Merkel attempts to soothe tensions during visit to Turkey


CHANCELLOR ANGELA Merkel moved to defuse charged relations with Ankara yesterday, but stood firm during a two-day visit to Turkey on her opposition to its EU accession.

Ahead of her trip, Dr Merkel dismissed calls from Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for Turkish language schools in Germany, saying the country’s million Turkish emigrants needed to learn German and integrate.

That prompted an angry Mr Erdogan to wonder aloud about the source of “so much hate towards Turkey” in Germany. “I just don’t understand, it’s something I wouldn’t have expected from the German chancellor,” he said, asking Turkish journalists ahead of Dr Merkel’s arrival. “Is Turkey a whipping boy or something?”

On her arrival, Dr Merkel tried to smooth things over, pointing out that Germany already had Turkish schools, something that “perhaps can be extended”.

“But that can’t be an excuse for Turks not to learn German,” she added. Dr Merkel appeared to harden her views on Turkey’s EU accession saying that deeper political union meant the “rules have changed”. Ankara’s continued refusal to recognise Cyprus was, she said, another problem.

A 2005 protocol extended the customs union between the EU and Turkey to the new accession states. Despite treaty obligations, Ankara has yet to open its airports or harbours to Cyprus. The Turkish leader indicated that these differences means he is not well disposed to working with Europe on other issues of importance, namely Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Mr Erdogan said Turkey, which currently holds a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, saw no reason at the moment to back sanctions against its neighbour.

In an apparent nod to Israel, assumed to have nuclear weapons though it has never said so, Mr Erdogan suggested it was hypocritical to impose sanctions on a Middle East state simply on the suspicion of building nuclear weapons. “We are against nuclear weapons in our region,” said Mr Erdogan. “But is there another country in our region that has nuclear weapons? Yes, there is. And have they been subjected to sanctions? No.”