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January 29, 2012- Turmoil in Prime Minister's Office, Tal Law Extension, The Last Days of the Assad Regime?
For the last few days Israeli news has been dominated by what is being called "The Eshel Affair". That affair began as charges of harassment were leveled against the head of Prime Minister's office, Natan Eshel. It is alleged Eshel harassed a female employee. What is particulary unusual about the charge is that it was not the alleged victim that brought the charges, but, instead, three senior advisors of Netanyahu; including his Military attache. Eshel has now gone on a vacation while the affair is being investigated by the government Workers' Authority. Whatever the results of the investigation, the current group of Netanyahu's close advisors are unlikely to be able to work together again.
A major issue that dominated Israeli discourse over this past weekend has been the question of the extension of the "Tal" Law. The law officially provides for the exemption of Charedim who study in Yeshiva from Army service. When the law was originally passed there was hope the law would result in additional Charedim would opt to join the army. While the number of Charedi IDF soldiers has increased slightly, that amount has been overwhelmed by the overall demographic growth of the Charedi community. Prime Minister Netanyahu had planned to routinely pass a five-year extension of the Tal law. That plan was torpedoed when Yisrael Beitunu made it clear it would not vote for any extension. A public storm of protest over the extension followed.
At the end of last week a protest tent went up in Tel Aviv demonstrating against any extension of the law. Some, both inside, as well as outside of the government made a radical suggestion to continue exempting Charedim from army service, but insist the majority leave their Yeshivot and join the tax paying work force. This suggestion may be practical. However, its unfairness to the population that does serve is so clear, that there is no chance that it could ever gain support. I think events in the last few weeks may have made the passage of an extension of the Tal Law all but impossible. I also believe that a connection is finally being made between the social events of the summer and the extent of the cost of the Charedim to Israeli society.
This morning as the protest tents came down there was a well organized demonstration by a group of youngsters giving out bumper stickers that said: "Power to the People".
There were about 100 youngsters spread throughout the area with placards. They were unwilling to say more than "we believe in bringing about change and that change will make this a better place." Details to follow. I have no way of knowing what or who is behind this, but Yair Lapid comes to mind. Lapid, by the way, has been very quiet except on his Facebook page. There, he seems to answer most posts to his wall. If you can read Hebrew its worth reading http://www.facebook.com/YairLapid
Events in Syria may be coming to a head. The “Free Army of Syria" seems to be gaining strength, capturing a number of the suburbs of Damascus. The protests in Syria now seem to be a full fledged Civil War. This is a war Assad cannot win, for it now seems to have become Sunni vs. Alawite. The Alawites make up less than 10% of the country. More and more army units are defecting to the rebels, and unlike the Libyan rebel groups, who were untrained militias, the Syrian rebel units seem to be fully trained former Syrian units. Meanwhile, here in Tel Aviv, they put a plastic ice skating rink on the boardwalk of the Old Port. Up North the Hermon is open for skiing.
Egypt’s Real Disaster: Away From Political Turmoil, an Economy in Free Fall
As Egypt's political crisis rolls on and a transitional government tries to steer a path different from that taken by ousted President Mohamed Morsi, the country's spiraling economy is at the top of the agenda
Interim Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawy in Cairo on July 9, 2013
Correction appended: July 15, 2013
As interim Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawy works to fill out his fledgling Cabinet and return the country to something resembling stability, one of his most immediate challenges will be a task he, in theory, should be ably qualified to handle.
Al-Beblawy, a career economist and former Finance Minister, has assumed the reins of a country in economic free fall. The value of the Egyptian pound has plummeted to record lows, foreign-currency reserves have dropped to less than half of the $36 billion held by the regime of former dictator Hosni Mubarak before he was ousted in February 2011. The budget deficit has climbed to more than 11% of the country’s GDP. Tourism, one of the anchors of Egypt’s foreign-currency cash flow, has never truly recovered from the 2011 revolution. Early signs from the beginning of 2013 showed a steady increase in the number of tourists over the previous two years. But many of those have been attracted by bargains offered by hotels slashing their prices to maintain occupancy numbers. And each new round of political unrest scares away another month or two of visitors.
The situation may actually be even worse than the metrics that define it. Former Supply Minister Bassem Ouda, a Muslim Brotherhood member who resigned when former President Mohamed Morsi, a longtime Brotherhood official, was ousted by the military on July 3, warned last week that Egypt has less than two months’ supply of imported wheat left in its stocks — raising the prospect of a serious disruption in Egypt’s vital subsidized-food structure.
The prospect of a wheat shortage is particularly disturbing. Egypt is the world’s largest net importer of wheat, and a steady supply of affordable subsidized bread is a mainstay of the local diet. In the 1970s the late President Anwar Sadat attempted to raise the prices of subsidized bread the result was several days of unprecedented protests and unrest that are now referred to as the bread riots.
Into this economic maelstrom steps al-Beblawy, 76 his appointment last week was almost universally praised by the international economic community.
“He’s very well known and well respected. And he’s a wise man,” said Ragui Assaad, an Egyptian-born professor of public policy at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Assaad briefly worked alongside al-Beblawy at the Economic Research Forum, an Egyptian economic think tank, and the ERF’s managing director Ahmed Galal is currently one of the main contenders for the job of Finance Minister in the new government. “This could be one of the best Cabinets we’ve seen in terms of the economic team in years. But obviously it’s not going to be a Cabinet with a long-term mandate,” Assaad said.
Al-Beblawy served briefly as Finance Minister in 2011 when the country was run by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. But he resigned in October of that year after just four months on the job in protest over a violent clash with the military that left 26 protesters — mostly Coptic Christians — dead. Al-Beblawy, a Muslim, said at the time that responsibility for the deaths “lies, ultimately, with the government.”
During his short tenure, al-Beblawy was primarily charged with negotiating with the International Monetary Fund over a $4.8 billion emergency-aid package — a deal that still remains uncompleted two years later. Each new wave of political unrest has seemingly delayed the negotiations further and in December 2012 — in the midst of a national crisis over the constitution — Morsi’s government announced and then abruptly repealed a package of tax increases designed to appease the IMF.
Angus Blair, president of the Cairo-based economic think tank the Signet Institute, said he was originally skeptical of al-Beblawy two years ago but was quickly won over. “He’s a bit of a tiger. He’s young at heart, he knows Egypt’s problems, and he’s got the will to tackle them,” Blair says.
Much of al-Beblawy’s most immediate workload has centered on filling out his cabinet — a process that will likely involve as just as much speculation, leaks and rumors as the process that preceded his own appointment. Mohamed ElBaradei — who was himself poised to become Prime Minister before a sudden 11th-hour reversal last week — was sworn in Sunday as interim Vice President for International Affairs. Most of the rest of the cabinet lineup remains in flux, although Nabil Fahmy, former Egyptian ambassador to the U.S., did officially accept the post of Foreign Minister on Sunday.
Al-Beblawy appears to be beginning his tenure on a wave of goodwill — some of it is based on his personal reputation and some just for the fact that he represents a fresh start after Morsi’s disastrous and divisive one-year reign.
“There’s already a positive vibe in some circles … but we do need to see some positive actions,” said Mohamed Abu Basha, an economist at the Egyptian investment bank EFG-Hermes. “In the very short term there’s little the government can do to change things. What they can quickly do is regain that [investor] confidence a little.”
Even before al-Beblawy was named Prime Minister, Egypt received a much-needed boost in the form of a combined $12 billion in loans and gifts from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates — all of them are eager to replace Qatar as Egypt’s primary petropatron. But Abu Basha said the IMF loan still remains a critical goal because it represents a crucial international green light for Western governments and investors to pump in further aid and investment.
While easing the sense of economic emergency and buying al-Beblawy some room to maneuver, the new wave of Gulf money represents a temporary reprieve, not a long-term solution. Abu Basha estimated that Egypt would require as much as $35 billion to stay afloat over the next two years. “It’s a decent amount of money, but it’s maybe a third of what Egypt will need,” he said.
Al-Beblawy is going to be counting on all of that goodwill and confidence going forward since one of the first items on his economic agenda involves some painful steps that successive Egyptian governments — dating back to Mubarak — have consistently avoided. For years economists have pointed to Egypt’s massive public-subsides budget — for both cheap fuel and basic food staples — as a mountain that simply had to be climbed in order to modernize the Egyptian economy. Assaad estimated that the government spends up to $15 billion per year on providing gasoline to its citizens at well below international prices.
“That’s just insane when you have this level of budget deficit,” he said. “There’s no way they’re going to solve the budget without tackling energy subsides. But that requires a somewhat credible Cabinet and government to do that.” Such potentially unpopular austerity measure requires broad political consensus as a cover. Morsi never managed to create this kind of consensus — his critics deride his tenure as one in which he sought to consolidate Islamist political power rather than build national unity.
Ironically, by alienating vast swaths of the country during a single year in office, Morsi, who remains detained by the military in an undisclosed location, might have paved the way for a new regime to institute galvanizing reforms. But with Egypt’s economic and political life still tied to its volatile street, the hard work has just begun.
An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of the professor at the University of Minnesota and misstated the name of the institution. He is Ragui Assaad, not Assad, and it is the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, not Public Policy.
2014: World History Timeline
Jan 1 In a New Year's message broadcast on North Korean television, Kim Jong-un attempts to appear reasonable by explaining the execution of his uncle. He described it as "the elimination of factional filth" which has bolstered the country's unity "by 100 times." He also called South Korea "warmongers," and he spoke of wanting better relations with South Korea.
Jan 1 BBC News reports that Filipinos begin the New Year with celebrations that injure 600, including a couple of deaths. One death was of a baby struck by a "stray bullet" (probably fired into the air). Another was of a teenager killed by "a firecracker display."
Jan 1 Ruth Marcus, a prominent liberal columnist for the Washington Post begins the New Year by jumping into the Edward Snowden controversy. She writes of Snowden's "messianic sense of self-importance" not having deflated. She adds: "Nor has living in an actual police state given [him] any greater appreciation of the actual freedoms that Americans enjoy." She further describes Snowden as "smug, self-righteous, egotistical, disingenuous, megalomaniacal, overwrought." George Orwell, she writes, "would have told Snowden to chill."
Jan 2 The NewsHour yesterday described false testimony that supported the manufacturers of the fire retardants in our homes and in our bodies, and brains. Efforts to get rid of the chemicals were defeated by multimillion-dollar lobbying by flame retardant manufacturers. Their lobbying efforts included paying a retired burn surgeon who repeatedly testified about infants that died of burns because there were no flame retardants to protect them. An award-winning investigative series by the Chicago Tribune dug into his testimony and found that there were no such cases. The NewsHour reports that this was followed by "mounting pressure from the public and scientific community" and that Governor Jerry Brown of California "decided to act." Changes are being made to California's furniture flammability standards. Meanwhile a number of studies have linked flame retardants to "cancer, neurological impairments and fertility problems" and remain in use. The NewsHour describes a UC Berkeley report "that you probably have flame retardants in your couch, your chair, your office chair, if you have a baby, strollers, high chairs, nursing pillows, little baby positioners, car seats. The chemicals are continuing coming out of the couch and they're heavy. They drop into dust. And then you get some dust on your hand, eat a French fry would be the classic, and they end up in your body. Toddlers who crawl in the dust of course have high levels."
Jan 2 In a speech yesterday commemorating the 55th anniversary of the Cuban revolution, Raul Castro spoke of hostile forces trying to introduce "neo-liberal and neo-colonial thinking" into Cuba. He admitted that mistakes had been made and said that, "The revolution's program will be updated every five years so that it can always answer to the true interests of the people and promptly correct any errors."
Jan 2 In her annual speech yesterday, Chancellor Angela Merkel, now leading a grand coalition of Social Democrats and her conservative Christian Democratic Union party, spoke of Germany pulling together: "friends and neighbors who take the initiative or put problems right.. families who provide loving care for their children and their family members every day. trade unionists and entrepreneurs who work together to ensure job security." She went on: "These people and many others like them make our society compassionate and successful. In this way it became possible this year for us to have the lowest unemployment rate and the highest labor market participation since reunification. For hundreds of thousands of families, this means having a safe future and earning recognition. And for our young people this means security, an education, a job and thus a good start in life."
Jan 3 In Cambodia, garment workers are on strike demanding a doubling of the minimum wage. Today, after workers blocked a road and clashed with police, the police opened fire killing three workers and injuring several more. Cambodia's government is in the hands of the Cambodian People's Party, formerly a Marxist-Leninist party. It is in a coalition with the party that supports Cambodia's monarchy. Prime Minister Hun Sen, in power since 1985 is, according to Wikipedia, "widely viewed as a dictator that has assumed authoritarian power in Cambodia using violence and intimidation and corruption to maintain his power base."
Jan 6 In the northern Damascus district of Barzeh, following intense negotiations in recent days, a truce has begun between Assad's forces and the Free Syrian Army. According to Alarabiya News, "The truce comes after nearly a year of fighting and bombardment in the area and both sides." The truce speaks of Assad's army withdrawing from all of Barzeh and a "cleaning of the streets (of abandoned corpses), in preparation for the road to be opened." The Free Syrian Army is to control traffic through the district, and a clause within the truce agreement speaks of residents who had fled the district able to return within two weeks and have their "services restored."
Jan 7 In the People's Republic of Bangladesh the political party in power, the left-of-center Awami League, wins the general election that occurred on the 5th. The party's leader, a 64-year-old woman, Sheikh Hasina, prime minister since 6 January 2009, remains in office. Her main opponent, another woman, Khaleda Zia, 68, a former prime minister, urged supporters to "completely boycott" what she called a "scandalous farce." She has been leading the Nationalist Party, commonly described as center-right, as secular but allied with the nation's Islamists. The elections didn't go well. BBC News describes one Bangladeshi as saying, "So many people have been killed due to political violence in the last three months, many of them torched alive inside buses. What sort of people are we? Do we qualify to be called human any more?" Another says, "In the last few days wherever I went and the word election was mentioned, people got afraid. Me, my family, and everyone I know are not voting. It is as a protest against Hasina's regime but we are not in support of the opposition either. Most people here in Bangladesh have no idea what will happen after today. But one thing we are sure of is that it will get worse."
Jan 9 In the world of bacteria – good bacteria and bad bacteria – trouble making bacteria are being accused of causing premature births. The journal Plos One, describes research that suggests certain bacteria may be responsible for the thinning of membranes of the sac that holds the infant. Early rupture of membranes is said to cause almost a third of all premature births.
Jan 9 In Pakistan the Taliban strikes again, in a car bomb attack killing what Reuters News describes as a "top Pakistani policeman renowned for his tough stance on criminals and Islamist militants."
Jan 10 Marwan Muasher, former foreign minister and deputy prime minister of Jordan, has a book on the Arab Spring coming out on the 28th. On the 9th he was interviewed by Margaret Warner on the NewsHour. He says the Arab world was "living under a state of artificially induced stability for a long time," induced by "non-democratic governments" and Muslim leaders "promising the moon." Now, he says, "the lid has been taken off" and secular regimes and forces are attempting to rule without a system of checks and balances. He says, "What we are witnessing is a direct result of an era in the Arab world where democracy was not practiced nor encouraged, an educational system which basically taught people just to blindly follow leaders without critical thinking, without asking questions. It's going to take decades work in which you have to do things to the educational system, the value system that exists in the Arab world." He sees it as a battle for pluralism. He adds that "the jihadi sort of phenomenon is transient in the Arab world. the overwhelming majority of the Arab world do not subscribe to al-Qaida types, do not subscribe to this jihadi radical thinking."
Jan 12 About the cause of turmoil in the Middle East, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, finds fault more within the Middle East rather than from the West. "These are societies," he says, "that have never really dealt successfully with modernity. You've never had a clear divide between the religious and the secular. People confuse democracy and majoritarianism. There's not a real sense of minority rights or places in these societies." (CNN, Global Public Square)
Jan 13 Fire raged yesterday in Shangri-la (renamed in 2001 to attract tourism), and it destroyed nearly 300 houses. A report describes firefighters unable to reach the fire because they had no fire engines designed for the town's narrow streets.
Jan 13 In West Virginia as many as 300,000 people enter their fifth day unable to use tap water for anything besides flushing toilets. This is the result of a chemical used to clean coal leaking out of a decaying old storage tank. "It's an old system," said a government official. He added that the company, Freedom Industries, has plans to upgrade it.
Jan 14 Frustration continues among the nearly 1.4 million unemployed Americans whose jobless benefits expired on December 28. Congressional Republicans are saying that any extension of benefits must be paid for by spending cuts. The frustrated include Carol Scott of Baltimore, who, according to columnist Eugene Robinson, "keeps getting told she is overqualified for jobs paying less, which she would happily take." Robinson points out that to receive benefits people have to show that they have been actively looking for work. Also frustrated is Lita Ness, who lost her job as a civilian contractor at Peterson Air Force Base in August 2012. The Associated Press reports her as saying, "I'm registered as a Republican, but if they continue to use this not extending our (aid) I'm probably changing to Democrat."
Jan 15 Overheard and secretly filmed in North Korea, a woman says, "in China they have freedom of speech. The problem here is that one in three people will report you." This was broadcast last night in the US on PBS television, Frontline. It described the regime in North Korea as able to survive because of its "excluding outside unwanted information from coming in and educating the public" and that this is "starting to change, whether the North Korean leadership likes it or not."
Jan 16 In Egypt, voter turnout is pleasing authorities and government supporters and is being described as an indication of public support for the referendum on the country's new constitution. Yesterday, public celebrations by those supporting the new constitution marked the end of the voting. Egypt's army wanted a strong turnout to endorse its recent power moves. Exact figures have not yet been announced. Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhhood's former president, Morsi, boycotted the voting, as did the religiously ultra-conservative Salafis. Some on the Left also boycotted the voting. Nine people were killed in clashes involving Morsi supporters, and according to BBC News "Some 400 people have been arrested . for disrupting the vote." Those boycotting the referendum appear to be the losers. The media in Egypt is being described by BBC News as pro-military and as portraying the vote "as key to the nation's security and stability." Egypt's stock market has rallied to a three-year high this week, according to Reuters News, "driven partly by hopes for more stable government." The new constitution was drafted by the army-backed interim government. Mona Zulficar, on the Egyptian Constitutional Committee, describes that new constitution as providing "guarantees for equal opportunity . guarantees for equality before the law, without discrimination on any basis." And, she says, "it provides explicitly that no discrimination will be permitted based on sex, religion, belief, social or political affiliation."
Jan 20 Gene therapy has been used to revive light detecting cells in the eyes of six patiients who would otherwise have gone blind. BBC News reports today that "the doctors involved believe that the treatment could in time be used to treat common forms of blindness."
Jan 21 The Human Rights Watch report for 2014 describes the Assad regime in Syria as waging war by killing civilians. BBC News reports that there is "clear evidence that Syria has systematically tortured and executed about 11,000 detainees since the start of the uprising." London's Telegraph writes of accusations that the Assad regime has been aiding al-Qaeda associated opponents in order to persuade the West that the uprising against him is terrorist-led. An international conference regarding the civil war in Syria is set to begin tomorrow. Thirty countries will be represented. Reuter's describes the talks as already in disarray. Assad is saying he will not step down and that the talks should focus on fighting terrorism.
Jan 22 Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague has viewed the gruesome evidence of torture and killings by government forces in Syria, and he says the perpetrators must be brought to justice.
Jan 22 Argentina has an inflation problem. Inflation is in double digits. The courts have overturned an attempt by the government to prevent anyone from publishing an inflation figure different from what the government says it is. The value of Argentina's currency is threatened, and the government needs more revenue. BBC News reports that anyone buying items through international websites, such as Amazon.com, "will now need to sign a declaration and produce it at a customs office, where the packages have to be collected." Someone complains: "Each time you go to customs, you need to spend three or four hours."
Jan 23 The population of Iraq despite all the deaths by violence and the emigration since 2003 is the subject of a report by Charlotte McDonald on BBC News. According to a UN estimate in 2003 there were around 25 million people in Iraq and today there are around 33 million – an increase of around one-third. Iraqi families have been averaging four or more children. Births have continued to well outnumber deaths.
Jan 25 Argentine poet Juan Gelman has died at eighty-three. There was a moment of silence for him across the country, while time has caught up with his opponents, the super-patriotic members of the brutal military junta who gloried in their power, murdered thousands and failed to foresee that eventually they would be reviled by their country.
Jan 25 Argentina's currency, the peso, fell eleven percent against the dollar yesterday, it's steepest fall since its financial crisis in 2002. BBC News says a government cabinet member has announced that "the country will reduce the tax rate on dollar purchases and allow the purchase of dollars for savings accounts."
Jan 28 Attacks by Buddhist monks against Christians and Muslims in Sri Lanka are reported in Saudi Arabia, where the monarchy supports peace among peoples of different faiths. Buddhists are 70 percent of the population and Muslims second with 10 percent. The Forum for Inter-Faith Dialogue is asking for full implementation of the law against such attacks. The Saudi newspaper Arab News reports: "Videos shared on YouTube have shown Buddhist monks throwing stones and smashing a Christian prayer center in southern Sri Lanka earlier this month while police looked on. Monks were also caught on video camera last year smashing Muslim-owned businesses just outside the capital."
Jan 28 The Geneva II Conference on Syria began on the 23rd and today is reported as deadlocked. So far the Assad regime's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem has reminded the world that diplomacy at times is childish. He has done nothing but attack Assad's opponents and those who support them, including the United States. He hasn't suggested any interest in a cease fire anywhere or in any kind of local governance that would diminish the Assad regime's freedom to apply aggression. There is none of the generosity that comes with strength. Instead, it appears that fear is keeping the Assad regime on a course of authoritarianism and attempt to hold to power by state terrorism.
Jan 29 An article in Neurology, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), describes a study that indicates that patients with Alzheimer's disease have four times as much DDT in their body as healthy people.
Jan 30 Human Rights Watch: "Satellite imagery, witness statements, and video and photographic evidence show that Syrian authorities deliberately and unlawfully demolished thousands of residential buildings in Damascus and Hama in 2012 and 2013."
Jan 31 The first round of the Geneva II peace talks end described on the NewsHour as having failed with Assad's disappointment over Secretary of State John Kerry's insistence that he, Assad, must step down. Assad is described as having hoped that the US had come to see him as preferable to not knowing what they would be getting with an opposition that is in chaos and includes al-Qaeda surrogates.
Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel in Joint Press Conference
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Mr. President, Barack, it&rsquos a great pleasure for me to host you here in Jerusalem. You&rsquove graciously hosted me many times in Washington, so I'm very pleased to have this opportunity to reciprocate. I hope that the goodwill and warmth of the people of Israel has already made you feel at home.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Very much so.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: We had an opportunity today to begin discussing the wide range of issues that are critical to both our countries. And foremost among these is Iran&rsquos relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons. Mr. President, you have made it clear that you are determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. I appreciate your forthright position on this point. I also appreciate that you have noted -- that you have acted to thwart the threat both through determined diplomacy and strong sanctions that are getting stronger yet.
Notwithstanding our joint efforts and your great success in mobilizing the international community, diplomacy and sanctions so far have not stopped Iran&rsquos nuclear program. And as you know, my view is that in order to stop Iran&rsquos nuclear programs peacefully, diplomacy and sanctions must be augmented by a clear and credible threat of military action.
In this regard, Mr. President, I want to thank you once again for always making clear that Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. I deeply appreciate those words because they speak to the great transformation that has occurred in the life of the Jewish people with the rebirth of the Jewish state. The Jewish people only two generations ago were once a powerless people, defenseless against those who sought our destruction. Today we have both the right and the capability to defend ourselves.
And you said earlier today, the essence of the State of Israel, the essence of the rebirth of the Jewish state is we've fulfilled the age-old dream of the Jewish people to be masters of our fate in our own state. I think that was a wonderful line that I will cherish because it really gets down to the essence of what this state is about. That is why I know that you appreciate that Israel can never cede the right to defend ourselves to others, even to the greatest of our friends. And Israel has no better friend than the United States of America. So I look forward to continuing to work with you to address what is an existential threat to Israel and a grave threat to the peace and security of the world.
Mr. President, we discussed today the situation in Syria. We share the goal of seeing a stable and peaceful Syria emerge from the carnage that we have witnessed over the last two years. That carnage has already resulted in the deaths of over 70,000 people and the suffering of millions. We also share a determination to prevent the deadly arsenal of weapons within Syria from falling into the hands of terrorist hands. And I have no doubt that the best way to do that is to work closely with the United States and other countries in the region to address this challenge. And that is what we intend to do.
Finally, Mr. President, your visit gave us an opportunity to try to find a way to advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians. My new government was sworn in two days ago. I know there have been questions regarding what the policy of the new government will be towards peace with the Palestinians. So let me be clear. Israel remains fully committed to peace and to the solution of two states for two peoples. We extend our hand in peace and in friendship to the Palestinian people.
I hope that your visit, along with the visit of Secretary of State Kerry, will help us turn a page in our relations with the Palestinians. Let us sit down at the negotiating table. Let us put aside all preconditions. Let us work together to achieve the historic compromise that will end our conflict once and for all.
Let me conclude, Mr. President, on a personal note. I know how valuable the time and the energy is of the American President, of yourself. This is the 10th time that we have met since you became President and since I became Prime Minister. You&rsquove chosen Israel as your first venue in your visit, your foreign visit in your second term. I want to thank you for the investment you have made in our relationship and in strengthening the friendship and alliance between our two countries. It is deeply, deeply appreciated.
You&rsquove come here on the eve of Passover. I've always considered it as our most cherished holiday. It celebrates the Jewish people's passage from slavery to freedom. Through the ages it has also inspired people struggling for freedom, including the Founding Fathers of the United States. So it&rsquos a profound honor to host you, the leader of the free world, at this historic time in our ancient capital.
Mr. President, welcome to Israel. Welcome to Jerusalem. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you.
Well, thank you, Prime Minister Netanyahu, for your kind words and for your wonderful welcome here today. And I want to express a special thanks to Sara as well as your two sons for their warmth and hospitality. It was wonderful to see them. They are -- I did inform the Prime Minister that they are very good-looking young men who clearly got their looks from their mother. (Laughter.)
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, I can say the same of your daughters. (Laughter.)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: This is true. Our goal is to improve our gene pool by marrying women who are better than we are.
Mr. Prime Minister, I want to begin by congratulating you on the formation of your new government. In the United States, we work hard to find agreement between our two major parties. Here in Israel, you have to find consensus among many more. And few legislatures can compete with the intensity of the Knesset. But all of this reflects the thriving nature of Israel&rsquos democracy.
As Bibi mentioned, this is our 10th meeting. We&rsquove spent more time together, working together, than I have with any leader. And this speaks to the closeness of our two nations, the interests and the values that we share, and the depth and breadth of the ties between our two peoples.
As leaders, our most solemn responsibility is the security of our people -- that&rsquos job number one. My job as President of the United States, first and foremost, is to keep the American people safe. Bibi, as Prime Minister, your first task is to keep the people of Israel safe. And Israel&rsquos security needs are truly unique, as I&rsquove seen myself. In past trips I visited villages near the Blue Line. I&rsquove walked through Israeli homes devastated by Hezbollah rockets. I&rsquove stood in Sderot, and met with children who simply want to grow up free from fear. And flying in today, I saw again how Israel&rsquos security can be measured in mere miles and minutes.
As President, I&rsquove, therefore, made it clear America&rsquos commitment to the security of the State of Israel is a solemn obligation, and the security of Israel is non-negotiable.
Today, our military and intelligence personnel cooperate more closely than ever before. We conduct more joint exercises and training than ever before. We&rsquore providing more security assistance and advanced technology to Israel than ever before. And that includes more support for the missile defenses like Iron Dome, which I saw today and which has saved so many Israeli lives.
In short -- and I don&rsquot think this is just my opinion, I think, Bibi, you would share this -- America&rsquos support for Israel&rsquos security is unprecedented, and the alliance between our nations has never been stronger.
That&rsquos the sturdy foundation we built on today as we addressed a range of shared challenges. As part of our long-term commitment to Israel&rsquos security, the Prime Minister and I agreed to begin discussions on extending military assistance to Israel. Our current agreement lasts through 2017, and we&rsquove directed our teams to start working on extending it for the years beyond.
I&rsquom also pleased to announce that we will take steps to ensure that there&rsquos no interruption of funding for Iron Dome. As a result of decisions that I made last year, Israel will receive approximately $200 million this fiscal year and we will continue to work with Congress on future funding of Iron Dome. These are further reminders that we will help to preserve Israel&rsquos qualitative military edge so that Israel can defend itself, by itself, against any threat.
We also discussed the way forward to a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. And I very much welcomed Bibi&rsquos words before I spoke. I&rsquoll be meeting with President Abbas tomorrow, and I will have more to say on this topic in the speech that I deliver to the Israeli people tomorrow. But for now, let me just reiterate that a central element of a lasting peace must be a strong and secure Jewish state, where Israel&rsquos security concerns are met, alongside a sovereign and independent Palestinian state.
In this regard, I&rsquod note that last year was a milestone -- the first year in four decades when not a single Israeli citizen lost their life because of terrorism emanating from the West Bank. It&rsquos a reminder that Israel has a profound interest in a strong and effective Palestinian Authority. And as the Prime Minister&rsquos new government begins its work, we&rsquoll continue to look for steps that both Israelis and Palestinians can take to build trust and confidence upon which lasting peace will depend.
We also reaffirmed the importance of ensuring Israel&rsquos security given the changes and uncertainty in the region. As the United States supports the Egyptian people in their historic transition to democracy, we continue to underscore the necessity of Egypt contributing to regional security, preventing Hamas from rearming and upholding its peace treaty with Israel.
With respect to Syria, the United States continues to work with allies and friends and the Syrian opposition to hasten the end of Assad&rsquos rule, to stop the violence against the Syrian people, and begin a transition toward a new government that respects the rights of all its people.
Assad has lost his legitimacy to lead by attacking the Syrian people with almost every conventional weapon in his arsenal, including Scud missiles. And we have been clear that the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people would be a serious and tragic mistake. We also share Israel&rsquos grave concern about the transfer of chemical or other weapon systems to terrorists -- such as Hezbollah -- that might be used against Israel. The Assad regime must understand that they will be held accountable for the use of chemical weapons or their transfer to terrorists.
And finally, we continued our close consultation on Iran. We agree that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to the region, a threat to the world, and potentially an existential threat to Israel. And we agree on our goal. We do not have a policy of containment when it comes to a nuclear Iran. Our policy is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
We prefer to resolve this diplomatically, and there&rsquos still time to do so. Iran&rsquos leaders must understand, however, that they have to meet their international obligations. And, meanwhile, the international community will continue to increase the pressure on the Iranian government. The United States will continue to consult closely with Israel on next steps. And I will repeat: All options are on the table. We will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from getting the world&rsquos worst weapons.
Meeting none of these challenges will be easy. It will demand the same courage and resolve as those who have preceded us.
And on Friday, I&rsquoll be honored to visit Mount Herzl and pay tribute to the leaders and soldiers who have laid down their lives for Israel. One of them was Yoni Netanyahu. And in one of his letters home, he wrote to his family, &ldquoDon&rsquot forget -- strength, justice, and staunch resolution are on our side, and that is a great deal.&rdquo
Mr. Prime Minister, like families across Israel, you and your family have served and sacrificed to defend your country and to pass it, safe and strong, to your children just as it was passed on to you. Standing here today, I can say with confidence that Israel&rsquos security is guaranteed because it has a great deal on its side, including the unwavering support of the United States of America. (Applause.)
Q Mr. President, may I ask you about Syria, a practical question and a moral one? Morally, how is it possible that for the last two years, tens of thousands of innocent civilians are being massacred and no one -- the world, the United States and you -- are doing anything to stop it immediately? On a practical level, you have said today and also in the past that the use of chemical weapons would be a crossing of a red line. It seems like this line was crossed yesterday. What specifically do you intend to do about it?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I'll answer the question in reverse order, if you don't mind. I'll talk about the chemical weapons first and then, the larger question.
With respect to chemical weapons, we intend to investigate thoroughly exactly what happened. Obviously, in Syria right now you've got a war zone. You have information that's filtered out, but we have to make sure that we know exactly what happened -- what was the nature of the incident, what can we document, what can we prove. So I've instructed my teams to work closely with all of the countries in the region and international organizations and institutions to find out precisely whether or not this red line was crossed.
I will note, without at this point having all the facts before me, that we know the Syrian government has the capacity to carry out chemical weapon attacks. We know that there are those in the Syrian government who have expressed a willingness to use chemical weapons if necessary to protect themselves. I am deeply skeptical of any claim that, in fact, it was the opposition that used chemical weapons. Everybody who knows the facts of the chemical weapon stockpiles inside Syria as well as the Syrian government's capabilities I think would question those claims. But I know that they're floating out there right now.
The broader point is, is that once we establish the facts I have made clear that the use of chemical weapons is a game changer. And I won't make an announcement today about next steps because I think we have to gather the facts. But I do think that when you start seeing weapons that can cause potential devastation and mass casualties and you let that genie out of the bottle, then you are looking potentially at even more horrific scenes than we've already seen in Syria. And the international community has to act on that additional information.
But as is always the case when it comes to issues of war and peace, I think having the facts before you act is very important.
More broadly, as I said in my opening statement, I believe that the Assad regime has lost all credibility and legitimacy. I think Assad must go -- and I believe he will go. It is incorrect for you to say that we have done nothing. We have helped to mobilize the isolation of the Assad regime internationally. We have supported and recognized the opposition. We have provided hundreds of millions of dollars in support for humanitarian aid. We have worked diligently with other countries in the region to provide additional tools to move towards a political transition within Syria.
If your suggestion is, is that I have not acted unilaterally militarily inside of Syria, well, the response has been -- or my response would be that, to the extent possible, I want to make sure that we're working as an international community to deal with this problem, because I think it&rsquos a world problem, not simply a United States problem, or an Israel problem, or a Turkish problem. It&rsquos a world problem when tens of thousands of people are being slaughtered, including innocent women and children.
And so we will continue to work in an international framework to try to bring about the kind of change that's necessary in Syria. Secretary Kerry has been working nonstop since he came into his current position to try to help mobilize and organize our overall efforts, and we will continue to push every lever that we have to try to bring about a resolution inside of Syria that respects the rights and the safety and security of all people, regardless of whatever sectarian lines currently divide Syria.
Last point I'll make, which is probably obvious, is this is not easy. When you start seeing a civil war that has sectarian elements to it, and you&rsquove got a repressive government that is intent on maintaining power, and you have mistrust that has broken out along sectarian lines, and you have an opposition that has not had the opportunity or time to organize itself both politically as well as militarily, then you end up seeing some of the devastation that you&rsquove been seeing. And we're going to do everything we can to continue to prevent it. And I know that the vast majority of our international partners feel the same way.
Q. Yes, thank you. There was some friendly banter between you two gentlemen on the tarmac today about red lines, and I'm wondering how much of a serious matter that actually became in your talks and will be in your talks to come tonight. President Obama has said it will take Iran at least a year to build a bomb. That's months longer than the Prime Minister believes.
Mr. President, are you asking the Prime Minister to be more patient, to hold off for at least a year on any kind of military action against Iran?
Mr. Prime Minister, has President Obama&rsquos words -- have they convinced you that he is putting forth the credible military threat that you have repeatedly asked for, or there&rsquos a need to go further? Thank you.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Bibi, why don't you go -- take a first swing at this.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, first of all, there are so many strips of different colors on the tarmac that we -- (laughter) -- we did have a joke about that. But obviously this matter is no joke. It relates to our very existence and to something also that the President correctly identified as a grave strategic threat to the United States and to the peace and security of the world.
I'm absolutely convinced that the President is determined to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. And I appreciate that. And I also appreciate something that he said, which I mentioned in my opening remarks, that the Jewish people have come back to their own country to be the masters of their own fate. And I appreciate the fact that the President has reaffirmed -- more than any other President -- Israel&rsquos right and duty to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. We just heard those important words now, and I think that sums up our -- I would say -- our common view.
Iran is a grave threat to Israel, a grave threat to the world -- a nuclear Iran. The United States is committed to deal with it. Israel is committed to deal with it. We have different vulnerabilities, obviously, and different capabilities. We take that into account. But what we do maintain -- and the President I think is the first to do so -- is that Israel has a right to independently defend itself against any threat, including the Iranian threat.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think the only thing I would add is that our intelligence cooperation on this issue, the consultation between our militaries, our intelligence, is unprecedented, and there is not a lot of light, a lot of daylight between our countries&rsquo assessments in terms of where Iran is right now.
I think that what Bibi alluded to, which is absolutely correct, is each country has to make its own decisions when it comes to the awesome decision to engage in any kind of military action, and Israel is differently situated than the United States. And I would not expect that the Prime Minister would make a decision about his country&rsquos security and defer that to any other country -- any more than the United States would defer our decisions about what was important for our national security.
I have shared with Bibi, as I've said to the entire world, as I've said to the Iranian people and Iranian leaders, that I think there is time to resolve this issue diplomatically. The question is, will Iranian leadership seize that opportunity? Will they walk through that door?
And it would be in everybody&rsquos interests -- not just Israel&rsquos interests, not just the United States&rsquo interests -- it would be in the interest of the Iranian people if this gets resolved diplomatically. Because the truth of the matter is, is that the most permanent solution to the Iranian situation is ultimately going to be their decision that it is not worth it for them to pursue nuclear weapons. That will be the lasting change. If we can get that, that's good for everybody, including Iran, because it would allow them to break out of the isolation that has hampered their society and their economic development for many years.
But I don't know whether they're going to be willing to take that step. And obviously, their past behavior indicates that, in the words of -- or a play on words on what Ronald Reagan said -- we can't even trust yet, much less verify. But we do have to test the proposition that this can be resolved diplomatically. And if it can't, then I&rsquove repeated to Bibi what I've said publicly, and that is, is that we will leave all options on the table in resolving it.
Q Mr. Prime Minister, do you agree or disagree with the President&rsquos one-year assessment?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: We have another question.
Q Welcome, Mr. President. On your way back to Washington on Friday, what will you consider a successful visit? Convincing the Israeli leaders that they can rely on you on the Iranian issue, especially that they learned that there are differences between Israel and the United States concerning the enrichment of the Iranian -- or convincing both sides -- Israelis and the Palestinians -- to revive the floundering negotiation, reviving the peace process, the floundering peace process?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, my main goal on this trip has been to have an opportunity to speak directly to the Israeli people at a time when obviously what was already a pretty tough neighborhood has gotten tougher, and let them know that they've got a friend in the United States, that we have your back that we consider Israel's security of extraordinary importance to us, not just because of the bonds between our peoples but also because of our own national security interest.
In that context, what I have also sought to achieve here is further consultations, building on what we've already discussed -- as Bibi has just formed a new government, as I am entering my second term -- that we continue to have close consultation around some of these shared interests that we've already discussed, Iran being obviously a prominent shared concern. I want to make sure that the Israeli people and the Israeli government consistently understand my thinking and how I'm approaching this problem. And I want to understand how the Israeli government and the Prime Minister is approaching this problem to make sure that there are no misunderstandings there.
With respect to the peace process, as I said, I'll have more to say about this tomorrow. But I think you are absolutely right that over the last year, year and a half, two years, two and a half years, we haven't gone forward. We haven't seen the kind of progress that we would like to see.
There's some elements of good news. I mean, the fact of the matter is, is that even with all that's been happening in the region, the Palestinian Authority has worked effectively in cooperation with the international community -- in part because of some of the training that we, the United States, provided -- to do its part in maintaining security in the West Bank. We have seen some progress when it comes to economic development and opportunity for the Palestinian people.
But the truth of the matter is trying to bring this to some sort of clear settlement, a solution that would allow Israelis to feel as if they've broken out of the current isolation that they're in, in this region, that would allow the incredible economic growth that's taking place inside this country to be a model for trade and commerce and development throughout the region at a time when all these other countries need technology and commerce and jobs for their young people, for Palestinians to feel a sense that they, too, are masters of their own fate, for Israel to feel that the possibilities of rockets raining down on their families has diminished -- that kind of solution we have not yet seen.
And so what I want to do is listen, hear from Prime Minister Netanyahu -- tomorrow, I'll have a chance to hear from Abu Mazen -- to get a sense from them, how do they see this process moving forward. What are the possibilities and what are the constraints, and how can the United States be helpful? And I purposely did not want to come here and make some big announcement that might not match up with what the realities and possibilities on the ground are. I wanted to spend some time listening before I talked -- which my mother always taught me was a good idea.
And so, hopefully -- I'll consider it a success if when I go back on Friday, I'm able to say to myself I have a better understanding of what the constraints are, what the interests of the various parties are, and how the United States can play a constructive role in bringing about a lasting peace and two states living side by side in peace and security.
Q Thank you, Mr. President Mr. Prime Minister.
Mr. President, I'm going to follow up a little bit on the peace process. You began your term, your first term, big fanfare -- Cairo speech to talk to the Muslim world, the decision to have a Middle East envoy early. You said you weren't going to let this slip to your second term. We're in your second term with the Middle East peace process. What went wrong? Why are we further away from a two-state solution? I know you said you want to talk more about this tomorrow, but I am curious. What do you believe went wrong? Did you push Israel too hard? What do you wish you would have done differently?
And, Mr. Prime Minister, I want to help out my colleague over here on the follow-up that he had, which had to do with do you accept the President's understanding that Iran is a year away when it comes to nuclear weapons? And another question I had for you --
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Chuck, how many have you got? Do you guys do this in the Israeli press -- you say you get one question and then you add like five?
Q Well, I'm helping him. I'm helping him with his --
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You see how the young lady from Channel One, she had one question. She was very well-behaved, Chuck.
Q I had that one for you and -- (laughter) --
PRIME NETANYAHU: These are commuted questions they have. (Laughter.)
Q Apparently -- I thought I had four questions.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Reiterations.
Q Passover starts in a couple of days. (Laughter.) I get four questions, right?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Look, this is not a Kosher question, but don't hog it. (Laughter.)
Q I guess my question to you was going to be, why do you believe the Israeli people have not embraced President Obama the same way they embraced our last two U.S. Presidents? Thank you.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: So you had to get a polling question in there right at the end? (Laughter.) Chuck, I mean, you're just incorrigible. (Laughter.)
Well, look, the opening premise of your question was that having failed to achieve peace in the Middle East in my first term that I must have screwed up somehow. And I will tell you I hope I'm a better President now than when I first came into office, but my commitment was not to achieve a peace deal in my first year, or in my second year or my third year. That would have been nice. What I said was I was not going to wait to start on the issue until my second term, because I thought it was too important. And that's exactly what I did.
I'm absolutely sure that there are a host of things that I could have done that would have been more deft and would have created better optics. But ultimately, this is a really hard problem. It&rsquos been lingering for over six decades. And the parties involved have some profound interests that you can&rsquot spin, you can&rsquot smooth over. And it is a hard slog to work through all of these issues.
I will add that both parties also have politics, just like we do back home. There are a whole bunch of things that I&rsquod like to do back in the United States that I didn&rsquot get done in my first term. And I&rsquom sure I could have been more deft there as well. But some of it&rsquos just because it&rsquos hard, and people disagree, and it takes I think a confluence of both good diplomatic work, but also timing, serendipity, things falling into place at the right time, the right players feeling that this is the moment to seize it.
And my goal here is just to make sure that the United State is a positive force in trying to create those opportunities as frequently as possible, and to be as clear as possible as to why we think that this is an important priority -- not only because of some Pollyanna-ish views about can&rsquot we all get along and hold hands and sing &ldquoKumbaya,&rdquo but because I actually believe that Israel&rsquos security will be enhanced with a resolution to this issue. I believe that Palestinians will prosper and can channel their extraordinary energies and entrepreneurship in more positive ways with a resolution to this issue. The entire region I think will be healthier with a resolution to this issue.
So I&rsquom going to keep on making that argument. And I will admit that, frankly, sometimes it would be easier not to make the argument and to avoid the question, precisely because it&rsquos hard. That&rsquos not the approach that I&rsquove tried to take.
And there have probably been times where, when I&rsquove made statements about what I think needs to happen, the way it gets filtered through our press -- it may be interpreted in ways that get Israelis nervous, just like there are folks back home who sometimes get nervous about areas where they aren't sure exactly where I stand on things. That's why I always like the opportunity to talk directly to you guys. Hopefully, you'll show the live film, as opposed to the edited version.
With that, I think you've got four questions to answer, Bibi. (Laughter.)
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I think that there's a misunderstanding about time. If Iran decides to go for a nuclear weapon -- that is, to actually manufacture the weapon -- then it probably -- then it would take them about a year. I think that's correct. They could defer that a long time but still get through the enrichment process -- that is, to make a weapon you need two things you need enriched uranium of a critical amount and then you need a weapon. You can't have the weapon without the enriched uranium, but you can have the enriched uranium without the weapon.
Iran right now is enriching uranium. It&rsquos pursuing it. It hasn&rsquot yet reached the red line that I had described in my speech at the U.N. -- they're getting closer, though.
And the question of manufacturing the weapon is a different thing. The President said correctly that we have -- on these issues that are a little arcane, they sound a little detailed to you -- but on these matters we share information and we have a common assessment. We have a common assessment.
In any case, Iran gets to an immunity zone when they get through the enrichment process, in our view -- in our view -- and whatever time is left, there's not a lot of time. And every day that passes diminishes it. But we do have a common assessment. On the schedules, on intelligence, we share that intelligence and we don't have any argument about it. I think it's important to state that clearly.
I think that people should get to know President Obama the way I've gotten to know. And I think you've just heard something that is very meaningful. It may have escaped you, but it hasn't escaped me. And that is the President announced that in addition to all the aid that his administration has provided -- including Iron Dome, including defense funding for Israel during very difficult times -- he has announced that we are going to begin talks on another 10-year process arrangement to ensure American military assistance to Israel. I think this is very significant.
And I want to express my thanks for everything that you have done. And I want to thank you also for that statement you just made. I think it's very, very important.
So I think Israelis will judge this by the unfolding events and by what is happening, what is actually taking place. And for thi -- you know, there's a very simple answer to your question -- the gentleman from NBC, right? Yes. Well, for this, you need, you see, a second term as President and a third term as Prime Minister. That really fixes things. (Laughter.)
Joint Press Conference by President Obama and Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please be seated, everybody. Good afternoon.
It is a great pleasure to welcome my friend, Prime Minister Erdogan, back to the White House. This visit is also another opportunity for me to return the extraordinary hospitality that the Prime Minister and the Turkish people showed me on my visit to Turkey four years ago. And that included my visit to the Prime Minister&rsquos beautiful hometown of Istanbul.
This visit reflects the importance that the United States places on our relationship with our ally, Turkey, and I value so much the partnership that I've been able to develop with Prime Minister Erdogan.
Today we discussed the many areas in which our countries cooperate, including Afghanistan, where our troops serve bravely together the G20, where we promote our shared prosperity and Iran, where we agree it is critical that we do not see that country acquire a nuclear weapon and potentially trigger an arms race throughout the region.
Given our shared interest in peace, I want to note the Prime Minister&rsquos efforts to normalize relations with Israel. This will benefit both the Turkish and Israeli people and can also help us make progress on a two-state solution, including an independent Palestinian state.
Today, we focused on three areas that I want to highlight. First, we agreed to keep expanding trade and investment. Over the past four years, our trade has surged and U.S. exports to Turkey have more than doubled. As the United States pursues a new trade and investment partnership with the EU, I want to make sure that we also keep deepening our economic ties with Turkey. So we&rsquore creating a new high-level committee that will focus on increasing trade and investment between our two countries and will help fuel Turkish innovation. And the progress that Turkey&rsquos economy has made over the last several years I think has been remarkable and the Prime Minister deserves much credit for some of the reforms that are already taking place.
Second, as NATO allies we&rsquore reaffirming our solemn commitment to our mutual security. Mr. Prime Minister, on behalf of the American people, I want to express our condolences to the Turkish people and the victims of the outrageous bombings that took place in Reyhanli. As always, the United States stands with you as you defend your nation against terrorism. We want to thank you for the cooperation that you provided us in threats against the United States.
And I want to take this opportunity to commend you and the Turkish people for your courage in seeking an historic and peaceful resolution of the PKK violence that has plagued Turkey for so long. And just as the United States has stood with you in your long search for security, we will support efforts in Turkey to uphold the rule of law and good governance and human rights for all.
Finally, we spent a great deal of time on an issue that has racked the region -- the issue of Syria. Under the Prime Minister's leadership, the Turkish people have shown extraordinary generosity to the Syrians who have found refuge in Turkey. And I know this is a heavy burden. I've made it clear again today that the United States is going to keep on helping countries in the region, including Turkey, shoulder this burden, doing our part as a major donor of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, including those refugees in Turkey. And we're going to keep working with our Turkish partners to deliver the food, shelter and medicine that&rsquos needed to save lives.
At the same time, we're going to keep increasing the pressure on the Assad regime and working with the Syrian opposition. The Prime Minister has been at the forefront of the international effort to push for a transition to a democratic Syria without Bashar Assad. And Turkey is going to play an important role as we bring representatives of the regime and opposition together in the coming weeks.
We both agree that Assad needs to go. He needs to transfer power to a transitional body. That is the only way that we're going to resolve this crisis. And we're going to keep working for a Syria that is free from Assad's tyranny that is intact and inclusive of all ethnic and religious groups and that&rsquos a source of stability, not extremism, because it's in the profound interest of all our nations, especially Turkey.
So, again, Mr. Prime Minister, I want to thank you for being here and for being such a strong ally and partner in the region and around the world. I know that Michelle appreciates the opportunity to host Mrs. Erdoğan and your two wonderful daughters this morning. I'm looking forward to our dinner tonight. And, as always, among the topics where I appreciate your advice is close to our hearts, and that&rsquos how to raise our daughters well. You're a little ahead of me in terms of their ages.
With the Prime Minister's permission, I want to make one other point. There&rsquos been intense discussion in Congress lately around the attacks in Benghazi. We lost four brave Americans, patriots who accepted the risks that come with service because they know that their contributions are vital to our national interests and national security.
I am intent on making sure that we do everything we can to prevent another tragedy like this from happening. But that means we owe it to them and all who serve to do everything in our power to protect our personnel serving overseas. That's why, at my direction, we've been taking a series of steps that were recommended by the review board after the incident. We're continuing to review our security at high-threat diplomatic posts, including the size and nature of our presence improving training for those headed to dangerous posts increasing intelligence and warning capabilities. And I&rsquove directed the Defense Department to ensure that our military can respond lightning quick in times of crisis.
But we&rsquore not going to be able to do this alone. We&rsquore going to need Congress as a partner. So I&rsquove been in discussions, and my team has been in discussions, with both Democrats and Republicans, and I&rsquom calling on Congress to work with us to support and fully fund our budget request to improve the security of our embassies around the world. We also need Congress to work with us to provide the resources and new authorities so we can fully implement all of the recommendations of the Accountability Review Board. And we&rsquore going to need Congress&rsquos help in terms of increasing the number of our Marine Corps Guard who protect our embassies.
So I want to say to members of Congress in both parties, we need to come together and truly honor the sacrifice of those four courageous Americans and better secure our diplomatic posts around the world. And I should add, by the way, that we&rsquore getting some help from the Turkish government on some of these issues. That&rsquos how we learn the lessons of Benghazi. That&rsquos how we can keep faith with the men and women who we send overseas to represent America. And that&rsquos what I will stay focused on as Commander-in-Chief.
So with that, Mr. Prime Minister, welcome to the United States. I&rsquom sorry the weather is not fully cooperating with our lovely Rose Garden press conference, but I think we&rsquoll be okay.
PRIME MINISTER ERDOGAN: (As interpreted.) Thank you.
Mr. President, distinguished members of the press, ladies and gentlemen. My dear friend, President of the United States, a friend and ally, I&rsquom once again very pleased to be here in Washington to have meetings with the President. I would like to express my thanks for the hospitality that has been shown to us on this occasion on behalf of myself and my delegation.
In the President&rsquos person, I would like to express our condolences for the terror attack that took place in Boston. We express our condolences to the American people. We are a country which has been fighting against terrorism for many years. We&rsquove lost many lives in that fight against terrorism, and so we very well understand the feelings and sentiments of the American people in face of such an event. As Turkey and the United States, we are both determined to continue to fight jointly against terrorism.
My dear friends, Turkey and the United States have many issues that cover the Middle East to the Balkans to Central Asia to other areas, including issues such as energy, security supply, and many other issues. And in all these areas and on all these issues we display a very strong cooperation.
And in our meetings with President Obama today, we talked about relations between Turkey and the United States, and also about some topical issues which remain on both of our agendas. We had an opportunity to exchange views on regional and global issues, and our exchange of views and opinions will continue throughout the day with other meetings that will take place during the rest of the day.
I am here with close to a hundred business people, and they are holding meetings with their counterparts in the United States, and they will continue to talk and meet with their counterparts this afternoon as well.
Bilateral economic relations between Turkey and the United States have to be improved, and we both have this aim. Ten years ago, our trade stood at $8 billion at the moment, trade stands at $20 billion. But this amount is still not sufficient. We have to increase the amount of trade between our two countries.
Bilateral economic and trade relations between Turkey and the United States will continue to develop. And as we carry forward with these efforts, we need to strengthen this relationship with free trade agreements and other agreements. And I can tell you that as leaders of our nations we have the will to continue to develop our economic relations.
In our discussions that pertain to regional issues, Syria was at the top of our agenda. While we discussed Syria, we talked about what has happened so far and we talked about what can be done in the future. And we have views that overlap, as the President has just said. We will continue to discuss this issue in greater detail in our meeting this evening. But let me tell you that ending this bloody process in Syria and meeting the legitimate demands of the people by establishing a new government are two areas where we are in full agreement with the United States.
Supporting the opposition and Assad leaving are important issues. We also agree that we have to prevent Syria from becoming an area for terrorist organizations. We also agreed that chemical weapons should not be used, and all minorities and their rights should be secured. These are all priority areas for all of us. And we discussed what needs to be done on these issues with the President, and this evening, we will continue to talk about these in greater detail.
Iraq was also another area of discussion for us on regional issues. Transparent elections in Iraq and the participation -- ensuring the participation of all political groups in the elections are both very important in Iraq. With everyone&rsquos participation we would like to see a peaceful period in Iraq. And this is what both we and the United States would like to see.
With respect to the Middle East peace process, we discussed with the President this important issue, which is very important for regional peace. In the attack against Mavi Marmara, which was taking humanitarian aid to Gaza, Turkish citizens and one Turkish-American citizen were killed. And as you know, we are working with the Israeli government for compensation for those who lost their lives. And the visit that I will pay to Gaza will contribute to the peace in Gaza and to unity in Palestine, in my opinion.
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is always in favor of -- in Cyprus we believe that there is a lot of opportunity to reach an agreement on the Cyprus issue and this is an area which we continue to focus on. We have also discussed Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, and all these issues. And we have also briefly touched upon some developments in Africa and also about Myanmar.
Our joint fight against terrorism will continue to be the case, as I said before. And we also touched upon issues related to the defense industry. And I can say that this has been a historic day, a historic turning point in the context of Turkish-American relations.
On regional and global issues, the partnership between Turkey and the United States serves peace, security, and stability, and will continue to do so even more in the future.
I will cut my remarks shortly, not because I am trying to flee from the rain -- rain is considered to be a great source of abundance. But I will stop here to say that I hope our discussions will be beneficial for our future relations.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, before we get started let me just make sure that I&rsquom a good host. Mr. Prime Minister, do you want an umbrella? (Laughter.) Because we can arrange it if you need it. You&rsquore okay? All right, this will be incentive for the press to ask concise questions and us to give concise answers.
I&rsquom going to start with Julianna Goldman of Bloomberg.
Q Unfortunately, we all forgot umbrellas. Mr. President, I want to ask you about the IRS. Can you assure the American people that nobody in the White House knew about the agency&rsquos actions before your Counsel&rsquos Office found out on April 22nd? And when they did find out, do you think that you should have learned about it before you learned about it from news reports as you said last Friday? And also, are you opposed to there being a special council appointed to lead the Justice Department investigation?
And also, Mr. Prime Minister, what is the status on efforts to normalize relations with Israel? And do you still plan to go to Gaza in the coming weeks? Thanks.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, with respect to the IRS, I spoke to this yesterday. My main concern is fixing a problem, and we began that process yesterday by asking and accepting the resignation of the Acting Director there. We will be putting in new leadership that will be able to make sure that -- following up on the IG audit -- that we gather up all the facts, that we hold accountable those who have taken these outrageous actions. As I said last night, it is just simply unacceptable for there to even be a hint of partisanship or ideology when it comes to the application of our tax laws.
I am going to go ahead and ask folks -- why don't we get a couple of Marines, they're going to look good next to us -- (laughter) -- just because I've got a change of suits -- (laughter) -- but I don't know about our Prime Minister. There we go. That's good. You guys I'm sorry about. (Laughter.)
But let me make sure that I answer your specific question. I can assure you that I certainly did not know anything about the IG report before the IG report had been leaked through the press. Typically, the IG reports are not supposed to be widely distributed or shared. They tend to be a process that everybody is trying to protect the integrity of. But what I'm absolutely certain of is that the actions that were described in that IG report are unacceptable.
So in addition to making sure that we've got a new acting director there, we're also going to make sure that we gather up the facts, and hold accountable and responsible anybody who was involved in this. We're going to make sure that we identify any structural or management issues to prevent something like this from happening again. We're going to make sure that we are accepting all of the recommendations that the IG has in the report.
And I'm looking forward to working with Congress to fully investigate what happened, make sure that it doesn&rsquot happen again, and also look at some of the laws that create a bunch of ambiguity in which the IRS may not have enough guidance and not be clear about what exactly they need to be doing and doing it right, so that the American people have confidence that the tax laws are being applied fairly and evenly.
So in terms of the White House and reporting, I think that you've gotten that information from Mr. Carney and others. I promise you this -- that the minute I found out about it, then my main focus is making sure we get the thing fixed. I think that it's going to be sufficient for us to be working with Congress. They've got a whole bunch of committees. We've got IGs already there.
The IG has done an audit it's now my understanding they're going to be recommending an investigation. And Attorney General Holder also announced a criminal investigation of what happened. Between those investigations, I think we&rsquore going to be able to figure out exactly what happened, who was involved, what went wrong, and we&rsquore going to be able to implement steps to fix it.
And that, ultimately, is the main priority that I have, but also I think the American people have. They understand that we&rsquove got an agency that has enormous potential power and is involved in everybody&rsquos lives. And that&rsquos part of the reason why it&rsquos been treated as a quasi-independent institution. But that&rsquos also why we&rsquove got to make sure that it is doing its job scrupulously and without even a hint of bias, or a hint that somehow they&rsquore favoring one group over another.
And, as I said yesterday, I&rsquom outraged by this in part because, look, I&rsquom a public figure -- if a future administration is starting to use the tax laws to favor one party over another or one political view over another, obviously we&rsquore all vulnerable. And that&rsquos why, as I&rsquove said, it doesn&rsquot matter whether you&rsquore a Democrat or a Republican, you should be equally outraged at even the prospect that the IRS might not be acting with the kind of complete neutrality that we expect.
And I think we&rsquore going to be able to fix it. We&rsquore going to be able to get it done, and we&rsquove already begun that progress and we&rsquore going to keep on going until it&rsquos finished.
PRIME MINISTER ERDOGAN: (As interpreted.) In your question about Gaza, according to my plans, most probably I would be visiting Gaza in June. But it will not be a visit only to Gaza I will also go to the West Bank.
I place a lot of significance on this visit in terms of peace in the Middle East, and this visit in no way means favoring one or the other. I&rsquom hoping that that visit will contribute to unity in Palestine, first of all. This is something that I focus on very much. And I hope that my visit can contribute to that process. Thank you.
Q My first question to you, Prime Minister. You talked about chemical weapons and we know that Turkey has some evidence. Did you present that evidence to President Obama in today&rsquos meeting? And what does Turkey expect from the United States in this process?
Question to President Obama about Syria. You had said earlier that chemical weapons would be a red line in Syria. Do you believe that at this point in time Syria has over-gone the red line? And you said that Assad should go. Will the U.S. take more initiative to see Assad go in the future?
PRIME MINISTER ERDOGAN: (As interpreted.) Let me, first of all, say that chemical weapons and missiles, rockets that have been fired -- all that information is shared between the relevant bodies within our administrations. And it's not just Turkey and the United States. For example, the United Kingdom and all others have those documents, that information, because we share information. And the U.N. Security Council, all the other relevant authorities will also receive that information in the proper time so that more information is provided to the public. So we will continue to work in this way.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, as the Prime Minister indicated, our militaries, our intelligence and diplomatic personnel are constantly sharing information. And I've said in the past, we have seen evidence of the use of chemical weapons inside of Syria. It is important for us to make sure that we're able to get more specific information about what exactly is happening there.
But separate and apart from the chemical weapons, we know that tens of thousands of people are being killed with artillery and mortars, and that the humanitarian crisis and the slaughter that&rsquos taking place by itself is sufficient to prompt strong international action.
And that&rsquos why the Prime Minister and I spoke extensively about the steps we're taking on humanitarian efforts the steps that we're taking to strengthen the opposition politically so that it is inclusive and representative of all the people inside of Syria the steps that we need to take to continue to strengthen the capacity of the Syrian opposition that are on the ground fighting to protect themselves from the Assad regime and that we continue to try to mobilize the entire international community to put more and more pressure on Assad so that he recognizes that he is no longer legitimate and that he needs to go, and that we are able to move to a political transition in which the institutions inside of Syria are still functioning, but we have a representative, multiethnic, multi-religious body that can bring about democracy and peace inside of Syria.
With respect to what I've said in the past around red lines -- what I've said is that the use of chemical weapons are something that the civilized world has recognized should be out of bounds. And as we gather more evidence and work together, my intention is to make sure that we're presenting everything that we know to the international community as an additional reason, an additional mechanism, for the international community to put all the pressure that they can on the Assad regime, and to work with the opposition to bring about that political transition.
Now, there are a whole range of options that the United States is already engaged in, and I preserve the options of taking additional steps -- both diplomatic and military -- because those chemical weapons inside of Syria also threaten our security over the long term, as well as our allies and friends and neighbors.
But this is also an international problem. And it is very much my hope to continue to work with all the various parties involved, including Turkey, to find a solution that brings peace to Syria, stabilizes the region, stabilizes those chemical weapons. But it&rsquos not going to be something that the United States does by itself. And I don&rsquot think anybody in the region, including the Prime Minister, would think that U.S. unilateral actions in and of themselves would bring about a better outcome inside of Syria.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. I&rsquod like to ask you about the Justice Department. Do you believe that the seizure of phone records from Associated Press journalists this week -- or before that was announced recently this week was an overreach? And do you still have full confidence in your Attorney General? Should we interpret yesterday&rsquos renewed interest by the White House in a media shield law as a response to that? And, more broadly, how do you feel about comparisons by some of your critics of this week&rsquos scandals to those that happened under the Nixon administration?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I&rsquoll let you guys engage in those comparisons and you can go ahead and read the history I think and draw your own conclusions.
My concern is making sure that if there&rsquos a problem in the government that we fix it. That&rsquos my responsibility, and that&rsquos what we&rsquore going to do. That&rsquos true with respect to the IRS and making sure that they apply the laws the way they were intended. That&rsquos true with respect to the security of our diplomats, which is why we&rsquore going to need to work with Congress to make sure that there&rsquos adequate funding for what&rsquos necessary out there.
Now, with respect to the Department of Justice, I&rsquom not going to comment on a specific and pending case. But I can talk broadly about the balance that we have to strike. Leaks related to national security can put people at risk. They can put men and women in uniform that I&rsquove sent into the battlefield at risk. They can put some of our intelligence officers, who are in various, dangerous situations that are easily compromised, at risk.
U.S. national security is dependent on those folks being able to operate with confidence that folks back home have their backs, so they're not just left out there high and dry, and potentially put in even more danger than they may already be. And so I make no apologies, and I don't think the American people would expect me as Commander-in-Chief not to be concerned about information that might compromise their missions or might get them killed.
Now, the flip side of it is we also live in a democracy where a free press, free expression, and the open flow of information helps hold me accountable, helps hold our government accountable, and helps our democracy function. And the whole reason I got involved in politics is because I believe so deeply in that democracy and that process.
So the whole goal of this media shield law -- that was worked on and largely endorsed by folks like The Washington Post Editorial Page and by prosecutors -- was finding a way to strike that balance appropriately. And to the extent that this case, which we still don't know all the details of -- to the extent that this case has prompted renewed interest about how do we strike that balance properly, then I think now is the time for us to go ahead and revisit that legislation. I think that's a worthy conversation to have, and I think that's important.
But I also think it&rsquos important to recognize that when we express concern about leaks at a time when I&rsquove still got 60,000-plus troops in Afghanistan, and I&rsquove still got a whole bunch of intelligence officers around the world who are in risky situations -- in outposts that, in some cases, are as dangerous as the outpost in Benghazi -- that part of my job is to make sure that we&rsquore protecting what they do, while still accommodating for the need for information -- or the need for the public to be informed and be able to hold my office accountable.
Q I asked about Holder as well.
And for the Prime Minister, I wanted to ask you, sir, if the United States does not step up its involvement in Syria, in your view, how will that affect the war? And what plans do you have to react to the bombing of the border town that the President mentioned of Reyhanli?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Mr. Prime Minister, just excuse me -- you&rsquore right, I have complete confidence in Eric Holder as Attorney General. He&rsquos an outstanding Attorney General and does his job with integrity, and I expect he will continue to do so.
PRIME MINISTER ERDOGAN: (As interpreted.) You are talking about the part of the glass which is empty. I like to look at things with the glass half full instead of half empty. What we would like to see is the sensitivity on the part of the international community with respect to what&rsquos going on in Syria. And this is what we, as Turkey, are striving for, and I do believe that the United States is doing the same, and other countries, the United Nations Security Council, the Arab League. And other countries, though not part of this structure, are still sensitive to what is going on in Syria.
Our aim is to accelerate this process, and I will be visiting other countries, my Foreign Minister will be visiting other countries, just to see how we can speed things up in a way which will prevent the death of more people, and in a way which will ensure a transition to a democratic system in Syria. Our goal is to see the tyranny, the dictatorship go away in Syria and to be replaced with democracy. And I think this is a collective responsibility on the part of all countries that believe in democracy. And this is what we will all continue to do.
Q Mr. President, my first question is to you. You mentioned that Assad should go, and the question is how and when. Is there a rough timetable? And shall we be talking about the Syrian tragedy next year at this time? What&rsquos the idea?
And, Mr. Prime Minister, before your departure from Ankara, you stated that you had expectations from this visit and that you have some expectations. What is your general observation about this visit?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: We would have preferred Assad go two years ago last year six months ago two months ago. And there has been consistency on the part of my administration that Assad lost legitimacy when he started firing on his own people and killing his own people, who initially were protesting peacefully for a greater voice in their country&rsquos affairs. And obviously that&rsquos escalated during the course of time. So the answer is the sooner the better.
Now, in terms of the question how, I think we&rsquove already discussed that. There&rsquos no magic formula for dealing with a extraordinarily violent and difficult situation like Syria&rsquos. If there was, I think the Prime Minister and I would have already acted on it and it would already be finished.
And instead, what we have to do is apply steady international pressure, strengthen the opposition. I do think that the prospect of talks in Geneva involving the Russians and representatives about a serious political transition that all the parties can buy into may yield results. But in the meantime, we&rsquore going to continue to make sure that we&rsquore helping the opposition, and obviously dealing with the humanitarian situation. And we&rsquoll do so in close consultation with Turkey, which obviously is deeply invested in this and with whom we&rsquove got an outstanding relationship with.
PRIME MINISTER ERDOGAN: (As interpreted.) Thank you very much. As you know, we will be meeting again this evening so we&rsquoll have time to go in further detail. As I said before, our views do overlap, and with our discussions this evening, we will continue to explore what we can do together, what we can consider as parts of a road map looking at Geneva and beyond.
Russia and China being part of this process is very important, and this is important in the context of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. Their participation in this process will certainly add greater impetus. The pressure of the international community continues to be a very important element, and when we look at the humanitarian support that we have provided so far, we see that support equaling to more than $1.5 billion.
And we continue to keep an open-door policy, and we will continue to do this because we have a border which is 910 kilometers in length with Syria there are relatives across the border on each side. So we will continue these efforts.
These are all very important for regional peace, because, on the one hand, you have the steps that have been taken, efforts that are in place to normalize relations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. We don&rsquot need to have other problems, issues in the region. We have, as you know, taken steps to bring Syria and Israel together to solve their problems. We had five rounds of discussions, but unfortunately, they came to an end. But I hope that all the steps that we take in the future with respect to regional peace will yield results and we can work together with the United States with determination to achieve peace in the region.
Court's decision to free Hosni Mubarak adds to Egyptian turmoil
Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian president, is to be freed after a Cairo court ordered his release. Prosecutors said they would not appeal, so Mubarak could be out of prison as soon as Thursday, Egyptian media reported, although he will not be allowed to leave the country.
Mubarak will then be put under house arrest, the prime minister's office said. The decision was authorised under Egypt's emergency law recently enacted under a security crackdown on Islamists, it added. Citing a security source, the state news agency said Mubarak would "likely" be taken to one of the state's vital installations or one of two military hospitals where he will be guarded under heavy security.
The decision comes at a highly volatile moment after hundreds of Islamist protesters were killed last week and the military-backed government continues its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.
Jubilant supporters quickly launched a Facebook page to promote Mubarak's candidacy for the presidency next year.
Overthrown in January 2011 at one of the early high points of the Arab spring, Mubarak had spent the last two years in detention and could be detained again. But his release is loaded with symbolism about the parlous state of Egypt and fading hopes for peaceful political change across the wider region – graphically underlined by the latest carnage in Syria.
Mubarak remains on trial for murder over the deaths of more than 800 protesters during the uprising against him. But after a separate corruption charge was settled this week, the time limit for him to remain in custody had expired.
Egyptians angered at the army's removal of the democratically elected but deeply unpopular president, Mohamed Morsi, after mass protests last month will be infuriated by the coincidence of his unelected and autocratic predecessor walking free. "His release will cause chaos," warned legal expert Nasser Amin. "It will be used by Islamists as proof of the return of the old regime."
Egyptian officials had acknowledged privately that freeing Mubarak in this highly charged atmosphere was likely to fuel tensions. "The government knows that if Mubarak is freed there will be public outrage," said Mohamed Abolghar, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic party. "But a court decision is a court decision."
By keeping Mubarak under house arrest, Egyptian leaders may be trying to show they will not be too lenient with him to avoid angering the many Egyptians who held mass protests that led to the end of his rule in 2011. The hearing that produced Wednesday's ruling was held in Tora prison, where Mubarak, 85 and in poor health, has spent most of his detention.
He was given a life sentence last year for failing to stop the killing of protesters but that was overturned on appeal and he is being retried. He also faces other corruption charges but no other trial dates have been set.
Most Egyptians have stopped following the legal twists and turns of the case but the significance and timing of this decision is still stunning. Saudi Arabia, dismayed that the US had abandoned Mubarak, is said to have been lobbying hard behind the scenes to have him freed. The Saudis helped put together a $12bn (£7.5bn) aid package for Egypt after Morsi was deposed last month.
Sherief Gaber, of the Mosireen collective, a pro-revolutionary group, said: "The symbolism is clear coming from a completely revanchist judiciary, that even the symbolic victory of imprisoning Mubarak will be revoked, that the counter-revolution and the old regime are feeling empowered and petty.
"The judiciary and the police are the two institutions that are most entrenched and most a part of the old regime they were on their heels for a while, but using the bogeymen of the Muslim Brotherhood and people's fear and exhaustion, they're just doing whatever they feel like to be personally spiteful and cruel even.
"Mubarak after all was just a symbol, and we knew that the regime was much bigger and had not yet fallen but needed to (and still needs to)."
The news prompted bitter reflections about the state of the Arab world two-and-a-half years after the uprisings in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.
"Give it five months and Mubarak, Assad, Ben Ali and Ali Saleh will hold a summit for the sake of good ol' days," tweeted Hassan Hassan, a Syrian commentator.
The Egyptian government has signalled defiance in the face of international criticism of the recent killings and ongoing moves to crush the Brotherhood.
EU foreign ministers met in Brussels in emergency session to review aid to Egypt worth €6.7bn. They suspended exports of weapons and goods that could be used for internal repression but did not halt aid programmes for fear of hurting ordinary Egyptians. They called on the military authorities and Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement to resume negotiations to avoid further bloodshed.
The US made clear on Tuesday that it has not made any firm decisions to cut assistance. "If there is a price to pay we will pay it," said one Egyptian official. "There is a frenzy of national feeling and people are defiant. It's not really about money. These are relationships we have invested in for 40 years. If the Europeans and Americans disengage Egypt will carry on. But it is too important to ignore."
"To hell with US aid, foreign intervention, terrorism and foreign financing," the al-Umal newspaper said in a front-page headline on Tuesday. "We would rather starve than submit to foreign tutelage and American humiliation."
Tamarrod, the protest movement which mobilised mass support for Morsi's removal, has also called for an end to US aid and to the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
British History: Showdown at Suez – Eden, Nasser and the End of Empire – Long Read
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On 26 July 1952, Egypt and Great Britain, awoke to a shock. The Young Officers, a coterie of nationalist Egyptian soldiers, ousted the pro-British King Farouk in a near-bloodless coup. Though Mohammed Neguib became Egypt’s head of state, observers knew that the 38-year-old Colonel Gamel Abdel Nasser wielded real power. Now British officials confronted a new government with little intention of respecting Western authority, and whose charismatic leader dreamed of a pan-Arab state.
For Anthony Eden, then Foreign Secretary, Nasser’s rise to power “happened so quickly that no one was aware as late as the morning before.” While Winston Churchill advocated “positive action,” hinting at a coup or invasion, Eden urged restraint. “While I do not expect the new Egyptian government to show any marked friendliness towards us,” he wrote, “they do seem to be approaching Anglo-Egyptian problems in a more practical way and this is at last beginning to show results.” One expected nothing less from England’s leading diplomat.
In his third term as Foreign Secretary, Eden enjoyed a reputation as a polished statesman and man of principle. He served with distinction in the First World War, then entered politics he resigned from Neville Chamberlain’s cabinet in February 1938, unwilling to appease Hitler and Mussolini. His second tenure, under Churchill’s wartime premiership, showed brilliance navigating the complex relationships among the Allied Powers. More recently, he negotiated West Germany’s entry into NATO and Vietnam’s independence from France.
Fifty-eight when he became Prime Minister in April 1955, Eden retained considerable charm and culture. He collected modern art, spoke fluent Arabic and Farsi, read French literature and Shakespeare, even dabbled in photography and travel writing. His second wife, Clarissa (Churchill’s niece), was two decades his junior, a witty, engaging woman beloved of London society. He retained his good looks, with peppery hair and a matinee idol mustache, reminding novelist Robert Graves of actor Ronald Colman.
Yet Eden was vain, resistant to criticism, and savagely temperamental. His secretary, Evelyn Scheckberg, remembered that with Eden, “you can have a scene…of great violence with angry words spoken on both sides, and ten minutes later the whole thing is forgotten.” Less charitably, a Conservative colleague, Rab Butler, called him “half mad baronet and half beautiful woman.” Eden’s health exacerbated these traits: a botched gallbladder operation in 1953 severed his bile duct, causing excruciating pain which Eden combatted with painkillers.
Eden’s better half dominated early dealings with Nasser. He negotiated the withdrawal of British troops from Egypt in 1954, aside from a small force defending the Canal. Nasser assured Eden that “if this question were settled, a great friendship would exist between us.” Along with American President Dwight Eisenhower, eager to woo Nasser away from the Soviet Union, Eden urged funding for the Aswan Dam, a massive project to develop the Nile. It seemed like Britain and Egypt would finally end their colonial relationship and part as friends.
Then Eden actually met Nasser, and their relationship imploded.
The fateful meeting occurred in Cairo on 20 February 1955, two months before Eden assumed the Premiership. Nasser and his entourage arrived in uniform they were embarrassed when Eden, his wife and staff entered in civilian dress. Afterwards, Eden tried to impress his hosts by reciting Arabic proverbs, striking Nasser as arch and condescending. Their conversation turned to policy, with the two sparring over Nasser’s anti-Western rhetoric and Britain’s relations with the Arab world.
Their discussion was polite, if stilted and occasionally combative. Egyptian journalist Mohamed Heikal felt the Prime Minister “was the sort of person [Nasser] could do business with.” But Nasser complained that “it was made to look as if we were beggars and they were princes!” For his part, Eden dismissed Nasser as suffering from “jealousy” at Britain’s power and “a frustrated desire to lead the Arab world.” In turning Eden and Nasser against each other, the conference provided a curtain raiser on a tragedy.
England and Egypt’s destinies intertwined after Admiral Nelson destroyed Napoleon’s fleet in Aboukir Bay in 1798. As the British Empire grew, policymakers saw Egypt, due to its crucial position astride both Africa and Asia, as a key linking England and India. The Suez Canal’s creation in 1869 made the connection even more crucial: the Canal, jointly owned by Britain and France, provided a vital link for east-west trade, especially in oil. However, British imperialism proved incompatible with Egyptian aspirations.
Britain occupied Egypt outright in 1882 in response to a nationalist uprising. Their relationship remained rocky and often violent, culminating in riots and assassinations following World War I. Britain granted Egypt nominal independence in 1922, while retaining a huge military garrison. During World War II, British troops forced King Farouk to depose a Prime Minister suspected of pro-German sympathies. This incident enraged the young Nasser, who said that “there is something which is called dignity that one must be ready to defend.”
Nasser joined the Young Officers, which formed the nucleus of anti-British agitation. During the war, their agents (including future president Anwar Sadat) contacted Axis officials for assistance expelling the British. War’s end only increased tensions, from the disastrous war with Israel to anti-Western riots and economic turmoil, culminating in January 1952’s Bloody Saturday. Incensed by escalating clashes between British troops and Egyptian police in Ismailia, Egyptian mobs rampaged through Cairo, destroying European businesses and murdering nine Britons.
All prelude to the coup of June 1952. While Western policymakers initially saw Nasser as “an Arab Ataturk,” a secular, modernising nationalist eschewing extremist Islam, he also showed a discomforting independence, espousing a Middle East free of Western rule. Britain, still clinging to its imperial past, saw him as a nationalist troublemaker America, obsessed with the Cold War, wondered if he was a Communist.
Egypt’s relations with the West swiftly deteriorated. Frustrated by America’s reluctance to sell him arms, Nasser purchased Czech rifles and Soviet tanks instead. He further irritated Eisenhower by recognizing Red China. Then Nasser enraged the British by criticising the Baghdad Pact, Eden’s attempt to form an alliance of Muslim states against Soviet influence.
Now Eden saw Nasser’s hand in every setback Britain experienced. When King Hussein of Jordan dismissed John Glubb, British commander of the Arab Legion in March 1956, Eden blamed Nasser. When rioters stoned Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd in Bahrain, Eden again accused “the Egyptian” of causing trouble. He labeled Nasser both a fascist and a communist, “as much in Khrushchev’s hands as Mussolini was in Hitler’s.”
Nasser laughed at his opponent’s insults. While Nasser hardly mourned the unrest in Iraq, Jordan and other British allies, he played little role in affecting it he felt Eden blind to anti-Western resentment that transcended Egypt’s borders. In conversation with Mohamed Heikal, Nasser joked that Eden thought he “only had to press one button on [my] desk and a demonstration erupted in Amman another button and there was a riot in Aden.”
Anthony Nutting, Eden’s protege in the Foreign Office, didn’t find the Prime Minister’s paranoia amusing. One evening in March, while hosting American diplomat Harold Stassen, he received a phone call from Eden. In response to increased tensions with Nasser, Nutting had prepared a memorandum on neutralising Nasser through diplomatic and economic pressure. This wasn’t enough for the Prime Minister, who demanded more drastic action.
“What’s all this nonsense about neutralising [Nasser]?” Eden demanded. “I want him murdered, can’t you understand?”
Maintaining his composure, Nutting suggested that removing Nasser without an “alternative” would only create chaos. “I don’t give a damn if there’s anarchy and chaos in Egypt!” came the reply. A shaken Nutting returned to dinner, fearing that a lunatic inhabited 10 Downing Street.
Eden’s subordinates entertained harebrained ideas to affect his wish. One plan involved encouraging the Muslim Brotherhood to kill Nasser on their own, they had already tried the previous year. (This fell through, as MI6 felt it couldn’t trust the fanatical Brotherhood to uphold Western interests.) Other plots seem hatched from an Ian Fleming novel: nerve gas pumped into Nasser’s office, paying Nasser’s doctor to poison him, even an exploding razorblade.
For now, the British and Americans settled on economic pressure. The Americans dragged their feet funding the Aswan Dam, which became a symbol both of Egyptian aspirations and Western aid to third world nations. On 19 July, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who saw events purely through a Cold War prism, announced the cancellation of the Western loan. Dulles gloated afterwards that Nasser “is in a hell of a spot and no matter what he does can be used to American advantage.”
D987DR Suez Crisis or Tripartite Agression, 1956. French parachutists shortly after landing in Port Said, Egypt.
Publicly, Egypt shrugged off Dulles’ decision. “Naturally it upsets our plans,” Nasser’s aide Aly Sabry told reporters, “but the High Dam will be built.” Privately, Nasser considered it a “slap in the face.” He ordered Mohammed Younis, an Army engineer, to organise a coup de main that signified Egyptian independence. He told few others, even his inner circle, about his decision.
On 26 July 1956, Nasser made a long, angry speech in Alexandria denouncing Anglo-American perfidy. Repeating the themes of “strength and dignity,” he excoriated Western arrogance (“imperialism without arms”) and defended his own actions as necessary for Egyptian independence. Then, referring to the President of the Suez Canal, he commented: “I began to look at Mr. Black…and I imagined that I was sitting in front of Ferdinand de Lesseps.”
As Nasser evoked Suez’s architect, Younis and 30 picked followers moved to seize the Canal. (“I told them that one man in each group…had instructions to shoot on the spot anyone who violated secrecy,” Younis recalled. Mohamed Heikal claimed that Younis punctuated this threat by slamming a revolver on his desk.) Moving swiftly, his men overwhelmed the Canal’s British and French operators without firing a shot.
Back in Alexandria, Nasser announced: “Brothers of yours, sons of Egypt, are rising up to direct the canal company and undertake its operation.” He proclaimed the Canal “a part of Egypt and the property of Egypt.” Nasser received delirious applause from his listeners. It was the apotheosis of his career: In a stroke, he captured the Canal and threw down a gauntlet Eden and Eisenhower couldn’t possibly ignore.
The West reacted with fury. Eisenhower denounced the “deliberate, unilateral seizure” and demanded United Nations intervention. The British press responded with near-hysteria, with the Times calling it “an act of international brigandage” and claimed that Egyptian pilots lacked the skill to run the Canal (which Younis’s men disproved within 24 hours). Others evoked fascism, with the Daily Mirror encouraging Nasser to “remember Mussolini…[who] ended up hanging upside down by his feet.”
The Mirror’s intemperance echoed the Prime Minister. Eden (whose immediate response was commenting that “the Egyptian has his thumb on our windpipe”) told Eisenhower that “Nasser is not a Hitler…but the parallel with Mussolini is close.” He took the analogy public in a televised address in August. “We all know this is how fascist governments behave,” Eden said. “And we all remember, only too well, what the cost is in giving into fascism.” In other words, stop Nasser or risk World War III.
This miscalculation, more than Eden’s health, temper or even his personal dislike for Nasser, explains the Prime Minister’s actions. Nasser, though a saber-rattling strongman, lacked Hitler’s strength or even his intent he envisioned an Arab state unified through politics, not an empire forged by conquest. But Eden, who made his reputation opposing appeasement two decades earlier, felt he couldn’t take that risk. As historian Keith Kyle writes, “The battle against Neville Chamberlain, lost in 1937-1938, must be won at Suez.”
The Americans weren’t so sure. Secretary Dulles assured Eden that America would force Nasser to “disgorge” the Canal. Yet Eisenhower, facing reelection, had no intention of embroiling America in a Middle Eastern conflict. He warned Eden of “the unwisdom even of contemplating the use of military force at this moment,” encouraging instead diplomacy. Frustrated, Eden turned to two other allies, less powerful but equally anti-Nasser: France and Israel.
France hated Nasser even earlier than England. Fighting a brutal war in Algeria, French officials blamed Nasser for the FLN’s terror campaign. Indeed, Nasser housed FLN refugees, gave inflammatory speeches supporting them, and even authorised arms shipments. Jacques Soustelle, Governor of Algeria, called Nasser “the octopus whose tentacles have for so many months been strangling North Africa” Robert Lacoste, a Socialist MP, proclaimed that “one French division in Egypt is worth four divisions in Algeria.”
Guy Mollet, France’s Prime Minister, took office promising to wind down the Algerian War. Now he proposed to expand it. A humiliating visit to Algiers changed his mind, as enraged European Pieds-Noir pelted him with eggs and tomatoes. Now Mollet (a former Resistance fighter who survived Nazi imprisonment) latched onto the anti-Nasser hysteria, echoing Eden by comparing Nasser to Hitler and his writings to Mein Kampf.
Israel needed little encouragement. Nasser backed harsh rhetoric about Israel with action, supporting fedayeen militia units who murdered Israeli soldiers and settlers in the Gaza Strip. Israel, in turn, instituted a brutal policy of retaliation, sending commando teams to annihilate Arab villages in revenge. David Ben-Gurion, recently returned to power, eagerly seized the opportunity to smash a mortal enemy.
Their conspiracy climaxed in the Paris suburb of Sevres on 22 October. Selwyn Lloyd met with Christian Pineau, Mollet’s Foreign Minister, General Challe and Israeli officials including David Ben-Gurion and his one-eyed Chief of Staff, Moshe Dayan. Over the next three days, these allies hatched an incredible plot to justify Western intervention. Israel would attack Egypt, Britain and France would call for a ceasefire and intervene, seizing the Canal in the process.
The charade disgusted even those who planned it. Moshe Dayan thought Lloyd’s “whole demeanor expressed distaste – for the place, the company and the topic.” Lloyd had protested to Eden beforehand, and afterwards vented his spleen to Anthony Nutting, who decided that he “cannot stay in the Government if this sordid conspiracy is carried out.” Christian Pineau admitted that “I wonder how Eden could have thought for one moment that the Arab world would swallow such a story.”
Only the Israelis left Sevres happy. As an incentive for their cooperation, Pineau promised Ben-Gurion and Dayan not only territory in the Sinai, but French cooperation in constructing a nuclear reactor. After the British departed, Mollet and Pineau treated the Israelis to a toast, ushering in Israel as a nuclear power. The balance of power in the Middle East took another fateful turn.
British and French forces massing on Cyprus had little idea of this duplicity, still less how to proceed with their operation. Eden alarmed Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery by saying that he wished to “knock Nasser off his perch.” A pithy phrase, Montgomery thought, but what did it mean? He pressed the Prime Minister for details: Did he want Nasser overthrown or merely humbled? Did he want to reoccupy the Canal Zone or Egypt entirely? The Prime Minister didn’t elaborate, convincing Montgomery that any invasion was foredoomed.
Ultimately, General Sir Hugh Stockwell, commanding the invasion, proposed a dual operation called Musketeer. After an intense aerial and naval bombardment, paratroopers would seize key points along the Canal, while amphibious forces attacked Ports Said and Fuad. The French commander, Andre Beaufre, ridiculed Musketeer as “a second-rate copy of the Normandy landings.” Eden wasn’t the only one trapped in a World War II mindset.
Israel invaded the Sinai on 29 October, their French jets and tanks smashing Egyptian resistance. Eden and Mollet issued their ultimatum, to American befuddlement, Soviet indignation and Arab fury. The United Nations condemned the conspiracy, with America and the USSR in rare agreement. It particularly enraged Eisenhower, then working to support Hungary’s anti-communist revolt. “I just can’t believe it,” Ike told Dulles. “I can’t believe [Eden] would be so stupid.”
Nor were Britons universally supportive, with only 40 percent approving intervention (briefly spiking to 53 percent once fighting began). Eden’s strongest support came from working class Britons, who felt that “the Gyppos had hit us, [and] we should hit them.” Others were sharply divided: when several Oxford dons published an open letter attacking the Prime Minister, other professors responded with a supportive missive. Even Queen Elizabeth, who privately questioned Eden’s policy, wrote that “My lady-in-waiting thinks one thing, one private secretary thinks another, another thinks something else.”
On 3 November, Eden gave a televised broadcast appealing for national unity. (Clearly nervous beforehand, he looked so pale that Clarissa had to darken his mustache with mascara.) His tone was at once resolute and pleading, forthright and dishonest. “All my life I’ve been a man of peace: working for peace, striving force peace and negotiating for peace,” Eden assured viewers. “I could not be other, even if I wished. But I am utterly convinced that the action we have taken is right.”
The next day, 30,000 antiwar demonstrators swarmed Trafalgar Square, London’s largest public protest since 1938. The demonstrators carried placards reading “Law Not War” and chanting “Eden must go!” They listened to fiery orators (including Aneurin Bevan, the Welsh MP who proclaimed Eden “too stupid to be Prime Minister”), threw firecrackers and ball bearings at counter-protestors, then tried to march on 10 Downing Street. There, mounted police set upon them, arresting or injuring dozens.
Eden’s cabinet heard this commotion as they made their final deliberations on using military force. His ministers were divided, with several urging Eden to cancel or postpone the invasion. Then came word that Israel rejected the ceasefire. Clarissa Eden, who witnessed the scene, recalled that “everyone laughed and banged the table with relief except Birch and Manckton, who looked glum.” Their vote became unanimous.
On 6 November, British and French troops attacked Port Said. After a preliminary bombardment, airborne troops landed outside the city. The French paras, battle-hardened in Algeria, fought with matchless skill and brutality: Pierre Leulliette recounted numerous atrocities among his unit, from executing prisoners to looting and even rape. “A prisoner is sacred but so’s a sentinel,” he explained.
British units suffered from poor coordination and outdated equipment: many paratroopers discarded their easily-jammed Sten guns for Egyptian rifles. The red-bereted soldiers of 3rd Para Battalion suffered heavy antiaircraft fire, then fought bloodily for every inch of ground: They stormed a causeway defended by artillery, a cemetery bristling with rifles, and a heavily-guarded airfield.
Meanwhile, the second wave (40 and 42 Commandos of the Royal Marines) landed on Port Said’s beaches, already burning from heavy bombardment. They too faced stiff resistance, with Egyptian machine gunners blasting away at close range, along with snipers and militiamen sniping from buildings along the waterfront. The Marines made little progress until landing several Buffalo tanks, which shrugged off small-arms fire and blasted their way into the city.
Port Said, however, didn’t surrender easily. “Egyptians opened up from windows and side roads at some points with women and children around them,” recalled James Robinson, “and the tanks blazed back with their Brownings and the Commandos with Brens from the top of their Buffaloes.” Fighting raged through residential neighborhoods, government districts, even a cemetery. Machine guns, grenades, and bazookas did deadly work in this close quarter combat.
Eventually, weight of numbers and firepower told, and the Allies cleared the city. More fighting the next day extended their position with Egyptian troops in full retreat, General Stockwell prepared to thrust further south to secure the Canal. Then, incredibly, he received orders from London and Paris to halt. Two days of bloodshed, which claimed 16 British and 10 French lives, along with dozens more wounded (and more than 500 Egyptian deaths) – all, it appeared, for nothing.
The Allied troops felt angry and betrayed by this sudden about-face. General Beaufre found it so ridiculous that he contemplated ignoring the order and continuing the offensive. General Stockwell contented himself with biting sarcasm. “We have now achieved the impossible,” he wired London: “We’re going both ways at once.”
Ultimately, the superpowers tipped the balance. Nikita Khrushchev gloated that Nasser had “cut the lion’s tail” and threatened nuclear attacks on the West. Eisenhower, furious at Eden for undercutting him as Soviet tanks crushed Hungary, applied more subtle tactics. America froze British assets and instituted sanctions that threatened to sink the British economy. Eden raged against Eisenhower’s actions, but they exposed his impotence. Britain could no longer proceed without American support, and folded.
Now, even Britons who supported Suez abandoned Eden. Several members of Eden’s government followed Anthony Nutting in resigning, with one branding the Prime Minister “a criminal madman.” RAF Marshall Sir Dermot Boyle lamented that British troops “were being stopped when victory was…imminent.” Even Winston Churchill criticized his former protege: “I am not sure I should have dared to start, but I am sure I should not have dared to stop.”
The Prime Minister embodied England’s newfound feebleness. In September, he had suffered a seizure resulting in hospitalisation, a prelude to further dissolution. As the invasion unfolded, Eden paced around his home, called friends and cabinet ministers at night, alternating amphetamines and sedatives at an alarming rate. One evening he called Guy Mollet, complaining to the French Premier that “the whole world reviles me.” The long-suffering Clarissa Eden remarked on “the Suez Canal flowing through my drawing room.”
Finally, under withering domestic criticism and mounting international pressure, he collapsed. J.P.W. Mallalieu, a Labour MP who supported the invasion, found Eden in a pitiable state. “[He] sprawled on the front bench, head back and mouth agape… The face was gray except where black-rimmed caverns surrounded the dying embers of his eyes. The whole personality seemed completely withdrawn.”
Eventually, the United Nations intervened, gradually replacing British and French troops with a multinational peacekeeping force. This allowed the Allies to save face, but underscored their failure. After the last British troops departed in December, an Egyptian mob attacked the statue of Ferdinand de Lesseps at Port Said and destroyed it. A fitting exclamation point on the whole sorry affair.
Afterwards, Eden and Clarissa retreated to Jamaica, spending several weeks at Ian Fleming’s Goldeneye estate. His career in shambles, Eden resigned in January 1957, turning the Premiership over to Harold Macmillan. Eden wrote several memoirs justifying his actions, but never restored his reputation. When he died in 1977, kind eulogists remembered his wartime diplomacy and opposing fascism over his imperial debacle.
Guy Mollet outlasted Eden only by a few months, resigning in June. Disgusted by the Crisis, France’s military decided they could no longer leave government to politicians. In May 1958 they toppled the Fourth Republic and restored Charles De Gaulle to power. While De Gaulle exited Algeria on his own terms, his anti-British policies (especially excluding Britain from the Common Market) stemmed in part from lingering resentment over Suez.
Far from being knocked off his perch, Nasser’s successful defiance enhanced his standing in the Middle East. At home, his regime continued to vacillate between economic development, social reforms and repression of political rivals. His pretensions at a pan-Arab empire resulted in a failed union with Syria, a muddled conflict in Yemen and the disastrous Six Day War with Israel. Still, when Nasser died in 1970 he remained the Arab world’s greatest modern hero.
If Britain retained any illusions about its empire, Suez destroyed them. With Macmillan citing “the wind of change…blowing through this continent,” Britain granted independence to its African colonies over the next decade. In the Middle East, nationalists murdered Iraq’s royal family in 1958, Communists seized power in Yemen, Jordan turned towards the United States. Eisenhower soon proclaimed the Eisenhower Doctrine, committing Americans to an open-ended presence in the Middle East.
More than anything, Suez was an anachronism. Eden acted like nothing had changed since the era of Lord Cromer and General Gordon, when chastising third-world rulers through military force went unchallenged. Unfortunately, 1956 (the era of decolonisation and Cold War tensions) was an entirely different world. Refusing to recognise this, Eden initiated an unnecessary tragedy that shamed his country and destroyed him.
Estonia to Get 1st Female Prime Minister as Government Deal Clinched
TALLINN, Estonia—Estonia’s two biggest political parties say they have clinched a deal to form a new government to be led by a female prime minister for the first time in the Baltic country’s history, replacing the previous Cabinet that collapsed into a corruption scandal earlier this month.
The party councils of the the opposition, center-right Reform Party and the ruling left-leaning Center Party were expected on Jan. 24 to vote in favor of joining a Cabinet headed by Reform’s prime minister-designate and chairwoman Kaja Kallas.
Both parties are set to have seven ministerial portfolios in the 14-member government, which would muster a majority at the 101-seat Riigikogu Parliament.
A joint statement said the Reform Party and the Center Party “will form a government that will continue to effectively resolve the COVID-19 crisis, keep Estonia forward-looking and develop all areas and regions of our country.”
Earlier this month, President Kersti Kaljulaid, who is expected to appoint Kallas’ Cabinet in the next few days, said tackling Estonia’s worsening coronavirus situation and the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic should be an immediate priority for the new government.
Kaljulaid tasked Kallas to form the government as her pro-business and pro-entrepreneurship Reform Party emerged as the winner of Estonia’s March 2019 general election.
Chairwoman of the Reform Party Kaja Kallas poses for a photo in Tallinn, Estonia, on Feb. 26, 2019. (Raul Mee/AP Photo)
Pending approval from lawmakers, Kallas, 43, will become the first female head of government in the history of the small Baltic nation of 1.3 million which regained its independence amid the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
A lawyer and former European Parliament lawmaker, she is the daughter of Siim Kallas, one of the Reform Party’s creators, a former prime minister and a former European Union commissioner. Kaja Kallas took the reins at the Reform Party in 2018 as its first female chair.
The government formation marks the second such attempt for Kallas in less than two years as she failed to bring about a Reform Party-led government after the 2019 election. That paved the way for the archrival Center Party and its leader, Juri Ratas, to form a three-party coalition without the Reform Party.
Ratas and his Cabinet resigned on Jan. 13 over a scandal involving a key official at his Center Party suspected of accepting a private donation for the party in exchange for a political favor on a real estate development at the harbor district of the capital, Tallinn.
Estonia’s prime minister since November 2016, Ratas won’t be part of the new Cabinet. Local media reported earlier that he could become the parliamentary speaker in March.
In September 2015, Russia surprised the world by announcing it would begin strategic airstrikes in Syria. Despite government officials&apos assertions that the military actions were intended to target the extremist Islamic State, which made significant advances in the region due to the power vacuum created by Syria&aposs ongoing civil war, Russia&aposs true motives were called into question, with many international analysts and government officials claiming that the airstrikes were in fact aimed at the rebel forces attempting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad&aposs historically repressive regime.
In late October 2017, Putin was personally involved in another alarming form of aerial warfare when he oversaw a late-night military drill that resulted in the launch of four ballistic missiles across the country. The drill came during a period of escalating tensions in the region, with Russian neighbor North Korea also drawing attention for its missile tests and threats to engage the U.S. in destructive conflict.
In December 2017, Putin announced he was ordering Russian forces to begin withdrawing from Syria, saying the country&aposs two-year campaign to destroy ISIS was complete, though he left open the possibility of returning if terrorist violence resumed in the area. Despite the declaration, Pentagon spokesman Robert Manning was hesitant to endorse that view of events, saying, "Russian comments about removal of their forces do not often correspond with actual troop reductions."
Boris Johnson’s Government Rocked by U.K. Home Office Crisis
Boris Johnson’s government was thrown into fresh turmoil after a senior U.K. official resigned and launched an unprecedented attack on one of the prime minister’s most powerful allies.
In a dramatic statement on Saturday, Philip Rutnam quit as the top civil servant at the Home Office, the department that runs counter-terrorism, policing and immigration policy, and accused his immediate boss -- Home Secretary Priti Patel -- of orchestrating a briefing campaign against him.
Patel has previously denied any involvement in negative media stories about Rutnam, but he accused her of lying and creating a climate of fear for staff working in her ministry. Patel is a key member of Johnson’s team and campaigned alongside him for Brexit during the 2016 referendum. On a visit to Public Health England in north London, the prime minister expressed his admiration for the Civil Service and his support for Patel.
“I absolutely do have confidence in Priti Patel,” Johnson said. “I think she is a fantastic Home Secretary. It is one of the toughest jobs in Government.”
Rutnam’s public attack on the home secretary -- he is suing the government for constructive dismissal -- puts her position in danger. It also damages further the reputation of Johnson’s administration at a critical time, just two days before the U.K. begins negotiating its new relationship with the European Union.
Patel’s department has only 10 months to prepare and implement a new post-Brexit immigration regime and the loss of its most senior official threatens to throw those plans into disarray.
Johnson’s government is fast gaining a reputation for internal power struggles, bullying and crises in personnel management, despite the fact that he commands the political landscape after winning a large majority in last December’s election. Rutnam’s exit comes just two weeks after Sajid Javid quit as finance minister following a catastrophic breakdown in relations with the premier.
“When you get a civil servant go public like this, it’s unprecedented,” John McDonnell, economy spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, said on Sky News on Sunday. “Within a couple of months he’s lost his chancellor and now it looks like he’s going to lose his home secretary as well. That says something about Boris Johnson’s own abilities and management of his own government.”
The U.K. media has been awash with reports of the split between Rutnam and Patel. The department published a joint statement from the minister and Rutnam last week denouncing the lse allegations.”
In an emotional statement to television cameras in the rain on Saturday, Rutnam blamed Patel for 𠇊 vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign” against him. He denied speaking to the media against Patel.
“The Home Secretary categorically denied any involvement in this campaign,” Rutnam said. “I regret, I do not believe her. She has not made the efforts I would expect to dissociate herself with the comments.”
Patel’s office declined to comment on Saturday. “I have received and accepted with great regret the resignation of Sir Philip Rutnam,” Mark Sedwill, cabinet secretary and head of the U.K. civil service, said in a short statement.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock declined to discuss the case on the BBC’s Andrew Marr program on Sunday due to the legal case, but defended Patel’s record in her role.
“She is probably closer to where the public are on the issues of law and order than any home secretary in recent history,” he said. “She drives things forwards. I also think she’s extremely courteous.”
The row over bullying in the Home Office has intensified in recent weeks. Patel was forced to deny allegations that she berated civil servants and was reported to have been furious about reports in the media that she was not trusted by the country’s MI5 security service.
Johnson now faces demands to investigate Rutnam’s allegations against Patel. The row shows 𠇊 shocking level of breakdown in the normal functioning of government,” said Yvette Cooper, chair of Parliament’s home affairs committee. 𠇏or the home secretary and prime minister to have allowed things to reach this point is appalling, especially at a time when the Home Office faces crucial challenges.”
Cooper called on Johnson and his officials to investigate the claims against Patel in order to “get a grip of this mess quickly” and allow the Home Office to function properly again.