Merkel, Erdogan to rebuild ties despite rifts
BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed yesterday to rebuild strained relations after a two-year crisis despite remaining differences on civil rights and other issues.
Erdogan was visiting the top EU economy, home to three million people of Turkish descent, in what German media have described as a charm offensive.
Turkey is suffering economic turbulence aggravated by US sanctions stemming from a row with US President Donald Trump.
The three-day state visit is being held under tight security as thousands were due to protest against the Turkish leader under the banner “Erdogan Not Welcome”.
Merkel and Erdogan stressed the need to rebuild traditional ties that hit a historic low after a 2016 failed coup and subsequent crackdown in Turkey.
The two NATO allies agreed to jointly discuss the Syria crisis in a meeting next month with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron of France, Merkel said at a joint press conference.
But the gulf between them remained apparent on issues from press freedom to the fate of German or dual citizens being held behind bars in Turkey, and on whether Germany should extradite Erdogan’s declared foes.
Merkel, under pressure at home for giving Erdogan the red-carpet treatment, said there was “on both sides a joint strategic interest in good relations” despite “deep differences... especially in questions about a democratic, open society”.
But she stressed that continued dialogue was the best way to overcome those differences.
She also vowed to keep pushing for the release of five German citizens still being held in Turkey.
At the height of the crisis, Berlin had urged its citizens and companies to stay away from Turkey and pulled out its troops from NATO bases.
However, relations have thawed somewhat since Turkey in February released prominent German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel.
Trump in August raised tariffs on Turkish aluminium and steel, in retaliation for the detention of an American pastor on terrorism charges in Turkey.
On Turkey’s economic woes, Merkel said that “Germany has an interest in an economically stable Turkey” with GDP growth.
Erdogan, who at the height of the diplomatic crisis had accused Berlin of “Nazi-like practices”, also struck a conciliatory tone, pointing to “win-win” business projects on the horizon.
On the question of open trade, he said, without mentioning Trump, that “we are of the same opinion as Germany” and that protectionism “spells a great danger for global security”.
However, he said Germany was doing too little to deal with thousands of Kurdish militants on its soil.
He complained that Germany was refusing to extradite followers of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he blames for the coup attempt.
Merkel said Germany regards the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) as a banned militant organisation but was not convinced it should treat the Gulen movement the same way. — AFP