The Broad Mind | Daily Update: May 15, 2013

Turkey Watch

  • In Foreign Policy magazine, John Hannah has written a terrific article that explains Turkish Prime Minister Recap Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to solve his country’s long-standing “Kurdish problem” – the ‘bloody conflict that has torn at the fabric of the Turkish state since its founding 90 years ago’. Calling Erdogan’s efforts ‘a colossal role of the political dice’, and ‘an act of statesmanship, ambition, and hubris largely without parallel on the current world stage’,  Hannah argues that this move could have profound implications in Turkey’s immediate neighborhood, namely in Syria and Iraq, countries with significant Kurdish minority populations. Already, the process appears to have triggered the Turkey-backed main Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council, to adopt a more conciliatory attitude towards Kurdish issues. Also on Tuesday, the first group of fifteen Kurdish militants left Turkey and returned to Iraq, under a peace plan that was formulated after the March ceasefire between the the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish Government.
  • Meanwhile, in what appears to be a related development, a Turkish state-run oil firm has entered into an agreement  on Tuesday with Exxon Mobil and northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government to develop oil projects, a deal which, according to analyst,s is fraught with political risks. This deal puts Turkey in the middle of the tussle between Iraq’s central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government over rights to northern Iraq’s vast oil resources. The United States also finds itself caught between supporting the aspirations of its ally Turkey, without alienating Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who has already termed the deal as illegal.

Around the World

  • Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) has revealed that it has caught a US CIA agent who was attempting to recruit a top Russian security services officer with promises of up to $1 million a year. According to the Christian Science Monitor, this is the first high-profile arrest of a US diplomat since the Cold War era. According to Russian experts, there might be a political subtext to this development, given that US-Russia relations are at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.
  • In a move that has surprised most observers, a close aide to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made an unannounced visit to North Korea, raising hopes of an easing of tensions in the region, which has seen an escalation of threats over the past few months. Japan broke off talks with North Korea last December, after Pyongyang announced plans to fire a long-range rocket in defiance of international sanctions. Since then, North Korea has warned of pre-emptive nuclear strikes against the United States and South Korea, though these threats have moderated since the start of May.
  • John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, announced yesterday that he expected the proposed Syria peace conference, backed by both Washington and Moscow, to be held in early June. According to Kerry, the Syrian regime has already shared the names of its potential negotiators at the conference to Russian officials, a strong signal that the regime is planning to attend the conference as well. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood has for the first time opened direct contacts with Syrian opposition groups, by providing them with cash and an offer of political collaboration.