May 23, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Turkey’s president on Monday that Ankara must fulfill all the European Union’s conditions to secure visa-free travel for its citizens, but Turkey responded that it would suspend agreements with the EU if the bloc does not keep its promises.

The EU says Turkey must narrow its definition of “terrorist” and “terrorist act.” The bloc is concerned that journalists and political dissenters could be targeted. But Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that is out of the question.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Erdogan on the sidelines of the World Humanitarian Summit meeting in Istanbul, Merkel said that she doesn’t expect the visa waiver to be implemented at the beginning of July as was originally hoped.

Merkel, who is facing pressure at home to be tough with Erdogan, also expressed concern about a move to strip legislators in Turkey of their immunity from prosecution. But she underlined her commitment to the EU-Turkey deal aimed at stemming Europe’s migrant influx, arguing that its success is a matter of “mutual interest.”

The EU has offered Turkey a visa waiver as incentive — along with up to 6 billion euros ($6.8 billion) for Syrian refugees and fast-track EU membership talks — to get it to stop migrants leaving for Europe. As part of the agreement, the EU planned to accelerate the introduction of visa-free entry for Turks, with a target date of June 30.

Turkey has fulfilled most of 72 conditions but Erdogan’s refusal to revise anti-terror laws has emerged as a stumbling block. Erdogan has increased his belligerent statements against the EU in recent weeks, including accusing it of supporting an outlawed Kurdish rebel group, and has warned that the entire migrant deal could collapse if the Europeans renege on their pledges.

On Monday, his adviser on economic issues complained of “double standards” by the EU and demanded that Brussels keep its side of the bargain. “So long as they continue with this attitude, Turkey very soon will make very radical and clear decisions.” Yigit Bulut, the adviser, told state-owned TRT television.

The prime minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel, told reporters in Istanbul that Turkey had to fulfill all obligations for the visa-free travel. An official from Erdogan’s office said however, that during their meeting, the Turkish and German leaders agreed that more talks should be held between Turkey and EU institutions over the visa waiver deal to address Turkey’s “sensitivities and priorities.”

In a statement sent to journalists, the official said that Erdogan and Merkel concurred that the migration deal between Turkey and the EU was “fruitful” and that the cooperation should continue. The official cannot be named in line with government regulations.

Merkel said she “made clear … that we need the fulfillment of all points to grant visa liberalization.” Her comments were broadcast on German television. Erdogan “set out his difficulties in the fight against terrorism” and said that “changing terrorism laws is not up for debate for him at the moment,” Merkel said.

She added that “everything must be done to keep talking.” Merkel has faced criticism at home, including from within her own conservative bloc, over the deal with Turkey and a perceived unwillingness to address concerns over Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic behavior. Several high-ranking German lawmakers called on Merkel to be outspoken during her trip.

“We need independent justice, we need independent media and we need a strong parliament,” she said Monday. “And of course the lifting of the immunity of a quarter of the lawmakers in the Turkish Parliament is a cause for deep concern — I made this clear to the Turkish president.”

Merkel said that “the fight against the (Kurdish rebels) PKK is important and necessary, but on the other hand everything must be done so that people of Kurdish origin have a fair chance in Turkey to lead a life that allows them to participate in the prosperity and development of the country.”

During her trip to Istanbul, Merkel met various representatives of Turkish society, including the head of the Turkish lawyers’ association, the editor of Hurriyet Daily News, a local Human Rights Watch official and a professor of Kurdish origin who is a constitutional expert, German government spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz said in Berlin.

Moulson reported from Berlin. Dominique Soguel in Istanbul contributed.

Advertisements