French President Emmanuel Macron implored Turkey to cease oil and gas exploration in Greek territorial waters "in order to allow a peaceful dialogue" between Athens and Ankara. But, in the meantime, he will "temporarily strengthen the French military presence in the eastern Mediterranean in the coming days" to "monitor the situation in the region and mark its determination to uphold international law." Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government instigated the current standoff between Turkish and Greek warships when it dispatched on Monday the seismic survey vessel Oruc Reis, accompanied by Turkish warships, to the Greek continental shelf to search for oil and gas deposits. That prompted Greek warships to bombard the Oruc Reis with messages to create so much noise that the Turkish survey vessel would not be able to operate. Before Macron's statement, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned in a televised address, "The risk of an accident lurks when so many naval forces gather in a limited area and responsibility in such a case will be borne by the one who causes these conditions."
Police Wednesday arrested 25 women in Ankara during protests against Turkey potentially withdrawing from the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention). Opened for signatures at the 121st Session of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers in Istanbul, the convention is colloquially known as the Istanbul Convention and Turkey was the first country to ratify it. Some religious Turkish organizations, including the Felicity Party and the Turkish Youth Foundation, condemn the convention as undermining family values and paving the way for the recognition of LGBT groups. However, a survey published by Ankara-based pollster MetroPoll in late July found 63.6 percent of those surveyed opposed scrapping the convention while just 17 percent favored it. Violence against women, often motivated by "honor," has worsened in Turkey over the last decade, 474 women being murdered in 2019, twice 2011's figure. The Istanbul Convention stipulates: "So-called 'honour' shall not be considered as justification for any acts of violence covered by the scope of this Convention." The AK Party is expected to announce soon whether the country will remain in the accord.
During a speech before parliament, President Bashar al-Assad had to exit the room for an unknown period of time after complaining of low blood pressure and saying, "I need to sit for a minute if you don't mind." A post on his Facebook page said the speech would be aired later in the day. While rumors of the President's ill health circulated in January 2017, the pro-Syrian regime Lebanese newspaper al-Diyar reporting he suffered a stroke and the Saudi newspaper Okaz claiming he had a brain tumor, none of these reports have been confirmed.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas toured the remains of Beirut's port and delivered €4 million directly to the Red Cross and UN relief efforts so that the aid would not "disappear in dark channels of which there are unfortunately way too many in Lebanon." Berlin pledged €20 million in assistance after last week's explosion. Maas expressed sympathy for Lebanese protesting against the country's corrupt political elite, stating, "The rage of the people is understandable" and "I think everyone in Lebanon has to recognize that things cannot continue like this. This country needs big reforms."
In a Wednesday conversation with Emmanuel Macron, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged France to oppose a US draft Security Council resolution to extend the 13-year-old UN arms embargo on Iran. Despite reports that France, Britain, and Germany engaged in last minute diplomacy to persuade Russia and China not to veto a US resolution to extend the arms embargo, Macron told Rouhani, "Our views on the extension of the arms embargo on Iran are quite different from that of the United States and we have made this clear to them." Macron also relayed to Rouhani that Iran should not meddle in Lebanese politics as the country tries to form a new government. Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his cabinet resigned Monday and Macron stressed in his conversation with Rouhani that it is essential "for all the powers concerned... to avoid any outside interference and to support the putting in place of a government that can manage the emergency."
General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of Army Staff of the Pakistan Army, will visit Saudi Arabia Sunday to reduce diplomatic tensions generated by Pakistani accusations of Saudi indifference to India abolishing Kashmir's autonomous status in August 2019. While Islamabad has long pressed the Saudi-headquartered Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to convene a high-level meeting to address recent developments in Kashmir, the OIC has hitherto only held low-level meetings. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi last week threatened to bypass the OIC: "If you cannot convene it, then I'll be compelled to ask Prime Minister Imran Khan to call a meeting of the Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us on the issue of Kashmir and support the oppressed Kashmiris." Saudi Arabia reacted to Pakistani criticism by applying economic pressure, forcing Imran Khan's administration to repay $1 billion of a $3 billion 2018 loan – compelling Pakistan to borrow from China – and asking for an additional $1 billion back.
Saudi Aramco will reduce capital investment this year to between $20 billion and $25 billion, down from $32.8 billion last year and the $25-$30 billion initially planned for this year, to ensure it can pay the $75 billion in dividends promised during last year's IPO despite the COVID-19 pandemic causing lower than expected oil prices.
According to two knowledgeable sources, Oman Wednesday signed a one-year $2 billion bridge loan with a group of international and regional banks and hopes to repay it through an international bond issue. Oman's debt to GDP ratio has increased from 5 percent in 2014 to just under 60 percent last year and the three major rating agencies rate its bonds as junk.
Tribal clashes that broke out in Port Sudan Sunday between members of the Bani Amer and Nuba ethnic groups have left at least 25 people dead and 90 wounded as of Wednesday. The violence allegedly started when Nuba people, demonstrating against a new governor, strayed into a Bani Amer-majority district. Khartoum sent police reinforcements and imposed a nighttime curfew. Violence between the two groups has flared up multiple times over the past year, in part motivated by completion over water and other resources.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum