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Haftar offers support to Libya’s peace process

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Libya’s eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar has offered his backing for a peace process that seeks to end a decade of chaos, after meeting the head of a new transitional presidential council.

The military commander met with Mohammed Younes Menfi, a former diplomat who also comes from eastern Libya, and who was selected last week in a UN-backed process to head the three-member presidency council.

Haftar offered “the support of the armed forces for the peace process, to defend democracy and the peaceful transfer of power,” a statement from his office read.

The meeting took place as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said Turkish troops stationed in Libya will remain there as long as a bilateral military agreement between Ankara and Tripoli is active and Libya’s government requests it.

Libya has been torn by civil war since a NATO-backed uprising led to the toppling and killing of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

The country has in recent years been split between a Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, and an eastern-based administration, backed by Haftar.

Erdogan said on Tuesday that Turkey would discuss withdrawing its troops, who Ankara says are providing military training to GNA if other foreign powers are withdrawn first.

In an interview with state broadcaster TRT Haber, Kalin said Turkish companies would also play an active role in the efforts to rebuild Libya, adding that Ankara would provide support to the newly elected interim government.

Menfi landed at Benina airport in the eastern Libyan port city Benghazi from Greece on Thursday and went straight to meet Haftar at his headquarters at Rajma, some 25 km outside town.

A new interim executive was chosen on Feb. 5 by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum in Switzerland, comprising 75 participants selected by the UN to represent a broad cross-section of society.

Haftar reiterated a recent pledge of support for the leaders of this new executive authority, who were chosen “so that they can reunite the institutions and lead the country to elections,” Thursday’s statement read.

Haftar’s spokesman Ahmad Al-Mesmari had on Saturday congratulated Menfi and Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who was selected as interim prime minister, alongside “the Libyan people,” on the outcome of the selection process.

The prime minister of the outgoing GNA, Fayez Al-Sarraj, has wished the new executive “success in their mission.”

The interim authority is mandated to lead Libya through to elections scheduled for December.

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Turkey wants to start a fresh chapter with EU despite obstacles

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Since the approval of its candidacy to EU membership in 1999, Turkish relations with Brussels have been strained, exacerbated by Turkey’s controversial moves in the eastern Mediterranean and concerns over its ongoing democratic issues.

Now, though, Turkey wants to begin a new era with the EU, despite recent diplomatic gaffes, such as the Sofagate crisis, when Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, was not given a seat next to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during her high-profile visit to Ankara.

“Turkey keeps its determined stance and efforts toward its strategic goal of EU membership, despite the double standards and obstacles it faces,” Erdogan said in a statement on May 9, celebrated across the bloc as Europe Day. “Turkey’s membership will pave the way for the rise of a Europe that is more effective at regional and global levels, giving hope not only to its citizens, but also to the people of its neighborhood as well as the whole world.”

Some EU member states, especially Greece, France and Cyprus, continue to halt accession negotiations with Turkey, citing the country’s eroding democracy, human rights issues and the rule of law at home. The nonimplementation of European Court of Human Rights’ rulings by Ankara has also drawn anger from Brussels.

Dr. Ilke Toygur, CATS fellow at German think tank SWP Berlin, said that it is important to be realistic over Turkey’s prospects of joining the EU.

“After months of tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, 2021 has (seen) a positive spin Turkey-EU relations. This positive agenda is, however, centered on fruitful cooperation rather than advancing Turkey’s accession negotiations,” she said.

Ankara is seeking an update to the 2016 refugee deal that obliges Turkey to stem the tide of people seeking to reach Europe from its shores in return for financial aid. EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson paid a visit to Turkey on Friday for talks about the deal, and to discuss visa liberalization.

The EU offered Turkey €6 billion ($7.1 billion) to help Syrian refugees, but only €3.6 billion have been sent so far — a point of contention for Ankara. However, the deal was criticized by some EU member states, who claimed Turkey had used millions of Syrian refugees as leverage against Brussels to extract more money.

In February 2020, Turkey allowed thousands of migrants gathered on the border with Greece to make their way toward Europe.

Turkey’s negotiations to join the EU began in 2015, but the unresolved Cyprus conflict has always been a barrier to progress, while EU leaders continue to warn of sanctions against Turkey if the country continues exploring for gas and oil in contested waters claimed by Greece and Cyprus.

Ankara’s EU candidacy should be formally suspended if Turkey continues on its “autocratic track,” EU lawmakers at the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee stated on April 23, adding that the country no longer fulfilled the democratic criteria to be accepted as a candidate, let alone a full member, to the EU.

However, Turkey remains dependent on trade with the bloc. Exports to EU member states surged by 35 percent and reached $26.86 billion in the first four months of 2021. Ankara also expects the expansion of the EU-Turkey Customs Union to new sectors of its economy, like services and agricultural trade.

Toygur thinks the EU would like to work on existing trade issues and pave the way for Customs Union modernization; however, the process itself would require an official mandate and a lot of good will from both sides to settle issues of contention.

“High level of dialogue in older files, such as transport, economy or energy, as well as new files (such as) global health or climate change, are also concrete proposals on the table,” she said.

The German Marshall Fund’s latest public opinion survey “Turkish Perceptions of the European Union” revealed, however, that half of Turkish young people think the EU does not intend to let the country join the bloc.

Despite this, Turkish public opinion favors the EU as the closest partner in dealing with international matters, while this trend seems stronger in people aged 18-24 compared to the general population. 68.8 percent of Turkish young people said they would vote “yes” in any referendum on EU membership.

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Blinken reveals uncertainty clouding US-Iran nuclear talks

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Negotiators in talks with Iran over curbs to its nuclear program do not yet know if Tehran is willing to make a deal, according to the White House’s top diplomat.

“We’ve been engaged now in Vienna for some weeks with our European partners, with Russia, China, and indirectly … with Iran,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the BBC on Thursday.

“We’ve demonstrated our very seriousness of purpose in terms of wanting to get back into the so-called JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action),” he added.

“What we don’t yet know is whether Iran is prepared to make the same decision and move forward.”

Blinken warned that, having progressively walked back on nuclear curbs hammered out as part of the 2015 deal agreed with world powers, Tehran could acquire nuclear weapons within months.

Under the original deal, from which former US President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018, Iran received billions of dollars’ worth of sanctions relief in exchange for strict curbs and heavy monitoring of its nuclear program.

“Right now, unfortunately, Iran has itself lifted many of the constraints imposed on it by the agreement because we pulled out,” Blinken said.

“And it’s now getting closer and closer again to that point where its breakout time is going to be down to a few months and eventually even less.”

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Yemeni minister: Iran’s Quds Force commander acting as de facto ruler of Houthi-held areas

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Iran’s Quds Force commander Hassan Erlo is acting as de facto ruler of areas controlled by the Houthi militia, a senior Yemeni official was cited by state news agency SABA.

Erlo’s movements are highlighted through the Houthis’ media outfit, confirm that he is acting as a leader, Muammar Al-Eryani, Yemen’s minister of information, culture and tourism, said on Wednesday.

Eryani added that these actions affirm that the Houthi leadership take political, military and administrative orders from the Iranian regime.

The Iranian regime sends orders through Erlo, Eryani added.

The minister claimed that these practices reveal to the international community Iran’s attempts to impose its control on Yemen as part of its “expansion project in the entire region,” the report said, and that the Houthi militia was “a dirty tool to implement this project.”

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