The World Today for October 16, 2017



Losing Friends

If Russia or Iran invaded Turkey, the United States would presumably rush to the defense of its NATO ally. But recent diplomatic tensions that resulted in both countries suspending visa services for each other’s citizens have called into question whether Washington and Ankara have drifted too far apart.

It’s far more than a friendly disagreement, diplomats say.

As the Washington Post reported, the dispute started when Turkish authorities earlier this month arrested an employee in the American consulate in Istanbul – Turkish national Metin Topuz – and detained American citizens as part of a crackdown on the followers of Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, a cleric now living in exile in the US.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses Gülen of plotting the unsuccessful coup attempt that occurred last summer in Turkey. Topuz was the second consulate staffer arrested in a crackdown that has put tens of thousands of people in jail.

The Turkish president accused the US of “sheltering a terrorist,” as well as helping Kurdish separatists fighting the Islamic State in Syria who also want an independent Kurdistan that would include current Turkish territory. Erdogan also says US Ambassador John Bass has fanned the flames of the crisis by demanding to know the fate of the consular workers.

“Honestly speaking it is the ambassador here who instigated this incident,” said Erdogan, according to CNN. “It is not acceptable that the USA is sacrificing its relations with its strategic partner Turkey for an irresponsible ambassador. We cannot accept this.”

The kerfuffle has many worried, though few believe it will ruin American-Turkish relations forever.

“We were not expecting such harsh political moves from both sides, but I didn’t think this would last more than a couple of days because it was affecting everyday people’s lives,” Sinan Sökmen, who owns an Istanbul tour business that serves English-speaking visitors, told USA Today. “This is between the politicians, and if American travelers come to Turkey after this crisis, there will be no (hostility) toward them from the Turkish people.”

But the dispute illustrates how much Turkey has changed since Erdogan prevailed on Turkish voters to transform the presidency from a ceremonial office to a full-fledged chief executive in an April referendum.

Erdogan has become the strongest, most important leader in Turkey since the country’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who ruled a century ago. His rise has coincided with other changes beyond the internal crackdown on Gülenists, including a confrontational policy toward Russia a few years ago that recently has become a more accommodative stance.

The US needs Turkey to be a stable partner in the Middle East. Turkey and the Ottoman and Byzantine empires that came before the modern Turkish state have played a major role in the region for millennia. But, of course, Turkey needs the US, too.

When friends argue, both lose out.



Lane Change

People’s Party leader Sebastian Kurz is in line to become Austria’s next chancellor following the country’s sharp right turn in Sunday’s election.

The 31-year-old anti-immigration, Eurosceptic leader’s campaign rhetoric mostly echoed that of the far-right Freedom Party, which also won a substantial portion of votes, the Washington Post reported.

With nearly all the votes counted, the People’s Party had won 31.6 percent, the ruling Social Democrats 26.9 percent and the Freedom Party 26 percent, making a rightwing coalition government a near certainty.

That will cause serious headaches in Brussels, the UK’s Sunday Express reported. Kurz has vowed to shut Islamic nurseries, cut benefits for foreigners and shut the EU out of national affairs.

But the EU has other reasons to look for the aspirin. Marine Le Pen made it to the final round of French elections with her far right agenda, and the rightwing Alternative for Germany party gained almost 13 percent of the vote last month to become the first far-right party in the German Parliament in over 50 years.


Failure to Launch

A Russian leader will meet with top politicians from both North and South Korea on Monday, but the North is not ready for direct negotiations to de-escalate the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Russian senate speaker Valentina Matviyenko will meet a deputy head of North Korea’s legislature and the head of South Korea’s parliament on the sidelines of a congress of parliamentarians in St Petersburg, Reuters reported.

But the RIA news agency cited an unnamed North Korean official as saying direct talks were out of the question due to continued US pressure on Pyongyang and US and South Korean military exercises.

Both Russia and China back a plan for de-escalation that would require North Korea to suspend its ballistic missile program in exchange for the United States and South Korea stopping large-scale missile exercises.

In recent weeks, North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile launches have prompted several rounds of international sanctions at the UN Security Council, as well as inflammatory exchanges between the North and President Donald Trump.


Ripple Effect

US President Donald Trump’s announcement Friday that he might ultimately terminate the 2015 nuclear deal that freed Iran from international sanctions has buoyed anti-American sentiments while raising local worries about the economic impact of a rollback of the agreement.

“Who the hell is Trump to threaten Iran and Iranians? Of course we don’t want economic hardship, but it does not mean we will be their puppet and do whatever they say,” Reuters quoted a local housewife as saying.

Trump might also have boosted Iran’s hardliners at the expense of the country’s more western-friendly, reform-minded President Hassan Rouhani, the agency reported. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cautiously backed the deal, but has said repeatedly that the US would never hold up its end of the bargain.

Meanwhile, Rouhani is facing problems due to high unemployment and increasing inequality – obstacles that would likely be exacerbated by the cancelation of the deal. Removing the nuclear-related sanctions has so far lured back only a few major European investors, in part because Washington still imposes separate sanctions on Iran for its alleged support of terrorism and human rights abuses.


Hairy Situation

Skipping your morning shave in the Central Asian nation of Tajikistan may land you in hot water with the authorities.

That’s because sporting a beard in this largely Muslim country now flies in the face of an unofficial ban on facial hair.

The policy is part of a government crackdown on religious extremism that targets all practices thought to be “alien and inconsistent with Tajik culture,” the BBC reported. Some 13,000 men have been forced to lather up and shave in one region alone.

Stage actors Khushnud Dado and Farrukh Vaitov experienced the ban firsthand when police detained them last week for sporting a beard in public in the northern town of Konibodom. The pair came to town to perform a play in which their characters had beards.

Luckily, both were able to secure government-approved “beard permits” after explaining the circumstances of their hairy situation to the authorities.

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