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US aid cuts hit Palestinians, further dimming hope for peace

JERUSALEM (AP): Tens of thousands of Palestinians are no longer getting food aid or basic health services from America, U.S.-funded infrastructure projects have been halted, and an innovative peace-building program in Jerusalem is scaling back its activities.

The Trump administration’s decision last year to cut more than $200 million in development aid to the Palestinians is forcing NGOs to slash programs and lay off staff as the effects ripple through a community that has spent more than two decades promoting peace in the Middle East.

The U.S. government’s development agency, USAID, has provided more than $5.5 billion to the Palestinians since 1994 for infrastructure, health, education, governance and humanitarian aid programs, all intended to underpin the eventual creation of an independent state.

Much of that aid is channeled through international NGOs, which were abruptly informed of the cuts last summer and have been scrambling to keep their programs alive.

President Donald Trump says the USAID cuts are aimed at pressuring the Palestinians to return to peace talks, but Palestinian officials say the move has further poisoned relations after the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last year. The aid groups, many of which have little or no connection to the Palestinian Authority, say the cuts hurt the most vulnerable Palestinians and those most committed to peace with Israel.

“If you want to maintain the idea of the peace process, you have to maintain the people who would be part of the peace process,” said Lana Abu Hijleh, the local director for Global Communities, an international NGO active in the Palestinian territories since 1995.

Before the aid cuts were announced, it provided food aid — branded as a gift from the American people — to more than 180,000 Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza on behalf of the World Food Program. USAID had planned to contribute $19 million a year for the next five years to continue the project but pulled out in August.

Global Communities can now only provide aid to 90,000 people through March, and Abu Hijleh had to lay off around 30 staff, including in Gaza, where unemployment exceeds 50 percent.

“It really hurts, because you’re talking about the most basic level of assistance,” she said. The average family receives a monthly voucher worth around $130.

Sadeqa Nasser, a woman living in Gaza’s Jebaliya refugee camp, used her voucher to support her disabled husband, their six children and four grandchildren.

She says her sons each bring in less than $5 a day from odd jobs. “They cannot afford to buy food for their families, so I help them out,” she said.

Since the aid was cut off, she’s been able to qualify for welfare payments from the Palestinian Authority, which itself relies heavily on foreign aid. “Without it we would go hungry,” she said.

Funding has also been cut for a five-year, $50 million program run by a coalition of NGOs to provide health services, including clinical breast cancer treatment for some 16,000 women and treatment for some 700 children suffering from chronic diseases.

Infrastructure projects, including desperately needed water treatment facilities in the blockaded Gaza Strip, have also been put on hold.

Anera, which has carried out development projects in the Middle East for more than 50 years, said it was forced to halt five infrastructure projects in the West Bank and Gaza before completion and cancel three more in Gaza that were pending funding approval. It says the projects would have benefited more than 100,000 people.

The NGOs are reaching out to other donors, but USAID is one of the biggest sources of funding for a global aid community overwhelmed by conflicts in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.

The Trump administration has also cut off funding for peace-building initiatives involving Palestinians — even residents of east Jerusalem, which Israel considers to be part of its capital. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war and annexed in a move not recognized internationally, to be the capital of their future state.

Kids4Peace, a group founded by Israeli and Palestinian families in Jerusalem in 2002, brings Jewish, Christian and Muslim teenagers together for seminars and summer camps where they can share their experiences and learn more about one another.

The group’s organizers acknowledge the longstanding criticism of such initiatives — that campfires and singalongs won’t bring peace to the Middle East, especially after a decade of diplomatic paralysis and little hope for resuming meaningful negotiations.

But they say that with a $1.5 million USAID grant in 2016 they tripled the number of annual participants to around 70 and revamped programs. USAID takes a hands-on approach, requiring regular audits and demanding concrete accomplishments.

Participants now take part in a Youth Action Program in which they plan and execute projects in their communities. One group is campaigning for Arabic subtitles in Jerusalem cinemas. Another set up a community garden in a tense neighborhood where Jews and Arabs had rarely interacted.

Kids4Peace was a finalist for another $1.5 million grant this year, but that has been indefinitely postponed because of the funding cuts. It will continue to run programs with the help of private donors, but its growth prospects are in doubt.

“We see the trend lines moving in a negative direction, in terms of more hostile attitudes toward the other, less interaction between Israelis and Palestinians, more resistance to peace negotiations,” said the Rev. Josh Thomas, executive director of Kids4Peace International. “We see that as a need for greater investment rather than less.”

Trump also halted aid to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, which provides basic services to more than 5 million Palestinians across the Middle East, but UNRWA was able to narrow the funding gap with aid pledges from other countries.

Palestinian officials say they won’t bow to pressure.

“We don’t want their money, we don’t want anything to do with America,” said Nabil Shaath, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. “If (Trump) thinks he can put pressure on us through his money, it won’t work.”

Critics of the policy fear that cutting off aid will further diminish Washington’s ability to manage a conflict that remains highly combustible.

“When America vacates the Middle East space, we do so at our own risk and we do it to the benefit of our adversaries,” said Dave Harden, a former USAID mission director in the West Bank and Gaza.

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Arab Gulf states silent on China’s Xinjiang crackdown

Giorgio Cafiero

BEIJING: Unlike other cases of repression against Muslims around the world, such as Myanmar, the “cultural cleansing” taking place in China’s Xinjiang Province (known by separatists as East Turkestan) has not been officially condemned by the Gulf monarchies.

This silence is mostly a result of their economic interdependence with China, which has prompted concerns about retribution from Beijing if Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states were to stand up to China over the plight of its Muslim minority. Not lost in the equation is the fact that Saudi Arabia and other Arabian Peninsula monarchies have faced strong criticism from the West on human rights grounds, giving officials in the GCC more incentive to avoid criticizing Beijing on sensitive issues that China views as internal matters.

Global attention on Xinjiang

In 2018 international attention on China’s crackdown on Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups increased significantly. In August, the United Nations expressed deep concerns about the reported 1 million Uighurs held in internment camps across western China, four months after American diplomats highlighted concerns over increasing levels of repression in Xinjiang. The global outcry has intensified following other reports that Chinese authorities have banned veils and forced Uighurs to cut off their beards, eat pork, and drink alcohol. Evidence has also emerged that the Chinese government is tracking cellphone activity in Xinjiang while pressuring the Uighur diaspora to provide personal information by threatening family members in western China if they do not comply.

Economic factors

Like many Muslim-majority countries around the world, GCC states have deep economic ties with China that could, potentially, be jeopardized if they shine a spotlight on human rights violations in Xinjiang.

Saudi Arabia has been China’s number one crude oil supplier since 2002, and China is the kingdom’s top destination for oil exports. All Gulf states have joined Saudi Arabia in making their own geo-economic pivots to the East and forging strong commercial ties with Beijing. China is the United Arab Emirates’ second-largest trading partner and its number one source of imports. China’s ambitious plans for the Belt and Road Initiative also offer the GCC states lucrative opportunities in the areas of finance, trade, and infrastructure linking Asia and Europe.

With US demand for Gulf oil set to fall in the coming years as Chinese demand is expected to rise, GCC officials see China as their most reliable partner when it comes to security of demand. Thus, as Gulf governments see it, the issue of oppression in western China is not important enough to justify taking the risk of addressing in any international forum.

“Stability is a blessing, instability is calamity”

Beyond their interests in securing deeper economic and energy ties with China, GCC states have other incentives to remain silent on Beijing’s crackdown as well. Given their extreme sensitivity to outside scrutiny of their own human rights violations, the Gulf monarchies welcome China’s foreign policy doctrine of “non-interference” and want to reciprocate.

China also brought itself greater goodwill by remaining silent throughout the Khashoggi saga last year, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) will doubtless remember which governments and world leaders stood by him during what has been his greatest challenge on the international stage to date. Put simply, when it comes to Sino-Gulf relations, Beijing’s practice of not bringing up human rights-related issues seems to have paid off.

The model of “authoritarian stability” advocated by both the GCC and China also factors into the Gulf monarchies’ decision to avoid pressing the issue. According to the Chinese government’s narrative, it has taken the necessary actions in Xinjiang to protect the country from Islamic extremism and terrorism. With a strong focus on stability over individual rights, China approaches security issues in a way that resonates with the Gulf regimes, which also prioritize preservation of the status quo above human rights.

GCC states, particularly Saudi Arabia, are seeking to learn from China and copy important aspects of its legal system, which gives the Gulf monarchies an even stronger interest in avoiding problems as they seek to deepen their legal relations with Beijing. Last year, for example, Riyadh’s vice minister of justice and his counterpart from Beijing signed a memorandum of cooperation to share judicial information and expertise.

In addition, as Cindy Yu opined, the Saudi crown prince’s Vision 2030 reforms are generally “on the same path as Beijing” while truly distinct from the West’s values. China is, according to Yu, a “perfect prototype” for Saudi Arabia where the “people choose riches over freedom.” To that point, China’s ambassador to Riyadh, Li Huaxin, praised MbS for the wave of arrests at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, claiming that the “anti-corruption” drive would benefit the kingdom’s foreign investment climate due to perceived improvements in the “rule of law.”

The GCC states’ silence on Xinjiang should also be understood within the context of the mainstream media in the greater Arab world, which has not paid much attention to western China. The Chinese authorities closely monitor and regulate foreign journalists’ work in Xinjiang, so the outside world has, until relatively recently, had little access to information. In the Gulf region, there is a general lack of awareness about the plight of the Uighurs, and even extremists and jihadist groups from the Arab world, which often dwell on injustices against Muslims in other parts of the world, pay little attention to Xinjiang.

Turkey

The one Muslim-majority state that has condemned China on the issue of human rights in Xinjiang is Turkey. Yet key lessons learned from Ankara’s stance on this matter inform the GCC states’ decision to stay silent.

Ten years ago, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s then prime minister, went as far as to accuse China of waging a “kind of genocide” in Xinjiang against the Uighurs, who share ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and religious ties with Turks. Ankara’s strong language regarding the Uighurs’ plight, however, created significant tension in Sino-Turkish relations, especially after Turkish officials began offering Uighur refugees shelter in their country. Due to a host of issues, including the failed July 15, 2016 coup plot, which prompted Turkey to hedge its bets on the West by deepening ties with Beijing (along with Moscow and Tehran), Turkish officials have avoided speaking out on Islam, Uighur identity, and human rights in Xinjiang in recent years. Nonetheless, China’s leadership has not forgotten Turkey’s support of the Uighurs in Xinjiang, and the GCC states are keen to avoid creating friction in their ties with Beijing.

Posing a dilemma

Beijing’s “war on terror” in western China likely constitutes the harshest campaign of forced social reengineering in the post-Mao Tse-tung period. Although portrayed by Chinese officials as a “securitization campaign” or a “pacification drive,” the crackdown on Muslims in Xinjiang is more of an effort at coerced ethnic assimilation.

China’s radical “anti-extremism” strategies pose a dilemma for Saudi Arabia and other GCC states. While their silence in the face of large-scale violations of Chinese Muslims’ rights may undermine the credibility and legitimacy of their claims to defend the greater global Muslim community, they are likely to keep quiet given the GCC’s growing economic and geopolitical ties with China. Moreover, even if the GCC states were to stand up to Beijing over the plight of its Muslim minority, it is unclear what this would entail and what, specifically, they would expect to gain from such a stance.

Looking ahead, as China continues its economic and geopolitical ascendancy, Beijing’s relations with the GCC states will deepen. At a time when the U.S. administration’s foreign policy is confusing and incoherent, the Gulf monarchies are looking to China to hedge their bets on Washington amid the unpredictable Trump presidency. Given how much the Gulf regimes value their relations with Beijing, the Chinese leadership understands that it has little reason to worry about a potential crisis in Beijing-GCC relations stemming from developments in Xinjiang, even as the situation there has fueled an outcry from Western governments and human rights organizations worldwide.

Courtesy: (mei.edu)

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Woman claims luxury clothing store fired her for being Muslim

Dean Balsamini

NEW YORK: A New Jersey woman charges a luxe Manhattan men’s store forced her to use her “sexuality” to sell clothes, and then fired her because she’s Muslim, according to a federal lawsuit.

Aiza Ejaz, 27, was hired in August 2017 to be operations manager for Arisoho on 471 West Broadway, which specializes in $800 cashmere turtlenecks, $2,400 Kelso leather jackets and other Italian casual wear, Manhattan federal court papers show.

When she was hired for the $60,000 position, her boss, Moshe Ben Ari, was unaware of her Pakistani or Muslim background, the suit says.

She was immediately instructed to “use her sexuality to lure men into the store,” the suit claims, with Ari explaining that he used attractive staffers as “bait.”

A store manager told Ejaz she was “shocked Ari was kind enough to hire you considering you’re Muslim — he’s so Jewish — he really doesn’t like Muslim people,” according to court papers.

Ari learned Ejaz was a Pakistani Muslim when he heard workers discussing their backgrounds and he “walked away in disgust,” according to court papers.

Things came to a head on Sept. 18, 2017, when Ari told Ejaz, “I hate Pakistani people and I don’t like f–king Muslim people — especially Muslim women,” court papers allege.

Ejaz complained to the store retail director.

Ejaz, who often worked 55-hour weeks, was fired the following day. The store manager claimed “she was not a good fit,” the suit says. This, despite the store manager once agreeing with Ejaz’s comment that Ari is “a racist and sexist,” according to court papers.

The discrimination suit, which names the Soho Merchandising group and Moshe Ben Ari as defendants, seeks unspecified damages. Ejaz and Ari could not be reached for comment. Ejaz attorney Johnmark Cohen said “things took a wrong turn” once Ari found out his client was “a Muslim woman from Pakistan.”

Courtesy: (nypost.com)

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Trump says I told Sanders not to hold press briefings

WASHINGTON (AA): U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday he has instructed White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders not to hold regular press briefings, claiming the media cover her unfairly.

“The reason Sarah Sanders does not go to the ‘podium’ much anymore is that the press covers her so rudely & inaccurately, in particular certain members of the press,” the president said on Twitter. “I told her not to bother, the word gets out anyway! Most will never cover us fairly & hence, the term, Fake News!”

Sanders has not yet held a regular briefing in 2019. The last took place Dec. 18, and was her only briefing that month.

The current gap in briefings has taken place amid an ongoing partial government shutdown over Trump’s request to have lawmakers provide him with nearly $6 billion in appropriations to fund a separation barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Sanders’ increasingly rare appearances at the White House podium have drawn criticism from the media.

White House deputy spokesman Hogan Gidley said earlier Tuesday that Sanders would return “when she finds a reason to do that.”

“Sarah Sanders will absolutely be back to the podium…delivering the message to the American people,” Gidley told Fox News.

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PM: Israel possesses ‘most advanced weapons in world’

JERUSALEM (AA): Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday threatened to deliver a “crushing” blow to all who might seek Israel’s destruction, according to an official statement.

“Let our enemies know that Israel’s crushing fist will reach all those who seek our destruction,” Netanyahu said.

He delivered the threat while visiting the headquarters of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), which is responsible for developing Israel’s Arrow missile-defense system. Netanyahu’s visit to IAI headquarters came shortly after Israeli officials announced the successful test-launch of an Arrow 3 anti-ballistic missile.

“We will continue to develop the most advanced weapon systems in the world to ensure the security of the State of Israel and our citizens,” the prime minister crowed.

Earlier Tuesday, the Israeli Defense Ministry said it had successfully tested a weapons system capable of intercepting ballistic missiles outside the earth’s atmosphere.

In a statement, the ministry said that the test had been carried out in cooperation with the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.

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Merkel reaffirms goal to create an European Union army

Monitoring Desk

BERLIN: A new treaty signed between Germany and France on Tuesday would facilitate to a stronger Europe, and the creation of a European Union army, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

Addressing the signing ceremony in Aachen, Merkel underlined their commitment to “a strong, viable and sovereign Europe” and stressed that new Franco-German treaty would deepen cooperation in defense, by developing a “joint military culture”, a common defense industry, and a common policy on arms exports.

“In doing so, we wish to give our contribution to a development of a new European army. This will only work if we coordinate at the same time our foreign policies,” she stressed.

Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron signed the “Treaty of Aachen” on the 56th anniversary of the historical Elysee Treaty, which marked the end of hostilities between the two neighboring states.

The 16-page long treaty foresees much deeper economic integration, closer cooperation in foreign policy and defense, and the design of a “European Defence Union.”

Reaffirming their commitments to NATO, both countries assure one another of every possible support in the case of an armed attack. According to the new Franco-German accord, the Europe’s two major powers would also increase their efforts to strengthen the European Union, and conduct regular consultations before the EU meetings to better coordinate their policies. (AA)

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10 dead as fire rages on Black Sea ships

MOSCOW (Reuters): Ten crew died and another 10 were missing presumed dead in a fire that broke out on two ships while they were transferring fuel in the Black Sea, Russia’s Transport Ministry said on Tuesday. The vessels which caught fire on Monday have the same names as two Tanzania-flagged ships, the Maestro and Venice, which last year were included on a US sanctions advisory as delivering fuel to Syria.

Twelve people were rescued from the burning vessels but there was little hope of finding any more survivors, a spokesman for the Transport Ministry’s maritime unit said. The focus had switched from a rescue operation to a search for bodies, he added. The spokesman said the vessels, which had a combined crew of 32, were still on fire and rough no attempts were being made to put out the blaze because of rough sea conditions.

Russian maritime officials said on Monday that the vessels were carrying out a ship-to-ship transfer of fuel in the Kerch Strait, which separates Crimea from Russia. On Nov. 20 last year, the US Treasury Department added nine Russian and Iranian individuals and companies on its sanctions list for participating in the shipment of petroleum to Syria. It also issued an advisory note warning of the potential sanctions risk for any entities involved in such shipments which listed 35 ships, including the Maestro and Venice, as having delivered oil to Syria between 2016 and 2018.

Reuters reported in December that both the Maestro and Venice continued operations after the Treasury announcement, and regularly entered Temryuk port, in Russia’s Krasnodar region, according to Refinitiv data. In the port, liquefied petroleum gas of Russian and Kazakh origin is transferred onto tankers for export, via the Kerch Strait.

The strait, between Russian-annexed Crimea and southern Russia, connects both Russian and Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea to the Black Sea. In November, Russia detained three Ukrainian navy vessels and their crews in the vicinity of the strait, fuelling tensions between the two countries. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

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‘Violence by security forces unacceptable’

HARARE (AP): Zimbabwe’s president on Tuesday said violence by security forces was “unacceptable and a betrayal” and will be investigated after a week of economic crisis and crackdown in which activists said a dozen people were killed. President Emmerson Mnangagwa called for a “national dialogue” among political parties and civic leaders, even as arrests continued. He spoke after skipping a visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to return home.

Zimbabwe’s military is in the streets for the first time since post-election violence in August killed six people. This time, people report being hunted down in their homes by security forces and severely beaten. Doctors treated dozens of gunshot wounds. More than 600 people were arrested, most denied bail. Mnangagwa said insubordination will not be tolerated and “if required, heads will roll.” He defended, however, the dramatic fuel price increase that began the unrest by making gasoline in Zimbabwe the most world’s expensive. Authorities said it was aimed at easing the demand that created miles-long lines as gas stations, with some families sleeping in their cars.

But Zimbabweans who had seen no improvement in the collapsed economy under Mnangagwa, who took office in 2017 after the ouster of longtime leader Robert Mugabe, lost their patience. Activists and labor leaders called for people to stay at home in protest. Others took to the streets, some looting in anger or desperation. Mnangagwa’s government has blamed the opposition, despite witness accounts of security forces opening fire on crowds and killing or wounding bystanders, including a 17-year-old. “Everyone has the right to protest, but this was not a peaceful protest,” Mnangagwa said, noting “wanton violence and cynical destruction.”

The government-backed Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission laid the blame on security forces, saying eight people were killed and criticizing the use of the military and live ammunition. It said the government had not learned its lesson from the August crackdown, and it should compensate “victims of military and police brutality.”

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Seven Egypt troops killed amid Sinai operation

CAIRO (AA): At least seven Egyptian troops and dozens of militants were killed as part of an ongoing security operation in the restive Sinai Peninsula and western Egypt, according to the military on Tuesday. A military statement said an army officer and six soldiers were killed in clashes in northern and central Sinai, without explaining when the troops were killed.

The statement said 59 militants were also killed in an exchange of fire, without specifying the time and location of the clashes. The military said 142 criminals and outlaws were arrested and 242 explosive devices seized as part of the operation. Since February of last year, the Egyptian army has been waging extensive operations against Sinai-based militants suspected of carrying out a spate of attacks against security forces.

According to figures released by the military, at least dozens of Egyptian soldiers and hundreds of militants have been killed since the operation began. The Sinai Peninsula has remained the epicenter of a militant insurgency since mid-2013 when Mohamed Morsi Egypt’s first freely elected president was ousted in a military coup.

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Turkish, Russian presidents to have 1st meeting of 2019

ANKARA (AA): Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin are set to have their first face-to-face meeting of 2019 on Wednesday.

During Erdogan’s one-day working visit to the Russian capital Moscow, the two leaders will exchange views on regional and international issues, particularly Syria, as well as bilateral relations between Turkey and Russia.

Prior to his visit, an article penned by Erdogan titled “Turkey-Russia cooperation, critical for resolving the crisis in Syria” was published on Russian daily Kommersant last week.

“We will not seek advice on how to deal with a terrorist group from anyone whose activities have been directed against our citizens for more than 30 years, or ask for permission to fight terrorism.

“We reserve the right, when the appropriate conditions will arise, to pursue terrorists who threaten our country from Syrian territory,” Erdogan said in the article.

Erdogan stressed that Turkey had no problem with Syrian Kurds nor any other groups living inside the borders of the neighboring country.

Stating that the U.S. pullout from Syria was “a step in right direction,” Erdogan said: “The Syrian crisis can be resolved only by those countries that benefit from the healing of Syria’s wounds and be harmed by their festering.”

In late December, U.S President Donald Trump announced that the U.S.-led coalition succeeded in militarily defeating the Daesh terrorist group, his “only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency”, in Syria.

Emphasizing that it is time for American forces to return home, Trump later signaled a “slow and highly coordinated pullout” of U.S. troops from Syria following the suggestions of U.S. national security bureaucracy.

When Trump proposed the idea of a terror-free safe zone in northern Syria last week, U.S. officials demanded Turkey to guarantee that it will not conduct an operation against terrorist group YPG/PKK.

Turkey backed the idea of a safe zone in Syria, while it opposed the U.S. request for protection of the terrorists.

25 contacts with Putin in 2018

Erdogan and Putin had seven one-on-one meetings in 2018 and 18 phone calls to discuss bilateral relations and regional developments, especially Syria.

The leaders first met in the Turkish capital Ankara, where they chaired the Turkey-Russia High Level Cooperation Council meeting on April 3, a day before a trilateral summit on Syria between the leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran.

During the trilateral summit on April 4, Erdogan, Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stressed their joint resolve to oppose separatism as well as the use of terrorism as an excuse for changing Syria.

Erdogan, Putin and Rouhani are expected to meet in the upcoming months to discuss the situation in Syria.

Erdogan, Putin meet at 6 summits

A total of six summits saw the meeting of Erdogan and Putin in 2018.

Erdogan, Putin and Rouhani first met on April 4 in Ankara and on Sept. 7 in the Iranian capital Tehran for the trilateral meetings on Syria.

On July 26, Erdogan had a one-on-one meeting with Putin in Johannesburg on the sidelines of the annual summit of BRICS countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

On Sept. 17, the leaders met in the Russian coastal city of Sochi, where they agreed to turn Syria’s northwestern Idlib province into a demilitarized zone.

On Oct. 27, Erdogan and Putin also met on the four-nation summit on Syria between Turkey, Russia, Germany and France in Istanbul, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron were also present.

On Dec. 1, Erdogan had talks with Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Argentina.

Turkish-Russian cooperation on energy

On April 3, Erdogan and Putin attended the groundbreaking ceremony of Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant via a video conference call from the Presidential Complex in Ankara.

Akkuyu is set for construction by Russia in the Turkish southern province of Mersin.

The plant, comprising of four units, each with a capacity of 1,200 megawatts, will meet about 10 percent of Turkey’s electricity needs.

S-400 missile deal with Russia

Turkey’s decision to make a $2.5-million purchase of two S-400 air defense systems with four batteries from Russia culminated in an agreement signed by both sides on Dec. 29, 2017.

This led to strong opposition from the U.S. which stipulated that Turkey scrap the deal as a precondition to its own sale of Patriot defense systems to Ankara.

Turkey has vehemently rejected Washington’s calls, with Erdogan saying on April 3 that the purchase was a decision for Turkey to make.

The S-400 is Russia’s most advanced long-range anti-aircraft missile system and can carry three types of missiles capable of destroying targets including ballistic and cruise missiles.

The system can track and engage up to 300 targets at a time and has an altitude ceiling of 27 kilometers (17 miles).