Turkey, Germany show willingness to restore ties, İncirlik ban remains

Turkey and Germany expressed their willingness to overcome differences during the joint presser with FM Çavuşoğlu and his German counterpart in Ankara, despite disagreements on several issues, including ban on visit by German lawmakers the İncirlik Air Base, and the FETÖ and the PKK activities in Germany

As tensions between Turkey and Germany escalated in the wake of a Turkish government ban on a German parliamentary delegation visit to İncirlik Air Base, both Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel expressed commitment to better relations at the joint press conference held in Ankara yesterday. While Çavuşoğlu said no permission for a visit to İncirlik Air Base was given, he told the media that the German delegation can visit the Konya NATO base rather than İncirlik, reiterating Ankara’s concern regarding Germany’s stance regarding terrorist groups, including the PKK and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). Commenting on the German foreign minister’s visit, experts said that Germany’s insistence on visiting İncirlik is solely symbolic and that it is more for domestic politics, since the country is preparing for upcoming elections.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Gabriel in Ankara, Çavuşoğlu said that the two ministers discussed the steps needed to improve bilateral relations. Çavuşoğlu described Gabriel’s visit as highly significant and: “If Germany takes a constructive step forward then we will take two steps forward. We have discussed ways to concentrate on a positive agenda with Germany.”

Commenting on the visit, Asiye Bilgin, deputy chairwoman of the Europe-based nongovernmental organization the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD) told Daily Sabah that the visit is important for dispelling the tension between Turkey and Germany. “Although differences in opinion continue regarding issues such as İncirlik, extradition of FETÖ terrorists continue, cooperation in other fields was underscored [during the press conference]. Escalation in tensions in Turkey-Germany relations will not result in any advantage to either country,” Bilgin affirmed. Calling Gabriel’s insistent position on İncirlik solely a domestic matter as the country’s elections draws near, Bilgin said that constructive and consistent steps are expected from both sides.

Affirming that Turkey has no problem with either Germany or Europe, he added: “[T]here are some issues that cannot be disregarded. In today’s meeting, we have summarized how we perceived the [current] situation [between the two countries]. One of the topics is the anti-Turkey sentiment that paves the way for racism and xenophobia in Germany. … Additionally, the PKK terrorist group’s activity in Germany is another matter.” He stressed that Germany “should not be a center of sanctuary for our enemies.”

Enes Bayraklı, a foreign affairs specialist at the Political, Economic and Social Research Foundation (SETA) also said that the German lawmakers’ insistence on visiting İncirlik is symbolic, as he also said it is a matter of domestic politics targeting the elections. Bayraklı, however, did not describe the visit as positive, saying Germany did not positively respond to Turkey’s demands regarding FETÖ and PKK affiliates.

Çavuşoğlu listed Ankara’s concerns, reminding both Turkish and German media as well as Gabriel of the FETÖ members seeking asylum in Germany. Aside from the issues causing tension between the two countries, Çavuşoğlu said: “We have assessed other matters in which we have a positive agenda. We have discussed how we could enhance bilateral trade investments. … We must devote constructive efforts to dispel the negative atmosphere and turn it into a positive one through increasing interaction between our two nations, enhancing cultural relations.” Regarding Incirlik Air Base, Çavuşoğlu affirmed that Ankara would allow German legislators to visit a NATO base in the central province of Konya, but not Incirlik.

“It would be beneficial to begin this [visit] with the NATO air base in Konya. … We [Çavuşoğlu and Gabriel] will also meet with President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan, as it will be a historic and important visit. I hope that this visit will positively affect our relations from now on,” he said.