Saturday, November 30, 2013

Dissenting deputy sent to disciplinary board resigns from ruling AKP

    Saturday, November 30, 2013   No comments
İdris Bal
The ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) Kütahya Deputy İdris Bal, who drew attention for his dissenting statements on several issues,  announced his resignation from his party on Nov. 30.

Bal was sent last week to the AKP’s Joint Disciplinary Board with the request of definite expulsion from both the party and the parliamentary group after he expressed views contrary to those of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the latest test prep schools row.


“I am someone with backbone who stands upright. I won’t stay where I am not wanted,” Bal told reporters in the inner Aegean province of Kütahya where he is expected to make a speech during a rally. “They have cast all the smears possible, called me a ‘mole’. They raised all kind of obstacles to prevent me from making statements on television. I have been treated with all sorts of injustice. I resign from my party. I don’t want any party organization which does not want me,” Bal said.


Friday, November 29, 2013

Disillusionment Grows Among Syrian Opposition as Fighting Drags On

    Friday, November 29, 2013   No comments
DAMASCUS, Syria — In a terrace cafe within earshot of army artillery, a 28-year-old graduate student wept as she confessed that she had stopped planning antigovernment protests and delivering medical supplies to rebel-held towns.

Khaled, 33, a former protester who fled Damascus after being tortured and fired from his bank post, quit his job in Turkey with the exile opposition, disillusioned and saying that he wished the uprising “had never happened.”

In the Syrian city of Homs, a rebel fighter, Abu Firas, 30, recently put down the gun his wife had sold her jewelry to buy, disgusted with his commanders, who, he said, focus on enriching themselves. Now he finds himself trapped under government shelling, broke and hopeless.

“The ones who fight now are from the side of the regime or the side of the thieves,” he said in a recent interview via Skype. “I was stupid and naïve,” he added. “We were all stupid.”

Even as President Bashar al-Assad of Syria racks up modest battlefield victories, this may well be his greatest success to date: wearing down the resolve of some who were committed to his downfall. People have turned their backs on the opposition for many different reasons after two and a half years of fighting, some disillusioned with the growing power of Islamists among rebels, some complaining of corruption, others just exhausted with a conflict that shows no signs of abating.

But the net effect is the same, as some of the Syrians who risked their lives for the fight are effectively giving up, finding themselves in a kind of checkmate born of Mr. Assad’s shrewdness and their own failures — though none interviewed say they are willing to return to his fold.

Their numbers are impossible to measure, and there remain many who vow to keep struggling. Yet a range of Mr. Assad’s opponents, armed and unarmed, inside and outside Syria, tell of a common experience: When protests began, they thought they were witnessing the chance for a new life. They took risks they had never dreamed of taking. They lost jobs, houses, friends and relatives, suffered torture and hunger, saw their neighborhoods destroyed. It was all they could do, yet it was not enough.

What finally forced them to the sidelines, they say, were the disarray and division on their side, the government’s deft exploitation of their mistakes, and a growing sense that there is no happy ending in sight. Some said they came to believe that the war could be won only by those as violent and oppressive as Mr. Assad, or worse.

Such conclusions have been expressed by more and more people in recent months, in interviews in Damascus, the Syrian capital; Lebanon; and Turkey and via Skype across rebel-held areas in Syria. Many more fighters say they continue mainly because quitting would leave them feeling guilty toward other fighters.

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Row between Turkish government and Gülen heats up with new document

    Thursday, November 28, 2013   No comments
The row between followers of the Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen’s movement of and the Turkish government took another dimension after a daily revealed Nov. 28 that a decision from the National Security Council (MGK) recommending an action plan against the Gülen movement be signed by the government in 2004.

Government officials, however, wasted no time in making statements about the MGK decision and said it has never been enforced.


The decision made during the August 2004 National Security Council meeting includes a two-page section titled, “Measures that should be taken against Fetullah Gülen’s operations,” the daily Taraf reported Nov. 28.

“Legal regulations that introduce harsh sanctions should be adopted and an action plan [against the Gülen Movement] should be prepared,” says the decision, signed by the former President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, former Chief of General Staff Hilmi Özkök and current President Abdullah Gül, who was then foreign minister.

Tension between the government and the Gülen Movement, known in Turkish as “Cemaat” (community) or “Hizmet” (service), escalated recently after Erdoğan announced plans to abolish private examination prep schools (dershane), many of which are financed and run by Gülen’s followers. Erdoğan describes the group’s loud objections to his government’s plans as “a smear campaign.”

Although the Gülen Movement is thought to have had close relations with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) until recently, the daily Taraf claimed the MGK document proved that a decision to “finish” the movement had already been made in 2004.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Turkish protesters: “Erdoğan, withdraw your al-Qaeda from Rojava”

    Monday, November 25, 2013   No comments
The Peace and Democracy Party’s (BDP) meeting in Istanbul’s Asian side district of Kadıköy in support of Syria’s Kurdish region Rojava turned violent on Nov. 24 because of the police’s move against a banner on a building.

Police and protesters became involved in reciprocal attacks when police officers removed a banner reading “[Turkish Prime Minister] Erdoğan withdraw your Al-Qaeda from Rojava” from a building on the way of rally.
Protesters, opposing the removal of the banner, tried to enter the building but met with police intervention, after which some protesters threw stones at the building and policemen, Doğan News Agency footage showed. The protesters hung the banner again after police left the building’s entrance.

 

Almost 80 percent of protesters detained as part of the Gezi Park protests were Alevis, according to daily Milliyet citing a report by Turkish security and intelligence authorities

    Monday, November 25, 2013   No comments
The daily reported that the authorities have prepared a comprehensive and detailed analysis of the anti-governmental protests spread across the country over summer, using detainees as samples.

More than 5,500 demonstrations or activities were staged within the framework of the country-wide movement dubbed “Gezi protests” that were prolonged for 112 days after being kindled in Taksim Gezi Park at the end of May, according to the analysis reported by daily Milliyet columnist Tolga Şardan Nov. 25.

The security forces’ study also sheds light on the characteristics of the protestors, by using more than 5,000 detainees’ personal data as samples to determine the profile of whole movement.
Seventy-eight percent of people detained were Alevis, the report said.

Also according to the analysis, only 12 percent of the suspects are “linked with political parties,” 6 percent of which are involved in “extremist leftist groups,” dubbed as marginal left groups by the Security Directorate. Some 4 percent of them also alleged to be working for “terrorist organizations and their legal organizations affiliated with them.”

Around 3.6 million people attended demonstrations while 5,513 of them have been detained by the police in the 80 provinces the protests erupted in. The Black Sea province Bayburt was reported to be the only province in which no protests were staged, the analysis revealed.
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Sunday, November 24, 2013

P5+1 & Iran agree landmark nuclear deal at Geneva talks

    Sunday, November 24, 2013   No comments
Iran and six major powers agreed early Sunday on a historic deal that freezes key parts of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for temporary relief on some economic sanctions.

The agreement, sealed at a 3 a.m. signing ceremony in Geneva’s Palace of Nations, requires Iran to halt or scale back parts of its nuclear infrastructure, the first such pause in more than a decade.





 

President Obama Makes a Statement on Iran


Friday, November 22, 2013

Turkey's Ruling AKP moves to expel dissenting deputy

    Friday, November 22, 2013   No comments
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has launched the required procedural process for expelling a deputy who openly expressed views contrary to those of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan about plans for closing down test prep schools.

AKP Deputy Parliamentary Group Chair Ahmet Aydın, speaking to Anadolu Agency on Nov. 21, said deputy İdris Bal had been sent to the Joint Disciplinary Board of the party, with request of definite expulsion from both the party and the parliamentary group. The request came as a result of Bal's "remarks that have been published in the press and which have been against party policies.”


According to the regulations, Bal will not be able to participate in any party activities, including weekly parliamentary group meetings, until a final decision by the Board is announced. The decision will be made after Bal presents his defense.

Saudi's internal power struggle sends ripples across international borders: Post-coup Egypt is only the start of Saudi Arabia's problems abroad, and the root cause may be old-fashioned courtly manoeuvring

    Friday, November 22, 2013   No comments
The year is not ending on a high note for three men in the Saudi dynasty whose fingerprints were all over the military coup in Egypt – Prince Bandar, the current intelligence chief; Prince Muqrin, the intelligence chief he replaced, and an aspiring crown prince; and Khalid al-Tuwaijri, president of the royal court and the king's gatekeeper.

Bandar has become the target of rare criticism in the Saudi press. It is obliquely expressed, but it is unmistakably there. When the well-connected Saudi writer and journalist Jamal Khashoggi wrote in Al Hayat about "local and world intelligence men" no longer being able to change history, establish states or make new leaders, many of his readers understood that he was aiming that at Bandar.

The article continued: "It would be a mistake to defy the power of history with the illusion that the powerful can forge deals and plan the future away from the peoples whose divisions and lack of experience with democracy enabled local, regional and international forces to abuse them.

"Yet, these peoples continue to be in a state of liquidity and rage. They know what they want but they are confused about how to achieve it. What is certain is that they will not wait for a knight mounted on a white horse to lead them toward a new shining dawn. The one-man era is over."

By the standards of Saudi journalism, this is bold stuff. It's a reflection of the tensions between rival princes in the House of Saud and the policies that Bandar and his group, which include the current foreign minister, have been aggressively promoting. None of them are going well, and all are interconnected.

Egypt, which should have been pacified months ago, is still in a state of ferment. HA Hellyer, an Egypt analyst for the Royal United Services Institute who is sharply critical of President Mohamed Morsi's failures in office, describes the clearing of the pro-Morsi sit-ins in August as the most violent state-led crackdown against Egyptians in Egyptian modern history.

It is also expensive. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are bankrolling the paralysed state. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the deputy prime minister of the UAE, dropped a bombshell during a visit by the Egyptian prime minister Hazem el-Beblawi by saying that Arab support for Egypt would not last long. The Emirati's latest tranche of aid of $3.9bn has been likened to giving blood transfusion to a patient who is bleeding continuously.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once famous in Washington for his cigars, parties and charm, is now Saudi Arabia’s point man, fighting Iran in Syria and denouncing the Obama administration

    Wednesday, November 20, 2013   No comments
When the prince was the ambassador he was the toast of Washington, and plenty of toasts there were. Bandar bin Sultan smoked fine cigars and drank finer Cognac. For almost 30 years as Saudi Arabia’s regal messenger, lobbyist, and envoy, he told amazing stories about politicians and potentates, some of which, surprisingly, were true. Washington journalists loved him. Nobody had better access to more powerful people in higher places, or came with so much money, so quietly and massively distributed, to help out his friends.

Over the years, Bandar arranged to lower global oil prices in the service of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and both the Bushes. At the behest of the CIA’s Bill Casey, and behind the back of Congress, Bandar arranged for the Saudis to bankroll anti-Communist wars in Nicaragua, Angola and Afghanistan. He was thick with Dick Cheney, and he was so tight with the George H.W. Bush clan—the father, the mother, the sons, the daughters—that they just called him “Bandar Bush.”

Now, the prince is a spy, or, more precisely, the master spy of the Middle East. He is the point man for a vast Saudi program of covert action and conspicuous spending that helped overthrow the elected Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt and is attempting to forge a new “Army of Islam” in Syria. Without understanding the man and his mission, there’s no way, truly, to understand what’s happening in the world’s most troubled region right now.

Bandar’s goal is to undermine Iranian power: strip away Tehran’s allies like Assad and Hezbollah; stop the Shiite mullahs from acquiring nuclear weapons; roll back their regional designs; and push them out of office if there’s any way to do that.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif asking the world: “would you back down” from a step toward shaping your own destiney rather than letting others decide for you?

    Tuesday, November 19, 2013   No comments
Zarif asks the world: Would you back down from your right?


Monday, November 18, 2013

Amnesty slams Qatar migrant worker exploitation: Qatar’s construction sector rife with abuse, with workers employed on multi-million dollar projects suffering serious exploitation

    Monday, November 18, 2013   No comments
Construction companies in Qatar, which is experiencing a massive building boom ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, are involved in widespread abuse of migrant workers, according to Amnesty International.

Qatar’s construction sector is rife with unacceptable working conditions for migrant labourers, according to a report released by Amnesty International on Sunday.

The report, titled “The dark side of migration: Spotlight on Qatar’s construction sector ahead of the World Cup”, details widespread abuse of migrant workers that the international human rights organisation claims often amounts to forced labour.

“We have met workers that have been unpaid for many, many months, up to nine months or a year in Qatar,” said James Lynch, Amnesty International’s researcher on migrant workers in the Gulf, in a film accompanying the report.

“Then they can’t leave the country because their employer won’t return their passports, won’t give them an exit permit, which is required under Qatari law, won’t buy them tickets,” he added.

These factors combined, he said, meant life in Qatar for many migrant workers was “deeply traumatic”.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Israel, Saudi Arabia cooperating to plan possible Iran attack: Convinced that Iran is tricking the world over nuclear weapons, Israel and Saudi Arabia may work together to curb its ambitions

    Sunday, November 17, 2013   No comments
ONCE they were sworn enemies. Now Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency is working with Saudi officials on contingency plans for a possible attack on Iran if its nuclear programme is not significantly curbed in a deal that could be signed in Geneva this week.

Both the Israeli and Saudi governments are convinced that the international talks to place limits on Tehran’s military nuclear development amount to appeasement and will do little to slow its development of a nuclear warhead.


As part of the growing co-operation, Riyadh is understood already to have given the go-ahead for Israeli planes to use its airspace in the event of an attack on Iran.

Both sides are now prepared to go much further. The Sunni kingdom is as alarmed as Israel by the nuclear ambitions of the Shi’ite-dominated Iran.

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Riots in Saudi Arabia: ‘The Kingdom expels the same people it exploited’

    Friday, November 15, 2013   No comments
Tensions have been simmering in Saudi Arabia over the past week. Hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrant workers have risen up against the ruling authorities, giving rise to scenes of rioting that the country has rarely seen.

The workers have been rioting over the recent wave of migrant expulsions from Saudi Arabia, which they claim is completely unjust, given the widespread exploitation many migrants have suffered at the hands of their Saudi patrons.


Violent clashes between security forces and migrant workers took place last Saturday in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Mecca. Three undocumented migrant workers died in the violence. Since November 4, the Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry has led a campaign to expel the country’s illegal migrant workforce. That decision triggered widespread rioting among the workers, of whom 20,000 have already been sent home.

It’s not the first time illegal migrant workers have been kicked out. 200,000 were expelled at the beginning of 2013, before the king offered a seven-month amnesty to allow undocumented migrants to get their legal status in order. The campaign’s supposed objective is to fight against the country’s unemployment rate, currently hovering at around 12%.

Foreign workers in Saudi Arabia are considered clandestine when they lack either a residency permit allowing them to work or a ‘sponsor’ [like other countries in the region, Saudi Arabia uses the ‘kafala’ system, according to which each worker must be taken charge of by a ‘kafil’, or a sponsor].

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Qatar loses clout amid fading Arab Spring

    Thursday, November 14, 2013   No comments
The gas-rich Persian Gulf state, which is slightly smaller than Connecticut, wanted to host world-class sporting events; to build a network of top-tier universities and museums; and to push, tweak and manipulate regional politics to reshape the Arab world to its liking.

At the moment, that last priority isn’t going so well.

If 2011 was the tiny state’s year for victory laps — its flag flying high alongside the Libyan rebels, as the revolution there raged with Qatari support; its satellite channel Al Jazeera praised among Egyptian protesters in Tahrir Square; and everybody wanting a bag full of Qatari cash — 2013 has been a year for losses.

Qatar is taking a beating as the Arab Spring revolts, which ushered in Islamist governments in Egypt and Tunisia and empowered upstarts across the region, yield to a reassertion of power by the region’s old heavyweights.

A military coup toppled Qatar’s allies in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the new military rulers have found funding and allies in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — Qatar’s regional competitors.

Saudi Arabia also has publicly taken the lead on gulf support to Syrian rebels — a cause that Qatar was the first to champion — after the tiny state irked Western and Arab allies by sending aid to hard-line Islamists, analysts say.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Syrian Refugees Sell Organs to Survive: In the shadow of the Syrian civil war, a growing number of refugees are surviving in Lebanon by illegally selling their own organs

    Wednesday, November 13, 2013   No comments
The young man, who called himself Raïd, wasn't doing well. He climbed into the backseat of the car, in pain, careful not to touch any corners. He was exhausted and dizzy. A large bandage looped around his stomach, caked with blood. Despite that, the 19-year-old Syrian wanted to tell his story.

Seven months ago, he fled the embattled city of Aleppo, in Syria, to Lebanon with his parents and six siblings. The family quickly ran out of money in the capital, Beirut. Raïd heard from a relative that the solution could be to sell one of his kidneys, and then he spoke to a bull-necked man, now sitting in the passenger seat, smoking and drinking a beer.
His acquaintances call the man Abu Hussein. He said he's employed by a gang that works in the human organ trade - specializing in kidneys. The group's business is booming. About one million Syrians have fled into Lebanon because of the civil war in their home country and now many don't know how they can make a living. In their distress, they sell their organs. It's a dangerous and, of course, illegal business. That's why the gang has its operations performed in shady underground clinics.

Abu Hussein's boss is known in the poor areas of Beirut as "Big Man." Fifteen months ago, Big Man gave the 26-year-old a new assignment: find organ donors. The influx of Syrian refugees from the war, Abu Hussein's boss argued, made it more likely people would be willing to sell organs.

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Monday, November 11, 2013

McCain: 'Vive la France' for blocking Iran nuclear deal

    Monday, November 11, 2013   No comments
US Senator John McCain joined a chorus of conservative American approval of France on Sunday, lavishing praise on Paris for blocking "a bad nuclear agreement with Iran". "Vive la France!" he tweeted.
Conservative US leaders, fond of finger-pointing at France in recent years, lavished praise on Paris Sunday for blocking an agreement between Western powers and Iran over Tehran's nuclear program.

"Vive la France!" senator John McCain, an outspoken voice on national security issues, wrote on his Twitter account.

"France had the courage to prevent a bad nuclear agreement with Iran," he said, after the weekend announcement that no agreement had been reached between the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany, known as the P5+1.

During three days of intense negotiations in Geneva, France repeatedly voiced concerns over various points in a possible deal and its lack of guarantees, a position that had Iran calling it a negotiations spoiled sport.

"Thank God for France and thank God for push back," said hawkish Senator Lindsey Graham on CNN's "State of the Union" program.

"The French are becoming very good leaders in the Mid East," Graham said, also suggesting he would be in favor of more sanctions against Iran.
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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Former Prime Minister criticises the dominance of private-school educated elite in “upper echelons” of British public life

    Sunday, November 10, 2013   No comments
The dominance of a private-school educated elite and well-heeled middle class in the “upper echelons” of public life in Britain is “truly shocking”, Sir John Major has said.
The former Conservative Prime Minister said he was appalled that “every single sphere of British influence” in society is dominated by men and women who went to private school or who are from the “affluent middle class”
More than half of the Cabinet, including David Cameron, the Prime Minister, George Osborne, the Chancellor, and Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, are thought to have gone to private school and are independently very wealthy.
In the speech to Tory party grassroots activists on Friday evening, Sir John - who went to a grammar school in south London and left with three O-Levels - said: “In every single sphere of British influence, the upper echelons of power in 2013 are held overwhelmingly by the privately educated or the affluent middle class. To me from my background, I find that truly shocking.”
Sir John blamed this “collapse in social mobility” on Labour, which despite Ed Miliband’s “absurd mantra to be the one-nation party they left a Victorian divide between stagnation and aspiration”.

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Thursday, November 07, 2013

Where Allah Rocks: Indonesia's Tolerant Take on Islam

    Thursday, November 07, 2013   No comments
By Erich Follath
The Southeast Asian island nation of Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, which practices an open-minded, gentle version of Islam in urban areas. But elsewhere Islamists are beginning to encroach.
Joko Widodo is a strange character, a superstar in his country and a figure of growing importance in Asian politics. He is also a mixture of many things that don't ordinarily mix.

Sometimes he behaves like the legendary Kalif Harun al-Rashid, who used to sneak out of his palace in Baghdad at night to mingle, in disguise, with ordinary people and learn what they were thinking. Sometimes he emulates Nelson Mandela, who has charmed people with his optimism and eloquence throughout his life. And sometimes he comes across as a Mick Jagger type, charismatic and assertive, but perhaps a little too self-absorbed.

For his fellow Indonesians, this is apparently an irresistible blend of character traits. Widodo, 52, widely known as "Jokowi," is a pop star and an inspirational tribune of the people. He is the governor of the regional district of Jakarta, a megalopolis of about 23 million people on a strip of land along the coast, which is constantly threatened by flooding. In fact, scientists believe that most of Jakarta will be underwater by 2050.

Greater Jakarta is one of the most chaotic collections of people in the world, a seemingly ungovernable Moloch. But according to opinion polls, Governor Jokowi is doing such a good job in Jakarta that Indonesians say they would elect him president in next year's national elections. This would also make him one of the leaders of the G-20 group of 20 major economies.

Indonesia, an enormous nation consisting of more than 17,500 islands, stretches from Banda Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra to Borneo, Java, Bali, the Maluku Islands and New Guinea. It encompasses more than 5,000 kilometers (3,107 miles) from west to east, or about the distance from Lisbon to well past Moscow. It is a country with vast, virtually uninhabited regions and some of the world's most crowded places. It also holds volcanoes and tropical rainforests, the home of giant, 60-meter (200-foot) trees, along with mangroves and coral reefs, orangutans and Komodo dragons.

Indonesia's manmade wonders are as impressive as its natural features. Magnificent Buddhist temples like Borobudur and impressive Hindu sites like Tanah Lot are UNESCO World Heritage sites. And Jakarta, Surabaya and Medan boast some of the world's largest and most beautiful mosques.

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Friday, November 01, 2013

Turkey, Iran signal thaw in ties amid mutual concern on Syria

    Friday, November 01, 2013   No comments
Turkey and Iran said on Friday they had common concerns about the increasingly sectarian nature of Syria's civil war, signalling a thaw in a key Middle Eastern relationship strained by stark differences over the conflict.
Iran has been a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since the start of the 32-month-old uprising against him, while Turkey has been one of his fiercest critics, supporting the opposition and giving refuge to rebel fighters.

But the election in June of President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who says he wants to thaw Iran's icy relations with the West, and shared concern over the rise of al Qaeda in Syria, have spurred hopes of a rapprochement.

"Sitting here together with the Iranian foreign minister you can be sure we will be working together to fight these types of scenarios which aim to see a sectarian conflict," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told a conference in İstanbul.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who held talks with Turkish President Abdullah Gul in Istanbul and was due to meet Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan later in Ankara, echoed the comments, saying that sectarian unrest posed an even greater risk than the use of chemical weapons.

"I believe sectarian conflict is even a greater threat and it is not confined to one region," Zarif said.

"If the flames of sectarianism rage in the Middle East, you will see the results in the streets of London, New York, Rome and Madrid," he told the conference.

While deep divisions remain between Ankara and Tehran over the conflict in Syria, particularly over the role of Assad in any transitional government, diplomats and government officials say both sides want to mend a relationship which could be key to wider diplomatic efforts towards a solution.

"Both Iran and Turkey are at a point where they think they can work together on Syria," a senior Turkish official said.
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