Merkel, Er­do­gan clash in Ber­lin over Turk­ish re­porter


An­gela Merkel’s sig­nals to Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan were clear: this isn’t rec­on­cil­i­a­tion — not even close.

With Er­do­gan un­der pres­sure from eco­nomic woes and US sanc­tions, the Ger­man chan­cel­lor opened her door to the Turk­ish leader, only for them to clash over demo­cratic stan­dards, press free­dom and Ger­mans im­pris­oned in Turkey. At one point Er­do­gan de­manded Ger­many ex­tra­dite a Turk­ish jour­nal­ist con­victed of spy­ing, sec­onds af­ter Merkel made it clear that she’s op­posed.

The split over Can Dun­dar, a for­mer newspaper ed­i­tor who faces an al­most six-year prison sen­tence back home, threat­ened to de­rail Er­do­gan’s bid to re­pair re­la­tions with the Ger­man leader and move for­ward from re­cent hos­til­ity to­ward the Euro­pean Union.

“On the one hand, there’s a shared strate­gic in­ter­est in good re­la­tions,” Merkel said at a joint news con­fer­ence af­ter the two lead­ers met in Ber­lin on Fri­day. But there also are “pro­found dif­fer­ences” about what con­sti­tutes “a free, demo­cratic, open so­ci­ety,” she said.

Against the back­drop of anti-Er­do­gan protests in Ber­lin, Dun­dar’s case be­came a topic af­ter lo­cal me­dia re­ported that the pres­i­dent threat­ened to can­cel his news con­fer­ence with Merkel if the re­porter at­tended.

A for­mer ed­i­tor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet newspaper who now lives in Ger­many, Dun­dar spent three months in jail for re­port­ing on Turk­ish arms ship­ments to Syria. Freed pend­ing trial in Fe­bru­ary 2016, he was sub­se­quently sen­tenced to five years and 10 months in prison.

Di­ver­gent view

Dun­dar said in a video on his Twit­ter ac­count that he’d de­cided not to at­tend af­ter learn­ing of Er­do­gan’s threat to boy­cott. Merkel ad­dressed the case, telling re­porters that she and Er­do­gan have “di­ver­gent views” on whether he should be ex­tra­dited.

“This per­son has been con­victed. He’s a spy. He has re­vealed state se­crets,” Er­do­gan said. It’s Turkey’s “most nat­u­ral right” to re­quest his ex­tra­di­tion, he said.

Rule-of-law is­sues, in­clud­ing Merkel’s de­mand to free Ger­man cit­i­zens im­pris­oned in Turkey, dom­i­nated the me­dia ap­pear­ance, which at one point was dis­rupted by a pro­tester who was hauled out by se­cu­rity. Ques­tions of re­gional co­op­er­a­tion on Syria and Turkey’s econ­omy took sec­ond billing.

Turk­ish econ­omy

Merkel, whose coun­try is Turkey’s big­gest trade part­ner, of­fered ex­panded eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion, with a dor­mant Ger­man-Turk­ish com­mis­sion to hold its first meet­ing and Econ­omy Min­is­ter Peter Alt­maier, a Merkel con­fi­dant, set to head a del­e­ga­tion to Turkey in Oc­to­ber. The two lead­ers also agreed to hold a meet­ing on the war in Syria with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron this fall.

Merkel and Er­do­gan are at­tempt­ing to ease ten­sion af­ter Er­do­gan last year ac­cused Ger­man of­fi­cials of us­ing Nazi meth­ods to stop his of­fi­cials from cam­paign­ing among Ger­many-based Turks ahead of a ref­er­en­dum that in­creased his pow­ers. The meet­ing also was meant as a con­trast to Er­do­gan’s brief en­counter in New York with U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, a NATO ally he’s ac­cused of wag­ing “eco­nomic war­fare” against Turkey.

Ties that bind

Yet Merkel has lit­tle in­cen­tive to give up on Euro­pean prin­ci­ples. While the coun­tries are bound to­gether by an es­ti­mated 2.8 mil­lion res­i­dents of Turk­ish des­cent in Ger­many and al­most 7,000 Ger­man busi­nesses op­er­at­ing in Turkey, an FG Wahlen poll pub­lished this week sug­gests that about nine in 10 Ger­mans view democ­racy as be­ing threat­ened in Turkey.

For a wide spec­trum of Ger­man politi­cians, giv­ing Er­do­gan the honor of a state visit was seen as an of­fer for him to make amends and show he’s ready to turn the page. Sev­eral op­po­si­tion lead­ers boy­cotted a state ban­quet hosted by Ger­man Pres­i­dent Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier on Fri­day evening, which Merkel also didn’t at­tend.

Con­clud­ing his visit on Satur­day, Er­do­gan plans to open a mosque in Cologne af­ter meet­ing Merkel again for break­fast at the chan­cellery in Ber­lin.

“A sin­gle visit can’t re­store nor­malcy,” Stein­meier said in his din­ner toast. “But it could be the be­gin­ning of a path that leads to re­newed trust through many, tan­gi­ble steps.”

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel ( right) and Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Tayyip Er­do­gan in Ber­lin on Fri­day

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