories have long been a feature of cultural and political life in Turkey, certainly since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. And during his 17-year-long rule, political critics have accused Erdogan of stoking the long-held Turkish fear of being surrounded by foreign powers and beset by shadowy outside forces eager to weaken the country and to prevent it from restoring Ottoman greatness.“In fueling the current disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean, the [Turkish] leadership is using a narrative revolving around themes such as conquest—referring to the 1453 Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, today’s Istanbul—battles and wars, a huge [and undefined] foreign conspiracy, and a return to glory,” Marc Pierini, an analyst at the research group Carnegie Europe, noted in a posted commentary.Erdogan’s frequent complaint about an anti-Turkish foreign conspiracy risks turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy, warn some analysts and Western diplomats.French President Emmanuel Macron greets Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a joint news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Jan. 5, 2018.From a diplomatic row with NATO ally France over the enforcement of an international arms embargo on Libya, to the deployment of special forces and Ankara-paid mercenaries to the strife-torn North Africa country, from military adventurism in northern Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh, to Turkey’s illegal drilling in Cypriot waters, the Turkish leader is amassing an impressive list of opponents.Ankara seems ever more willing to challenge allies and enemies alike in pursuit of a larger role on the world stage. If Western nations, and Turkey’s near neighbors, start coordinating containment strategies, it will be as a consequence of Erdogan’s aggressive aim to expand, through assertive diplomacy and military means, Turkish influence in the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Sea, say Western diplomats and analysts.There are increasing signs that Turkey’s NATO partners are tiring with Erdogan’s assertive geopolitical ambitions and irredentist claims against his neighbors. “The totality of Turkey’s policies and actions have now reached a point of dangerous escalation,” according to analysts Heather Conley and Rachel Ellehuus of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a research group in Washington.They noted in a commentary for CSIS that Erdogan’s actions “substantially challenge the coherence of NATO’s collective defense posture in the Mediterranean and weaken its political cohesion.”“To avoid this,” they say, Western allies “should approach the growing instability in the Mediterranean through an integrative policy that seeks to de-escalate tensions and define, with Ankara, common interests by identifying some agreed principles to guide regional behavior.” They add: “If Turkey is unwilling to join such an initiative, greater transatlantic tensions lie ahead.”NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, left, and Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speak to the media after their talks in Ankara, Turkey, Oct. 5, 2020.Turkey’s wrangling with allies and neighbors have increased since 2015, when Erdogan adopted as policy the so-called Blue Homeland Doctrine, originally drawn up by Turkish Admiral Cem Gurdeniz in 2006. The doctrine outlined an ambitious goal to expand Turkish influence with an aim to improve access to important energy and other economic resources. Its implementation has seen Erdogan resorting to ad hoc arrangements, reversing bilateral understandings, and backsliding on multilateral agreements and Turkish obligations to NATO—creating even greater regional instability, say critics.Despite his complaints about an anti-Turkey international conspiracy, some analysts say Erdogan has been helped by the absence of coordination between Western allies and by their circumspection.They say Western officials have held off imposing further sanctions on Turkey or enforcing sanctions that have already been announced. In July, EU foreign ministers asked the bloc’s diplomatic corps to draw up possible enforcement options for sanctions imposed on Turkey for its gas and oil drilling activities in Cypriot territorial waters and what they see as Ankara’s “gunboat diplomacy” in the eastern Mediterranean.A man reads walks past Cypriot newspaper with a front page carrying a photo montage about Turkey’s actions over Cyprus and international companies exploration for gas in the eastern Mediterranean in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Feb. 13, 2018.Likewise, the U.S. has held back. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said Turkey’s illegal drilling in Cypriot waters is “unacceptable,” but the Trump administration hasn’t followed up with concrete action and has not yet imposed sanctions for Turkey’s recent purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system, an acquisition seen as breaching Ankara’s NATO commitments.Western diplomats and analysts say there are increasing signs, though, that Turkey’s NATO partners are wary of Erdogan’s adventurism and go-it-alone strategy. Impatience is likely to build quickly next year when U.S. President-elect Joe Biden enters the White House.Erdogan clashed often with Donald Trump, but Washington backed off confronting Ankara and opted for backroom deal-making. The two leaders were at least united in antipathy toward the EU. But that won’t be the case next year, and Erdogan is likely to find himself dealing with a less forgiving U.S. leader, according to Western diplomats.FILE – Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak speaks during a conference to ease investor concerns about Turkey’s economic policy, in Istanbul, Turkey, Nov. 8, 2020.Since the U.S. election, Erdogan has shown signs he knows he will need to adjust. Hours after the U.S. election, Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, resigned as Turkey’s economy minister. Albayrak had a close friendship with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law.The Turkish president has also since the election vowed to launch a period of economic and legal reforms, saying he will prioritize legislation to strengthen democracy and improve human rights, an announcement widely seen as anticipating the changed circumstances in Washington. Biden has promised to host next year a global Summit for Democracy.

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Sweden Closes High Schools Until Early January to Stem COVID-19 Infections

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven announced Thursday that high schools would switch to distance learning beginning Monday through early January to slow the rate of COVID-19 infections in the country. Lofven made the announcement at a Stockholm news conference alongside Swedish Education Minister Anna Ekstrom. He said he hoped the move would have a “breaking effect” on the rate of COVID-19 infections. He added it was not intended to extend the Christmas break for students and he said he was putting his trust in them that they would continue to study from home. The distance learning will be in effect until January 6.People walk past shops under Christmas decorations during the novel coronavirus pandemic in Stockholm, Dec. 3, 2020.After a lull during summer, Sweden has seen COVID-19 cases surge over the past couple of months, with daily records repeatedly set. Deaths and hospitalizations have also risen sharply. Meanwhile, earlier Thursday, Swedish State Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told reporters he did not think masks were necessary, just two days after the World Health Organization (WHO) expanded its advice to use masks as part of a comprehensive strategy to combat the spread of COVID-19. Tegnell said that in some situations, masks might be necessary, but that the current situation in Sweden did not require it. He said the evidence for wearing a mask was weak and he believed social distancing was much more important. In its expanded guidelines, the WHO said that where the virus was circulating, people — including children and students age 12 or older — should always wear masks in shops, workplaces and schools that lack adequate ventilation, and when receiving visitors at home in poorly ventilated rooms. On Thursday, Sweden reported 6,485 new COVID-19 cases and 35 new virus-related deaths, bringing the nation’s total COVID-19 fatalities to 7,007. 

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