Berlin (CNSNews.com) – On the same day as the German government signaled a willingness to normalize its strained relations with Turkey, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Germany of assisting terrorists.
In an attempt to ease tensions in Turkish-German relations, the German government indicated on Monday that it wanted to normalize relations with Turkey, but only if the Erdogan government changes its negative rhetoric towards Berlin.
“We are ready to extend a hand to Turkey. But a new beginning requires changes in Ankara, both in terms of tone and factual matters,” Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told the Stuttgarter Nachrichten newspaper.
The move comes a month after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Democratic bloc, facing growing pressure for being “too soft” on Turkey, hardened its stance by announcing several economic measures to increase pressure on Ankara, including reviewing export credit guarantees for German companies doing business with Turkey.
Turkey's Islamist president appeared unmoved by Germany’s latest gesture, and on the same day accused it of aiding terrorists.
“We gave Merkel 4,500 dossiers [of Germany-based terror suspects], but have not received an answer on a single one of them,” Erdogan said at a conference of his ruling party. “Germany is abetting terrorists.”
Turkey blames the movement of the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen for a failed coup attempt last summer. It earlier sent Berlin thousands of documents regarding wanted terror suspects based in Germany, which is home to a large Turkish population including ethnic Kurds.
Turkey has also asked Interpol for information on German companies suspected of ties with Turkish companies which it claims are linked to the Gulen movement, although it later withdrew the request.
The German government has repeatedly denied Erdogan’s claims.
Bilateral relations deteriorated after a mass crackdown by Erdogan in response to the July 2016 coup bid. Authorities detained more than 50,000 people and sacked more than 100,000 judges, teachers, police officers and others.
Another irritant is Turkey’s continued detaining of individuals including German human rights activist Peter Steudtner and Amnesty International’s Turkey director. Prosecutors accuse them, too, of links to the Gulen movement.
Turkey accuses Germany of sheltering Kurdish and far-left militants, and is also angry over Germany’s decision to grant asylum to several Turkish military officers who had been based at NATO facilities in Germany – and whom Turkey accuses of links to the coup attempt.
Merkel has long been hesitant to take steps that could further inflame relations with Turkey, concerned about the survival of a Turkey-E.U. agreement aimed at curbing the migration crisis.
The agreement provides for illegal migrants who travelled from Turkey into the E.U. to be returned to Turkey, in exchange for the E.U. taking in Syrian refugees who legally entered from Turkey, on a “one-for-one” basis.
Germany holds elections next month, and Merkel’s rival for the chancellorship, Martin Schulz of the center-left Social Democratic Party, has criticized her silence toward Turkey.
In response, Merkel has stepped up criticism of the arrests.
Despite Erdogan’s latest criticism, his government has taken one step towards soothing tensions, reversing an earlier decision refusing permission for German lawmakers to visit German troops stationed at a Turkish airbase, Konya.
Turkey’s barring of German lawmakers’ access to troops at another airbase, Incirlik, reached a tipping point in June when Berlin pulled 260 troops from the base, relocating them to Jordan.
Approval for the Konya visit only came after NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg intervened.
Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the Konya decision, saying “we should focus on fighting Islamist terrorism, which is also in Turkey’s interest.”
In an interview with Spiegel, Turkish deputy prime minister Mehmet Simsek said Germany’s economic measures targeting his country were “based on false information,” but nevertheless expressed confidence about the future of relations.
“Our ties are strong and historical,” he said. “Germany is home to over three million people with Turkish roots. The relationship cannot be broken so easily.”