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EU, NATO work on soothing Turkey

September 9, 2016

Ankara has informed Germany about its decision to let Berlin lawmakers visit the Incirlik air base. The announcement came as EU leaders traveled to Ankara to discuss improving relations with Turkey.

Image: picture-alliance/AA/F. Aktas

Speaking at a joint press conference with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg in Ankara on Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mesut Cavusoglu (pictured above, second from left) said his government had informed Berlin that German lawmakers would be permitted to visit the Incirlik air base where Bundeswehr soldiers are stationed. The parliamentarians had been banned from the air base after Berlin passed a resolution calling the 1915 massacre of Armenians "genocide."

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier welcomed the statement, saying the decision signaled Turkey's willingness to return to discussions.

"I am very glad that this issue now seems to be solved," Steinmeier said. "All efforts should be focused on fighting [Islamic State], and the German presence at the Incirlik air base is part of the German contribution."

NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg assured Turkey of the bloc's support, saying, "Turkey is a strong and highly esteemed member of the NATO, and will continue to remain so...If the coup had been successful, it would have been catastrophic not only for Turkey, but also for the entire alliance."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had accused the West of not showing enough solidarity after the July 15 attempt to overthrow his government.

Commitment to dialog

Earlier on Friday, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini (pictured above, left) and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn met with Cavusoglu and EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik (pictured above, second from right) in Ankara.

Condemning the coup attempt to depose Erdogan, Mogherini said both sides had intensively discussed ensuring that the rule of law was protected in the government crackdown on dissenters. Ankara has sent around 40,000 academics, journalists, judges and soldiers to jail for alleged links to Fethullah Gulen, the US-based cleric accused of masterminding the putsch.

Griechenland Lesbos Flüchtlinge an Zaun / Protest vor Rückführung in Türkei
Refugees in Greece protest being sent back to Turkey under an EU migrant dealImage: Reuters/G. Moutafis

The main outcome of Friday's conversation was "a strong commitment to dialog and common work on all strands of our cooperation," Mogherini said.

Cavusoglu also admitted that there were "problems that emerge that affect all our people" and that his country had to work together with the EU to solve problems together.

Turkey's EU accession

Hahn conceded that there were "many irritations" on both sides following the coup, but that Turkey needed to adhere to European standards if it wanted to join the EU.

"Turkey, was, is and will be a candidate country. And as a candidate country, we have to apply higher standards," he said, adding that visa liberalization for Turkish citizens was also being discussed.

Cavusoglu said Turkey and the EU had to work out "a concrete road map" for visa-free travel. "I believe that with this understanding we will overcome the problem," he added.

Hahn said that the timing depended on Turkey, but that a solution was possible.

Ankara has demanded that the EU permit its citizens to travel without visas into a large portion of the bloc in return for keeping migrants from the Middle East out of Europe. It threatened to scrap the multibillion dollar refugee deal if the EU did not remove its visa restrictions by October.

On Friday, Cavusoglu urged EU leaders to release refugee funds promised to Turkey. "This should not be locked up by red tape; more practical steps need to be taken," he said.

The EU says it will have dispensed about 1 billion euros by the end of September and will also sign a 300 million euro deal with Ankara to school Syrian children.

The Cyprus problem

Mogherini also raised the issue of Cyprus, saying both the EU and Turkey had a "common interest" in resolving the dispute and there was a "window" of hope for a solution. Cyprus has been divided between ethnic Greek Cypriots in the south and Turkish communities in the north since a 1974 invasion by Turkey. Cyprus - an EU member - has blocked several new chapters in the accession of Turkey into the bloc.

These include chapters 23 and 24 of the EU accession process, which deal with justice, rights, freedom and security. Only 16 of the 35 chapters have been discussed with Turkey until now.

Grenze Zypern Nikosia Green Line griechisch türkisch Check Point
Tensions in Cyprus have been a major block in Turkey's EU- accession talksImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J.Kalaene

Turkey has wanted to join the EU since the 1960s, but formal talks began only in 2005. The July coup has complicated matters, with Erdogan mulling the death penalty for alleged conspirators.

mg/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)