Ankara prepares for tug-of-war battle with Merkel

Ankara prepares for tug-of-war battle with Merkel
Ankara prepares for tug-of-war battle with Merkel

it is most likely that she will have tense discussions with Turkish officials on a number of issues, ranging from her unyielding opposition to Ankara's bid to join the European Union to the integration of Germany's Turkish community.

Merkel and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have recently traded barbs on a range of issues. Since their exchange of remarks has revealed sharp divergences between the two leaders' points of view on issues such as Merkel's advocacy of a "privileged partnership" with the EU for Turkey, which falls short of full membership; how to deal with Turkey's neighbor Iran's nuclear ambitions; Ankara's call for visa exemptions for Turks traveling to Europe; and Erdoğan's proposal that Turkish-language schools be set up in Germany, one can say that a tense atmosphere will surround the talks in Ankara.

Turkish officials say they 'will give the appropriate answer,' if German Chancellor Merkel raises her 'privileged partnership' proposal during bilateral talks in Ankara

Merkel's two-day talks in Turkey will focus on Iran, the Middle East peace process, Turkey's bid to join the EU and the two countries' business and cultural ties.

On Saturday, however, both she and Prime Minister Erdoğan, whose country is currently a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, laid out different approaches for dealing with international efforts to rein in Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

"If Iran does not in the end show transparency over the question of nuclear energy, we must also consider sanctions," Merkel said in a weekly video address. "This will be a topic of discussion in Ankara."

NATO-member Turkey has rebuffed calls from its ally the United States to support new sanctions against its fellow Muslim nation Iran, which the West suspects is trying to develop atomic bombs. Tehran denies that.

In an interview with influential German newsweekly Der Spiegel, Erdoğan said more time was needed for negotiations, adding that he felt the sanctions route would not work.

"There have already been multiple sanctions placed on Iran, but what is the result?" he said in an advance copy of the magazine released on Saturday. "What we need is diplomacy ... everything else threatens global peace and yields nothing."

Differences between the two were also stark over Turkey's bid to join the EU. Merkel supports a "privileged partnership" for Turkey and German officials say it is too early to speak of full EU membership.

"We're no longer a country that simply aspires to join the EU -- we are already in negotiations for full membership," Erdoğan said, adding that Turkey would not veer from this goal. "When proposals are made that differ from this framework, it's like shifting the goal post during a penalty kick in a soccer match -- absurd," he added.

Despite all the firm remarks by Turkish officials who last week stated that Turkey will not take any option other than full EU membership into consideration, Merkel reiterated her opposition to Turkey becoming a full member of the EU in remarks published on Friday in the Passauer Neue Presse regional newspaper. "My opinion has not changed and we need a privileged partnership" with Ankara, Merkel said.

In earlier remarks to the Turkish media published last week, Merkel said she would offer privileged partnership to Turkish officials when she begins a visit to Turkey on Monday. She said Turkey could negotiate with the EU on 27 or 28 policy chapters, instead of 35, so as to become a privileged partner of the 27-nation bloc.

"Our position on whether such an offer like ‘privileged partnership' is acceptable or not is obvious," Foreign Ministry spokesman Burak Özügergin told Today's Zaman last week, when reminded of Merkel's reported remarks. "And our goal of full EU membership is very well known at least as much as Mrs. Chancellor's view regarding Turkey's EU bid is known," Özügergin briefly added.

In this file photo, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (R) leave after a news conference at the Chancellor's Office in Berlin on Feb. 8, 2008.

When asked what the stance of Turkish officials would be if Merkel raises the "privileged partnership" issue during bilateral talks here, Turkish diplomatic sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said, "We will give the appropriate answer."

Within the same remarks, the German chancellor also described Ankara's calls for visa exemptions for Turks traveling to Europe as premature, saying it was too early for such a move because Turkey has not yet secured its borders to prevent illegal immigration to Europe. But a Turkish official said last week that Ankara would continue to push for visa exemption rights when Merkel visits Ankara.

Turkey rejects being ‘scapegoat'

Erdoğan also set the stage for conflict over Germany's Turkish immigrant community last week when he revived a proposal that Turkish-language schools be set up in Germany. The comments made headlines in the tabloid press and provoked a string of editorials. Merkel was swift in hitting back at Erdoğan's proposal.

"I do not think this brings us forward, as I think that Turkish children and pupils should go to German schools. I do not think much of the idea of Turkish children going to Turkish school," Merkel told Passauer Neue Presse in remarks published on Friday.

Erdoğan last week also implied that he considered himself the prime minister of Turks living in Germany, which drew fire from Merkel on Saturday. "If there are worries or hardships for people with Turkish roots living here -- I am their chancellor too," she said.

Erdoğan, while speaking with a group of journalists late on Friday on board a plane en route from Ankara to Sirte, Libya, to attend a two-day summit of the Arab League, was reminded of Merkel's remarks objecting to his proposal of setting up Turkish-language schools in Germany. "Is Turkey the scapegoat? There are German-language schools in Turkey. We are comfortable [with those schools]," Erdoğan was quoted as saying in response by the CNN-Türk news channel.

"They have demanded a university. We are allocating 120 acres of land in Beykoz [a district of İstanbul]. I would never expect such an approach from Merkel. I will convey these thoughts of mine to Merkel," Erdoğan added, referring to plans to establish a Turkish-German university in İstanbul.

Back in May 2008, Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, who was then foreign minister, signed an agreement with German authorities to establish a Turkish-German university in İstanbul. It is not clear when the planned university will be launched.

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