Exasperated by Turkey's ongoing seismic survey work on Greece's continental shelf, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis Wednesday effectively called for the EU to suspend its customs union with Turkey: "It is not possible for a state, a third state, a country which is a candidate for EU membership, to be exempt from [customs] duties, to reap the benefits of the common market but at the same time threaten the eastern borders of the European Union." This comes a day after Bloomberg reported Greek Foreign Minister Nikolaos Dendias sent European Commissioner for Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi a letter enumerating Turkey's violations of its customs union agreement with the EU, in force since December 31, 1995, and seeking punitive measures including the union's suspension. Dendias also sent letters to his German, Spanish, and Italian counterparts requesting an arms embargo on Turkey as well as a fourth letter to EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell invoking the Treaty of the European Union's (TEU) mutual defense clause. TEU Article 42.7 states: "If a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with article 51 of the United Nations charter." Turkey responded to Mitsotakis's appeal to the EU by announcing the seismic survey vessel Oruc Reis will extend its mission in Greek waters, previously scheduled to end on October 22, until the 27th.
Sudanese central bank governor Mohamed al-Fatih Zainelabidine confirmed Tuesday the transfer of the $335 million it agreed to pay victims of al Qaeda's 1998 attack on America's embassies in Kenya and Tanzania as well as its 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. President Trump tweeted Monday that the State Department would remove Sudan from its state sponsors of terrorism list as soon as Khartoum deposited the compensation. According to Axios, following the $335 million's transfer to a designated account set up for the compensation fund, President Trump was supposed to sign an executive order removing Sudan from the State Department's state sponsors of terrorism list and a bipartisan group of US Senators endorse legislation protecting Sudan from future lawsuits brought by terror victims. So far, neither has occurred. During a Wednesday press briefing, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed he did not know "the precise timing" for removing Sudan from the state sponsors of terrorism list, but "we have begun the process to lift the designation." Since Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, each oppose legislation shielding Sudan from future terror lawsuits, the bipartisan statement mentioned in the Axios story is unlikely.
Citing a government source, Israel HaYom reported late Wednesday that Sudan and Israel have agreed to normalize relations and will announce the news later this week or early next week. A delegation of senior officials from the Mossad and Prime Minister's office allegedly met Wednesday with Sudanese counterparts in Khartoum, where the parties hammered out a final agreement on mutual recognition. Past reports of Sudan imminently normalizing ties with Israel proved premature. Israel's i24NEWS published an article last September claiming the process would commence in days. Furthermore, several high-ranking Sudanese officials over the past couple days denied a connection between the deal with Washington to be removed from the State Department's state sponsors of terrorism list and establishing relations with Israel. Acting Finance Minister Hiba Mohamed Ali asserted on Sudanese TV Monday, "It is not possible for an entire people to be forced to normalize in a week or two. If it is our wish to normalize relations with Israel, we must give a suitable chance for the issue to be studied in detail." Then on Tuesday, acting Foreign Minister Omar Qamar al-Din said he could "confirm that there is no link between the issue of normalization with Israel and the lifting of Sudan from the terror list."
During a Wednesday interview with Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan maintained, "As an important regional stakeholder, Iran has a key role to play" in resolving the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Lamenting the Minsk Group's failure "to have a real impact on the developments," Pashinyan declared Armenia "will welcome any constructive step by Iran to bring peace and stability to the region." The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, now called the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), established the Minsk Group in 1992 to encourage a peaceful resolution to the territorial dispute engendered by the 1988-94 Nagorno-Karabakh War, in which ethnic Armenians carved out a de facto independent Republic of Artsakh inside the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan. Although Tehran officially recognizes Azerbaijan's sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh, their relations have generally been hostile. Tehran financed the banned opposition Islamic Party of Azerbaijan and recruited Azerbaijanis to attack the Israeli and American embassies in Baku, along with other Western targets and Azerbaijan's Jewish community. Azerbaijan also arrested Hezbollah terrorists in 2009 aiming to blow up the Israeli Embassy. In turn, Iran accused Azerbaijan in 2012 of hosting a Mossad base to spy on Iran. Voice of America's Azerbaijani service reports Iran has detained at least 200 ethnic Azeris demonstrating in support of Azerbaijan's offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh and against Russia resupplying Armenia through Iran's Norduz border crossing. While Tehran acknowledged the authenticity of a video circulating on social media showing Kamaz trucks from Russia passing through the Norduz border crossing into Armenia, it denied they were carrying weapons.
Two days after 56 Democratic Senators and Representatives sent a letter to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi strongly urging him to release all "prisoners of conscience in Egypt before their wrongful imprisonment becomes a death sentence due to the coronavirus pandemic," 222 lawmakers from the European Parliament and seven European national parliaments published an open letter to al-Sisi with the same theme. The lawmakers wrote, "At a time when health risks are exacerbated due to the COVID-19 epidemic, we urge you to prioritize the prisoners' human rights and immediately release those who are detained unjustly." They also warned, "Continuing to hold prisoners of conscience undermines not only our shared interests, but the bedrock of our shared relations."
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum