Speakers at the Atlantic Council’s Istanbul Summit on April 27 emphasized the importance of strengthening transatlantic bonds to the Middle East with the goal of jointly addressing challenges and harnessing opportunities.

“We all need each other, and we are strong when we can work together, and pull in the same direction, and address the many challenges in the three regions,” said John Bass, the US ambassador to Turkey.

“We’ve got some differences in the meantime, but how we deal with those differences… is an essential piece of what we do,” he added.

This sentiment reflected the theme of this year’s summit: Strengthening Transatlantic Engagement with a Turbulent Region.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, speaking at the Atlantic Council’s Istanbul Summit on April 28, urged the United States to end its support for Kurdish rebels in Syria and to extradite a cleric Turkey says orchestrated a failed coup attempt in July of 2016; he also accused some European countries of harboring terrorists. 

Erdoğan’s remarks offered a preview of his upcoming meeting with US President Donald Trump in Washington on May 16. The Turkish leader had been unsuccessful in his efforts to convince former US President Barack Obama to drop his support for the Kurdish militias who have proven to be one of the most effective forces fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Syria. He was optimistic that he could open a new, and very different, chapter in the US-Turkey relationship with Trump.

US support for the Kurds could be a sticking point in that relationship. In April, Turkey conducted a series of airstrikes against the Kurdish militias. These operations potentially put Turkey and the United States on a collision course.

Describing the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the YPG’s political arm, the Democratic Union party (PYD) as the “aborted children” of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)—a group that both the United States and Turkey consider a terrorist organization—Erdoğan said these groups will, sooner or later, “bite the hand that feeds them.”

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When considering the state of Ukraine’s banking reforms, it is important to consider not only what remains to be done, but how much the country has achieved, according to an economic adviser to the Ukrainian government.

“The fact that Ukraine is even alive, and surviving, and growing today, is quite amazing given where it was in 2014,” Daniel Bilak, chief investment adviser to the prime minister of Ukraine, said at the Atlantic Council on April 20.

Though Ukraine’s economy has endured what Valeria Gontareva, governor of the National Bank of Ukraine, describes as “a perfect storm” during “real wartime in our territory,” Bilak said that now, as a result of comprehensive reforms, “the trend is actually very good and when investors see this, they see Ukraine in a very different light than what they might read in the media.”

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Even as the pervasive and destructive capacity of cyberattacks becomes ever more evident with the alleged Russian meddling in European and American politics, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, a former president of Estonia, marvels at the European Union’s under-performance in dealing with the threat—and he’s pointed in his criticism. 

“I think the [European] Commission, in particular the high representative [Vice President Federica Mogherini] and the agency that she leads [European External Action Service], is being particularly remiss in addressing fundamental threats,” Ilves said. 

“The external affairs people, they’re dealing with issues that, of course, are important but not of life and death importance to the European Union... we do not see attention paid to the fundamental threats to democracy within the members of the European Union,” he added.

This week marks the tenth anniversary of the first real act of cyber war—colloquially referred to as “Web War 1”—on Estonia. Ilves was president at the time.

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Observers of France’s elections can breathe a sigh of relief. The first round on April 23 resulted in centrist, liberal Emmanuel Macron of the En Marche! movement taking first place. He will face far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen, whose anti-EU, protectionist platform terrifies markets, in the runoff on May 7. The mere avoidance of a runoff between far-left and far-right candidates sent markets surging on expectations of a Macron victory in the second round.

But, even if surveys show Macron with an approximately twenty-point lead over Le Pen going into the second round, France is not out of the woods just yet.

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White Helmets seek safe zones to protect civilians

As US sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime have failed to end the war in Syria, the international community must exercise the political will to do so—and, in the meantime, establish safe zones that would put civilians out of harm’s way, according to two members of the Syrian Civil Defense (SCD), also known as the White Helmets.  

“The sanctions are not having the intended effect of stopping the war,” said Jehad Mahameed, a liaison officer for the SCD. Manal Abazeed, a volunteer with the White Helmets, called for world leaders, particularly US President Donald Trump, to exercise “the political will to stop this conflict.”

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Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s president sees an opportunity

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) should be a platform for cooperation, not a point of conflict between the United States and China, the bank’s president, Jin Liqun, said at the Atlantic Council in Washington on April 24.

Former US President Barack Obama’s administration was reluctant to join the AIIB amid concern that China would use the institution to set the global economic agenda at the cost of environmental protections, human rights, anticorruption measures, and governance standards.

Jin recalled that in his conversations with Obama administration officials he often made the point that China was eager to work with the United States to create the AIIB. “When China and the US work together, wonderful things [will] happen,” he said.

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Russia’s deepening engagement in the Middle East is a positive development from the United Arab Emirates’ perspective. The Emiratis, with their unique relationship with the Kremlin, are trying to resolve regional security challenges that threaten their interests. More importantly, the Emiratis’ relationship with the Kremlin could help the UAE become an important interlocutor in efforts to defuse tensions between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The UAE’s strong relationship with Russia was on display when Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ), Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, visited Putin in the Kremlin on April 20. The two discussed crises in the Middle East as well as strengthening an already substantial relationship between their two countries.  The visit took place at a time when the Trump administration has ratcheted up its anti-Iran rhetoric and US-Russia relations have reached an all-time low.

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European Investment Bank President Werner Hoyer cites the importance of explaining the values of international cooperation


World leaders must reaffirm the importance of a cooperative international system and the tangible benefits to all stakeholders, Werner Hoyer, president of the European Investment Bank (EIB), said at the Atlantic Council on April 21.

While the surge of populism throughout Europe—in response to terrorism and economic stagnation—means that “renationalization is visible,” particularly in France during an election year, Hoyer insisted that when “the cooperative approach and the multilateral approach is being put into question in an irresponsible way… it is important to explain again the values of international cooperation.”

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For anxious Britons seeking a good deal in their forthcoming Brexit negotiations with the European Union, the strong probability that Emmanuel Macron will be the next president of France is both good and bad news.

The good news is that a Macron victory is the outcome most likely to ensure the EU remains a relatively stable and undistracted negotiating partner and a strong future ally for a post-Brexit United Kingdom (UK). In notifying Brussels of the UK's intention to leave, British Prime Minister Theresa May wrote on March 29 that her government “wants the EU to succeed and prosper.”

Anyone who feels that way can only hope that Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front party loses the second round of voting in the presidential election on May 7. A victory for Le Pen against all the odds would throw the EU into chaos, with one consequence being that the Brexit negotiations would slide way down the ladder of priorities in Brussels and might end after two years with no agreement, bringing economic and political disarray to the UK as well.

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