Saturday, 2 February 2019

Guarantees Not Sought in Procurement of F-16 Jets

ZAGREB, February 2, 2019 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Friday that no guarantees had been sought during the planned purchase of Israeli F-16 jets that eventually fell through as that type of procurement did not require guarantees, announcing that in the next attempt to buy military aircraft emphasis would be put on the inter-departmental nature of the process.

"This was a government-to-government process in which guarantees are not sought," Plenković said in an interview with Nova TV. He confirmed that the government would launch a new process to buy new military aircraft and that in that process, its interdepartmental nature would be stressed.

The prime minister said that a detailed analysis into why the purchase of Israeli fighter jets had failed was still under way but that he believed "we have arrived at the right conclusion as to why it happened" and that the conclusion would be presented during a parliamentary debate on the matter to be held soon.

Plenković stressed that Israel had undertaken in writing to secure permission for the Third Party Transfer (TPT) whereby the USA allows the sale of weapons originally made in the USA.

"Also, talks at the State Department and the Department of Defence gave us reason to conclude that the transfer would be approved," he stressed.

Plenković concluded by saying that Croatia had excellent relations with both Israel and the USA and would continue having such relations in the future as well.

More news on the procurement of F-16 jets can be found in the Politics section.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Plenković: Information Leaks, Doctored Photos Will Be Probed

ZAGREB, February 2, 2019 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković on Friday commented on classified information leaks and of the fake photographs purportedly showing Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Tolušić, saying that everything will be investigated.

Plenković underscored that it is necessary to find out why somebody has been disseminating doctored photographs to the media in an effort to besmirch someone. "As far as the doctored photos are concerned that were supposed to result in defaming the deputy prime minister, his private life, integrity, family and in that way, additionally impact the destabilisation of the government, I think we can put two and two together," he said.

The press asked the prime minister what could happen now that the parliamentary committee had received the Security and Intelligence Agencies (SOA) report and after the finalisation of an investigation in that case and where information leaks to the media were coming from, not just in the Tolušić case but with the purchase of Israeli jets too.

"With regard to information leaks, we will check how that information ended up in the media. I think that it isn't good for information to be leaking, but information was leaking prior to this government too," he said.

Asked to comment on whether the Živi Zid party and the recent events surrounding that opposition parliamentary party were pernicious, Plenković responded, "they don't interest me at all," however, he did say that this was a good opportunity for voters to clearly see the nature of such movements.

"Tendencies by parties that don't have a sound political platform, don't have a clear idea of what they want but have a destructive approach, aren't useful," he said.

Asked whether perhaps large political parties were to blame for Živi Zid's popularity, Plenković said that he has been responsible for leading the Croatian Democratic Union since July 2016 and that if there is anything he especially strives for it is that there is no demagogy, no moves that could possibly have an effect on groups of that nature growing.

More news on the face photos scandal can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Failed F-16 Purchase to Be Discussed in Parliament

ZAGREB, January 31, 2019 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in the coastal town of Ploče on Thursday that the government was close to completing an analysis into why the planned purchase of F-16 fighter jets from Israel had failed, adding that he believed the parliament, too, would discuss the matter.

The important thing is that this did not do any harm to our relations with the USA or Israel, cooperation in the field of defence with those two countries will continue, and cooperation with Israel will continue in the business sector as well, Plenković said during a visit to the local army barracks.

"The important thing is that our intentions were good, and we will present our impression as to why the deal did not happen during a parliamentary debate," the prime minister told reporters. "A lot of information is being published. The only relevant thing is that Israel formally undertook to obtain permission for the transfer of the jets to the third party, in this case Croatia. The deal did not happen under the terms that were specified in the tender. We will learn lessons from this case and move on," Plenković said.

Plenković expressed satisfaction that army troops had been stationed also in Ploče at Defence Minister Damir Krstičević's proposal. That is good in terms of security and in terms of the army's contribution to civil institutions in preventing natural disasters, the PM said.

Minister Krstičević, who accompanied Plenković, called for a thorough and responsible analysis of the chronology of the process of preparation and implementation of the purchase of military aircraft from Israel, as well as for clearing up the situation in a calm discussion, using arguments.

"The government tried to resolve the issue. We will analyse the process, an agreement was signed, there is no financial damage. Croatia asked all the necessary questions. You can see various documents being published, proving that we received all the necessary guarantees," said Krstičević.

"In a process that is very complex, there is no harder thing than buying a multipurpose fighter jet. We will analyse everything regarding the process and have the matter discussed by the parliament. There are a lot of documents, challenges and work to be done," said the minister.

Krstičević and Plenković visited the barracks of the 116th Croatian Army Brigade in Ploce, which was opened in 2018 and is used by a newly-established Croatian Navy unit, a seaborne company.

More news on the failed fighter jet purchase can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

New Fighter Jets Purchase Only After Failed Deal with Israel Is Analysed

ZAGREB, January 29, 2019 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Monday that the government "has an idea" why the purchase of the Israeli F-16 Barak fighter jets fell through, adding that no new steps would be taken regarding the acquisition of new planes until the entire case is thoroughly analysed.

Plenković said that at a meeting with US Ambassador to Croatia Robert Kohorst, held earlier in the day, he did not ask why the sale of the jets fell through because there was no need for that.

"I did not need to ask him. As you know, we are thoroughly analysing the entire process and after our talks with the Israeli side and consultations with the Americans we have a pretty good idea why this has happened," the prime minister said, adding that the analysis, that was still being conducted, would clarify what happened. He said the analysis would be completed in the coming weeks and until then no new steps aimed at acquiring fighter jets would be launched.

Earlier on Monday, Plenković held talks with Ambassador Kohorst who then told the press that he gave a document to the Croatian prime minister which outlined the process for obtaining approval for the F-16.

Shortly after Kohorst said that the statement he had given to the N1 commercial broadcaster about the failed deal between Israel and Croatia about fighter jets' purchase had been misinterpreted, and insisted that the Croatian government should not be blamed for the failure.

Kohorst thus reacted to some media interpretations of his statement that the Croatian government was aware of the procedure for obtaining approval for the purchase of US-made F-16 aircraft from Israel. "Counter to what some press have reported, the United States did not at any time advise the Croatian government not to purchase the Israeli F-16s," Kohorst said in his statement.

Plenković later said he had not seen the document and that this "was the exchange of technical papers at the level of the US Embassy and a representative of the Croatian authorities."

He underscored that the jets were only one of the topics discussed at the meeting, underscoring that Israel's offer with regard the quality and the price of the planes was very good. He reiterated that Israel had assumed responsibility for obtaining approval from the Americans.

More news on the defence issues can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 28 January 2019

US Ambassador: Croatia Was Aware of Approval Procedure for F-16

ZAGREB, January 28, 2019 - The US Ambassador in Croatia, Robert Kohorst, told the N1 commercial television channel on Monday that the Croatian government was aware of the procedure for obtaining approval for the purchase of US-made F-16 aircraft from Israel because he had given that document to Prime Minister Andrej Plenković.

Speaking to the press after meeting with Plenković at government headquarters, Kohorst commented on the statement made by President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović that there existed a "white paper" which the US had sent to Croatia regarding the Israeli sale of F-16 fighter jets.

"I believe what the President was referring to was a paper that I gave to the Prime Minister, which outlined the process for getting approval for the F-16. It wasn't really a white paper, it wasn't critical about the process, it was more an information piece about how the process worked," Kohorst said.

In an interview with N1 on Sunday, Grabar-Kitarović confirmed that the Americans had been clear from the start about the technical requirements for the transfer of the aircraft, but that no one could have predicted the problems that had arisen between the US and Israel regarding the matter.

The Croatian president denied the existence of an American non-paper warning about possible problems regarding the transfer of the Israeli F-16 Barak aircraft to Croatia and said that there only existed an American white paper containing technical instructions for all bids submitted to the Croatian Ministry of Defence that referred to the originally US-made aircraft.

"I believe we communicated to everyone there was a regular process called third-party transfer, that required US government approval for the transfer, and they were aware of how that process worked," Kohorst said, adding that he didn’t know if everyone knew all the details, but "they certainly knew the general process."

Asked why the process had failed eventually, the ambassador said he did not know. "The US government gave approval for the transfer, it’s just the conditions of that approval weren’t acceptable to all the parties… It was required that the planes be brought back to the original NATO configuration, which is the type of aircraft that Croatia needs in order to be a NATO partner," Kohorst said.

More news on the unsuccessful acquisition of the military jets can be found in the Politics section.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

“USA Was Clear About F-16 Fighter Jets from the Start”

ZAGREB, January 27, 2019 - Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović said in an interview with the N1 broadcaster aired on Sunday that the United States had been clear from the very start about the technical requirements for the transfer of F-16 fighter jets but that nobody could have predicted the problems that arose between the USA and Israel regarding the matter.

The president dismissed claims that there was a US non-paper warning about possible problems regarding the sale of Israeli F-16 Barak jets to Croatia.

She said that there was only a white paper with US technical instructions for all bids submitted to the Croatian Defence Ministry that referred to originally U.S.-made aircraft. "I asked US Ambassador Robert Kohorst very directly if there was the non-paper that has been talked about in Croatia. He told me that technical instructions from the United States, not only in the case of the Israeli bid, but also in the case of the Greek bid, as well as the very US bid that referred to new, F-16 Block 70/72 planes... are interpreted as a non-paper," Grabar-Kitarović said.

She noted that the US side had been very cooperative in the process and that it was right to say that it had been clear about the conditions for the transfer of the jets from the very beginning. However, nobody could have predicted the problems that arose between Israel and the USA in the process, she said.

Grabar-Kitarović stressed that she did not consider the failed purchase of the F-16 Barak planes a diplomatic scandal because Israel had assumed responsibility for obtaining US permission for its deal with Croatia.

Croatia was supposed to buy 12 used F-16 C/D Barak fighter jets from Israel for an estimated 2.9 billion kuna.

The deal definitely fell through after Israel officially informed Croatia that it could not obtain approval from the United States for the delivery of the U.S.-made jets because the United States objected to Israel's plan to sell upgraded jets.

More news on the unsuccessful purchase of the aircraft can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

SDP to File Interpellation over Failed F-16 Deal with Israel

ZAGREB, January 24, 2019 - Social Democratic Party (SDP) MP Arsen Bauk said on Thursday that the SDP would launch the interpellation procedure by Monday to address government activities regarding the failed purchase of F-16 fighter jets from Israel until Monday.

"The interpellation has been prepared. For it to be sent into the parliamentary procedure, it is necessary to have the support of only 10% of lawmakers, and therefore we are not going to ask other opposition parties to support the submission of interpellation, but we expect their support during the vote on the matter," Bauk said.

Asked by the press whether the latest scandal about fake photos showing Agriculture Minister Tomislav Tolušić in an embarrassing situation has pushed the failed acquisition of fighter jets to the back burner, Bauk answered: "Certainly, if you have something that can distract media attention from a certain matter, you can say that media interest in that matter has lessened."

"However, I don't want to believe that the Tolušić affair was intentionally spun to overshadow the failure to acquire the fighter jets," the SDP parliamentarian said.

Asked how come that former defence minister Željka Antunović of the SDP said that this was not Defence Minister Damir Krstičević's fault, Bauk said that she had the right to think so. "Mrs Antunović was one of the best defence ministers, and her opinion should be respected. However, it is not certain if she expressed her opinion based on all information. It seems to me that she commented on the case before it became evident that contacts between the US and Croatia were more frequent and more intense than originally indicated. True, it is unusual that she has a diametrically opposite position to the SDP's view," Bauk concluded.

More news on the failed deal can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

(VIDEO) Under Pressure, Defence Minister Loses Temper in Parliament

ZAGREB, January 16, 2019 - A heated debate during Question Time on Wednesday about the failed deal between Croatia and Israel on the procurement of fighter jets angered Defence Minister Damir Krstičević who snatched a model plane out of the hands of SDP MP Franko Vidović, shouting at him: "To hell with you and this!"

Before that, Social Democrat lawmaker Vidović said that two years had been lost in the procrastinated procedure for the purchase of multipurpose planes for the Croatian Air Force.

"You have undermined the combat capabilities of the Croatian army," the opposition deputy said, claiming that Croatia was exposed to disgrace on an international scale.

He also wondered how Prime Minister Andrej Plenković was planning to embark on a new tender procedure without first dismissing Krstičević from the ministerial post.

Plenković responded that it was not true that national security was put at risk. This is a fabricated and untrue claim disseminated by those who in the past did not advocate the upgrade of the Croatian air force, some of whom opposed that process, the prime minister responded. Croatia's government remains committed to the modernisation of the national air force, he said.

Croatia has fighter jets, it is a member of NATO and is covered by collective security and by cooperation within the European Union, Plenković explained.

He recalled the timeline of the first tender for the fighter jets procurement. "On 29 March 2018, Croatia's government made a decision on the choice of F-16 Barak jets, irrespective of the email correspondence between representatives of the US embassy in Zagreb and people in the expert group or officials of the defence ministry," Plenković said.

The signals from the correspondence were not clear to me, given that the tender procedure was under way, he added.

We sent delegations to Washington and Israel to find out if Israel could obtain approval from the USA and if the USA was OK with that. They said then that it was all right. We would not have made this decision on that choice, if we had not checked that out. However, the problem has occurred now, Plenković said.

Dissatisfied with the prime minister's answer, Vidovic brought to the bench where government ministers were sitting a model plane saying that if things go on as the government plans, Croatia can have only such planes.

This upset Minister Krstičević very much. He took the model plane from Vidovic's hand and threw it to the floor.

After the incident, Krstičević said that he was not nervous and insisted that the behaviour of the SDP lawmaker was unsporting and that the intention of Vidović's performance was to humiliate him. Although he admitted that he overacted to some extent, Krstičević told the press: "I was very calm, but you must realise that I was a wartime general and I am now the defence minister."

Krstičević said that in the past two years he was dedicated to finding the best solution for the Croatian Air Force and now "somebody is bringing that model plane in front of you, without any respect." "I find this humiliating and unsportsmanlike ," the minister said.

Vidović said later he respected Krstičević as a commander and a soldier, but that in parliament they were all equal. He added that he did not wish to provoke the minister and that he gave him the model plane in jest.

More news on the aircraft procurement can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Croatian Defence Ministry Explains Away US Embassy E-Mails

ZAGREB, January 16, 2019 - The Defence Ministry on Tuesday commented on emails sent to it by the US Embassy, saying that over a thousand were exchanged officially and unofficially during the procurement of fighter jets, but that the only important thing was that the US did not prohibit the sale of Israeli aircraft to Croatia in any official document.

Hina asked the ministry for a comment after the publication of the second email in the correspondence between the embassy and Assistant Defence Minister Petar Mihatov, in which the embassy sent Croatia a non-paper concerning the procurement of used F-16s.

"During the procurement procedure, there was a lot of official and unofficial communication as well as many elements and questions we resolved in agreement with our partners because it was a very complex project. In such a complex process, over a thousand emails were exchanged, there was very demanding correspondence at several levels. Because of responsibility, we held a series of additional consultations both with the American and the Israeli side," the ministry said.

However, the only important thing is what all the official documents say, that Israel, as the selected bidder, had the obligation to obtain US approval, to which it officially committed when the offer was accepted by enclosing preliminary approval, the ministry said.

The only essential thing is that the US did not prohibit the sale of Israeli aircraft to Croatia in any official document, but gave the official preliminary approval that was required for the validity of Israel's offer, the ministry said.

"As you know, Israel officially informed us that, contrary to the responsibility it assumed, unfortunately, it cannot obtain the required US approval for the delivery of Israeli F-16 Barak aircraft to Croatia. Israel's representatives said in Zagreb clearly that there was no responsibility on Croatia's part. There is no material or non-material damage for Croatia," the ministry said.

Media have published two emails which the US Embassy exchanged with Mihatov, informing him that Israel did not obtain US permission for selling fighter jets and that it might not be granted at all.

More news on the unsuccessful acquisition of the fighter jets can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Opposition Demands Resignation of Defence Minister Krstičević

ZAGREB, January 15, 2019 - The Social Democratic Party (SDP) leader Davor Bernardić said on Tuesday that Defence Minister Damir Krstičević should promptly resign due to "the lies and delusions disseminated in the public about the failed acquisition of fighter jets".

Bernardić thinks that an email that leaked in the media about U.S. embassy having warned the Croatian Defence Ministry in December 2017 that Israel had not obtained approval for the transfer of technology to the third party shows the minister's responsibility for the failed deal. "Resignation due to lies and delusions disseminated by Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and Krstičević should be done for moral reasons," said Bernardić.

It is true that morality and responsibility cannot go together in the same sentence with the HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union). However, we expect common sense to prevail and the prime minister to take a responsible move, said the leader of the strongest opposition party

In the event that Krstičević does not offer his resignation, the SDP is going to launch the parliamentary procedure for his dismissal, and Bernardić hopes that the opposition parties will join his party in this effort.

He accused the government of trying to reduce the damage and the disgrace in this scandal in a ridiculous way.

The SDP chief referred to the government's decision on Monday to annul its previous tender for the delivery of multipurpose combat aircraft and to define a new model for the procurement of fighter jets for the Armed Forces.

SDP parliamentarian Franko Vidović said that nine months before he already raised the question why the government had opted for acquiring 12 used fighter jets instead of buying 6 new ones.

Leaders of the GLAS party also called for the responsibility of Defence Minister Damir Krstičević over a failed procurement of fighter jets from Israel. GLAS MP Nada Turina Đurić commented on the failed procurement of F-16 Barak fighter jets from Israel, calling for the responsibility of Defence Minister Damir Krstičević, but also claiming that the entire government is responsible.

More news on the defence minister can be found in the Politics section.

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