'Sanction threats to harm progress in US-Turkey ties'

By Servet Gunerigok and Muhammed Bilal Kenasari

WASHINGTON (AA) – U.S. threats to impose sanctions on Turkey over a detained American pastor will damage the progress in relations between Ankara and Washington, according to Turkish experts.

Kadir Ustun, executive director of the Washington-based Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), told Anadolu Agency on Thursday that President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence's sanction threats "amounted to an ultimatum" to Turkey.

He said the threats "are counterproductive and can potentially erase any progress that has been made between the two NATO allies on a variety of issues".

Earlier, in an attempt to interfere with NATO-member Turkey's judiciary, Trump said on Twitter that "the United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their longtime detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson."

Brunson was transferred to house arrest Wednesday after being detained in Izmir province since December 2016.

He was charged with spying for the PKK — a designated terrorist group in the U.S. and Turkey — and the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), the group Turkey accuses of orchestrating the defeated July 2016 coup attempt.

Also, Pence in a tweet threatened to impose "significant sanctions on Turkey until this innocent man of faith is free".

Ustun said "the Brunson case is yet another strain on bilateral ties in the wake of somewhat limited progress following the Manbij agreement in northern Syria."

– 'Domestic political calculations'

The Manbij deal, which was made between Turkey and the U.S., focuses on the withdrawal of the PKK-affiliated YPG terror group from the northern Syrian city in order to stabilize the region.

The agreement was first announced after a meeting in Washington in June between Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Ustun went on to say that Congress and the Trump administration might be trying to increase pressure on Turkey through "the threat of sanctions for domestic political calculations".

"Such an approach would hinder repairing the U.S.-Turkey relationship and prevent serious cooperation on serious regional challenges.”

Kilic Bugra Kanat, SETA’s research director, said: "If Congress moves forward with sanctions against Turkey and if the Trump administration actually implements them, it would create a crisis whose damage would take years to repair as was the case in the 1970s."

Congress, he said, intended to put pressure on Turkey in the Brunson case especially as the November elections are approaching.

"Many lawmakers as well as the [Trump] administration see a political interest in satisfying the demands of their evangelical supporters," he added.

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‘US should work with Turkey’ for stability in Syria

By Tugcenur Yilmaz, Esra Cetin, and Muhammed Emin Canik

ANKARA (AA) – If the U.S. wants stability in Syria it should work with Turkey rather supporting terrorist groups such as the YPG/PKK, said an expert on Middle Eastern affairs on Tuesday.

“When working with sub-state actors such as the YPG/PKK, this actually creates instability,” Kadir Ustun, executive director at the Washington offices of the Ankara-based Political, Economic and Social Research Foundation (SETA), told a panel on Syria organized by the think-tank.

Turkey has criticized the U.S. working with the YPG/PKK — the terrorist PKK's Syrian branch — saying Washington is ignoring the group's terrorist status as part of a failed policy of "using one terrorist group to fight another."

In its 30-year terrorist campaign against Turkey, the PKK has taken some 40,000 lives.

Pointing to the lack of a comprehensive U.S. policy on Syria, Ustun added: "One of the things the U.S. talks about is establishing stability in Syria. If it wants this, it has to work with Turkey. But working with sub-state actors such as the YPG/PKK actually sows instability."

Another speaker at the panel, Mehmet Koc of the Ankara-based Center for Iranian Studies (IRAM), said that Iran is one of the most critical actors in the current situation in Syria.

Stating that Iran paid a heavy price in Syria while scoring some successes, Koc said Tehran wants to use Syria as a bargaining chip at the table with Western powers.

"Iran doesn’t see the Syrian crisis as an isolated issue. The nuclear deal, the Syria crisis, the Lebanese issue, the conflict in Yemen, the operation in Bahrain, and the developments in Iraq — Iran sees all this as part of politics, a doctrine,” said Koc.

On Turkey’s strategy in Syria, Murat Yesiltas, SETA’s director of security research, said that Turkey doesn’t want to side with any one party in the war-torn country.

Underlining the threat of the PYD/PKK terrorist group, Yesiltas added that Turkey is working to drive the PKK out of lands it has taken, damage its military capacity, and scatter its political efforts.

U.S.-Turkish relations should be put back on track, he said.

Think-tank report shows PKK’s close links to Syrian PYD

By Ahmet Bayram

IZMIR, Turkey (AA) – A recent report has set out the ties between the PKK, which is an internationally-designated terror group, and the Syrian PYD — the U.S.’s ground ally in fighting Daesh.

The 72-page report “PKK’s Network in Northern Syria PYD-YPG” by the Ankara-based Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) shows how the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and EU, is linked to the PYD and its armed wing the YPG.

U.S. support for the PYD in the fight against Daesh is a bone of contention in Ankara, which considers it a terror group that is seeking to control the territory along Turkey’s Syrian border.

Under former President Barack Obama, Washington described the YPG as a “reliable partner” in Syria. Whether this situation will change under Donald Trump’s presidency is yet unknown.

“We have proved that the PYD is an affiliation of the PKK by analyzing the leadership staff, the organizational structure, ideology and the Arabic legislation that it first published on its website but then deleted,” Can Acun, one of the report’s authors, told Anadolu Agency.

He said the PYD was established on the orders of the PKK’s imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan and shaped by senior members of the PKK.

The PYD has since been staffed with senior PKK figures, it adds, with the supply of PKK fighters to the YPG increasing after the start of the Syrian civil war.

Although Acun did not provide any further details, the report says it relies on media, government, academic and NGO reports and witness accounts. It has also utilized images from social media and information published by the PKK and PYD.

The report provides organizational lists showing the interlocking roles of senior PKK and PYD/YPG members, including biographical background and images.

– Assad cooperation

It cites the “Martyred Ayhan” PKK camp in northern Iraq that has served as a headquarters for both groups where PKK and YPG militants have trained.

The SETA researchers say the PYD wanted to take advantage of the conflict in Syria and cooperated with Bashar al-Assad’s regime to carve out territory in northern Syria, where, with the support of Assad and the PKK, it declared “cantons”.

The PYD became an “armed non-state actor” in the region, the report said.

The PYD asserted its authority over the Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen population in “cantons” under its control, often committing war crimes against the Arab and Turkmen population, SETA added.

The PYD tried to connect the regions it controlled in different parts in northern Syria day by day with the help of the U.S. forces.

By presenting itself as an “effective partner” on the ground, the PYD was able to seize territory with the support of U.S. air power as it aimed to dominate the land from the northeast corner of Syria to Afrin canton in western Syria.

“The PYD tries to connect its cantons, create a terrorist corridor and conducts a demographic engineering through military engagements with the Assad regime and the U.S.,”Acun said.

However, the launch of Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield in August has defeated the PYD’s plans, Acun added.

The operation, which has seen Free Syrian Army fighters backed by the Turkish military, take back large swathes of territory from Daesh, thwarting the PYD’s scheme.

The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S., and EU — resumed its armed campaign in July 2015 and since has been responsible for the deaths of approximately 1,100 security personnel and civilians, including women and children.

No common terrorism definition in EU countries: Report

ANKARA (AA) – Contrary to what some might expect, European Union countries do not have a common definition of “terrorism” and “terrorist acts,” according to a new Justice Ministry report, Anadolu Agency has learned.

The report researched regulations and punishment concerning terrorism, terrorists, and terrorist crimes in EU countries’ laws, amid a European Union demand that Turkey revise its terrorism laws in order to gain access to travel visa-free within the Schengen zone for its citizens.

The report mentioned that the European Parliament passed a framework decision about terrorism after the September 2001 terror attacks in the U.S.

The decision defines terrorism as “seriously intimidating a population; or unduly compelling a Government or international organization to perform or abstain from performing any act; or seriously destabilizing or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organization.”

But there is no common terror law within the scope of EU laws that are implemented in each EU member country, the report says.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Dr. Mehmet Ugur Ekinci of the Turkish-based Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) think-tank said the European Parliament wants Turkey to “clarify” its terrorism law articles that are “open to comment.”

“The European Parliament extended its definition of terrorism after 2008, when security threats intensified, and added chapters like training terrorists and provoking terrorist incidents,” he said. “These are the kind of issues that the European Parliament wants from the Turkish government.”

The Justice Ministry report says the EP’s framework decision on sorting terrorism shows itself in articles and phrases such as “attacks upon a person’s life which may cause death, attacks upon the physical integrity of a person, kidnapping or hostage taking, causing extensive destruction to a Government or public facility, seizure of aircraft, ships or other means of public or goods transport, biological and chemical weapons, and release of dangerous substances, or causing fires, floods or explosions the effect of which is to endanger human life […]”

The decision also defined “terrorist group” as “a structured group of two or more persons, established over a period of time and acting in concert to commit terrorist offenses.”

Managing, supporting, financing, and providing information and material resources for the terrorist organization are punishable in line with the framework decision.

Ekinci said that after 2002, the EP wanted countries to “determine an exact definition of terrorism and figure out a way to also determine the proportion between the crime and punishment.”

“There is no formula to implement European Parliament decisions word by word for every country in the bloc,” he said. “No country can determine an exact formula for implementing such articles. They can either tighten their laws or loosen them depending on the security threat.”

Last week, the European Commission proposed visa-free travel for Turks as part of a deal which would see Turkey stem the refugee flow to Europe in exchange for speeding up the candidate country’s EU membership.

However, among five remaining benchmarks for Turkey to address in order to receive visa-free travel, the EU has demanded a change in Ankara’s legislation on terrorism, deadlocking the visa-free talks.

Ekinci also said that the EP, in “political criteria wise-thinking,” either will “place more importance on the deal between Turkey and the EU on the refugee crisis,” or “the legislative motives behind the visa-free talks.”

“If there is a negative outcome in Turkey’s visa-free travel bid, the [European] Parliament will evaluate the issue again for a second vote,” Ekinci said. “If the outcome still turns out to be negative, than the whole process will go to the starting point again, where the European Commission has to suggest visa-free travel for Turkey to the EP again,” he explained.

– Regulations in EU countries

According to the report, the Netherlands has no separate law for terror crimes and its penal code includes “terrorist intent.”

The Netherlands defines “terrorist intent” as “causing fear in the population or a part of the population of a country, or unlawfully compelling a public authority or international organization to act or to refrain from certain acts or to tolerate certain acts, or of seriously disrupting or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organization.”

Austria also lacks a separate law for terror crimes. Terrorism-related acts are included in the country’s penal code, but Austria changed their laws with the spread of global terrorism in 2002 and included a definition or terrorism and terrorist crimes.

Germany lacks an official definition of terrorism or terrorist crimes. “Forming a terrorist organization” is defined in German laws. Legal regulations cover “murdering, deliberate killing, genocide, forming an organization to commit crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes against personal freedom, being a member of a terrorist organization.”

The French Penal Code does not define terror, but explains which acts could be assumed as terrorist crimes. Officers and courts use French law to rule on whether a crime is a terrorist crime.

Belgium does not have a separate anti-terrorism law, as its definitions of “terrorism” and “terrorist” are within its penal code.

Turkish think-tank to present Islamophobia report to EP

ISTANBUL (AA) – An Ankara-based Turkish think tank will present a report on Islamophobia next Tuesday in the European Parliament, the group said on Friday.

In a statement, the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) said its European Islamophobia Report (EIR) 2015 will be presented at a panel in the EP in the Belgium capital Brussels.

The panel, hosted by MEPs Josef Weidenholzer and Afzal Khan, aims to analyze trends in the spread of Islamophobia in various European nation-states.

This is the first edition of the report, which is set to be released annually.

It included reports on 25 countries and the Islamophobic trends in each, as analyzed by 37 eminent scholars.