Turkish, German governments slowly burying the hatchet
IT WAS a warm and sunny day in Antalya on Nov. 4 when photos of the meeting between Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and his German counterpart, Sigmar Gabriel, circulated in the media. The encounter was unexpected and intriguing. The photos showed the casually dressed foreign ministers in an informal and friendly conversation with a golf green in the background. “We met with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel in Antalya, talked about the difficult issues between our countries and the expectations,” Çavuşoğlu said on his Twitter account. Ten minutes later, the German Foreign Ministry retweeted the post. At a time when ties are at a historic low, the meeting was seen as an encouraging step.
"We have reiterated that the recent deterioration in our bilateral ties benefits neither Turkey nor the U.S.," he added, touching on the visa spat ignited by the arrest of Metin Topuz, an employee at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul.
"We expect normalization in the visa crisis, and Mr. Pence has a positive stance on finding a solution," Yıldırım said, adding that he invited him to Turkey.
"We have requested a concrete step in the extradition of Gülen," he said about the fugitive former imam who lives on a 400-acre property in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, and runs a shady network that orchestrated last year's coup attempt that left 249 people dead and more than 2,200 injured. "We demanded that at least a step to restrict Gülen's movements and actions be taken as a start," he said, adding that the extradition process is long overdue.
"Upon my remarks on Gülen, he brought up the arrests of consulate employees and pastor Brunson," Yıldırım added.
American pastor Andrew Brunson was arrested in İzmir on charges that he has links to FETÖ.
Turkish authorities issued an arrest warrant on Oct. 9 for another employee working for the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, whose wife and son were then interrogated by the police. The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office said the suspect, identified by his initials N.M.C. and who does not hold diplomatic immunity, was called for testimony. "We also received a promise from Pence to keep better track of the weapons provided to the YPG," Yıldırım said. Pence touched on this matter as well, saying the U.S. understands Ankara’s concerns, according to Yıldırım.
"Pence said the U.S. understands Turkey's sensitivity about the YPG. Their partnership is temporary and will last only a little longer now that the Raqqa operation is complete," he said.
"We also discussed regional developments. Mr. Pence thanked us for our stance on the [independence] referendum in northern Iraq," he said, adding that the vice president said the U.S. appreciated Turkey's attitude in not punishing the Kurdish people yet still opposing the “illegal” referendum.
"We also discussed the arrests of Reza Zarrab and Mehmet Hakan Atilla. Our delegation reiterated that these arrests are unlawful, as the people who prepared the documents did it through illegal means and are now being tried in Turkey," Yıldırım said.
U.S. prosecutors charged a former Turkish economy minister, former general manager of state-owned Halkbank Süleyman Aslan and two others with conspiring to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran.
The indictment broadened a case targeting Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab over sanctions evasion, which has fueled tension between the U.S. and Turkey.
Zarrab and Atilla were both arrested while in the U.S. in March 2016 and are scheduled to stand trial. If convicted, they face prison terms of up to 30 years.
Çağlayan and Aslan are charged with "conspiring to use the U.S. financial system to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of transactions on behalf of the government of Iran and other Iranian entities, which were barred by U.S. sanctions" between 2010 and 2015.
They were also accused of lying to U.S. govern- ment officials about those transactions, laundering funds and defrauding several financial institutions by concealing the true nature of these transactions, the office added in the filing.
Later in the day, the office of the vice president released a readout regarding the discussion. "Today at the White House, Vice President Mike Pence met with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim to reaffirm the enduring strategic partnership between the United States and Turkey," the office said in the readout.
"The leaders expressed hope that their meeting would help to usher in a new chapter in U.S.-Turkish relations and agreed on the need for constructive dialogue, as friends and allies, on bilateral challenges. They highlighted the United States and Turkey's mutual interest in stability and security in the Middle East and agreed to further intergovernmental consultations toward that end," the office added.
"The vice president also thanked the prime minister for Turkey's contributions to global security and the fight to defeat ISIS, and he underscored the U.S. commitment to stand with Turkey against the PKK and other terrorist threats," Pence's office said, using an alternative acronym for the Daesh terrorist group.
"The vice president expressed deep concern over the arrests of American citizens, Mission Turkey local staff, journalists, and members of civil society under the state of emergency and urged transparency and due process in the resolution of their cases."
After the meeting, Yıldırım also met U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and representatives from the Jewish community in New York.