Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier travelled to Istanbul on Friday (20 June). He spent two days in the Turkish metropolis, starting immediately upon arrival by meeting Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu for a Strategic Dialogue between Germany and Turkey. Both Foreign Ministers expressed concern at the situation in Iraq and Syria. On Saturday (21 June), Steinmeier was welcomed by the Turkish President, Abdullah Gül. This meeting came after Steinmeier officially launched the German‑Turkish Youth Bridge.
The right time for Strategic Dialogue
The German and Turkish Foreign Ministers were meeting for German‑Turkish Strategic Dialogue for the second time. Following the first round of talks in Berlin in 2013, this year’s Dialogue meeting was the first to be held in Turkey. The Foreign Ministers met for the purpose in the Çırağan Palace, formerly a Sultan’s palace on the shore of the Bosphorus, in the European part of Istanbul.
Before leaving for Istanbul on Friday, Foreign Minister Steinmeier had emphasised the fact that the advance of ISIS in northern Iraq had further exacerbated the situation in the Middle East. This, Steinmeier said, affected all the countries in the region – which was particularly true with regard to Turkey. He reasoned that the Strategic Dialogue was therefore happening “at the right time”.
Serious crisis in the region
The extremely fraught situation in Iraq and the civil war in Syria were then high on the agenda for the two Foreign Ministers in Istanbul too. After their talks, Steinmeier spoke of a “serious crisis” in the region “which poses a threat to peace and stability in the entire Middle East”. Steinmeier continued:
Iraq must not be allowed to become the backdrop to a bitter war of religion involving mercenaries, religious extremists, terrorists and Islamists of all affiliations, in which several regional powers become locked in a power struggle.
The German Foreign Minister said that ISIS had not yet consolidated their position. Addressing Baghdad in particular, Steinmeier declared that the initiative to resolve the situation would have to come from Iraq itself. The Iraqi Government, he said, needed a broader base in which all political groups were represented.
On the subject of the Turkish nationals taken prisoner by ISIS in Iraq, Steinmeier expressed his solidarity with Turkey at the press conference. He voiced the hope that the prisoners would be released soon.
For a fresh start in Syria talks
Both Foreign Ministers furthermore showed great concern at the situation in Syria. Like Iraq, Syria shares a border with Turkey. Steinmeier said it was hard to imagine Syrian dictator Bashar al‑Assad having a role (in an interim government) after 170,000 people had been killed. Syria negotiator Lakhdar Brahimi having resigned, it was essential, Steinmeier said, to seek a fresh start to the Syria talks. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Davutoğlu denied accusations that Turkey had supported the terrorist organisation ISIS in Syria.
EU accession negotiations: opening the rule-of-law chapter
In Saturday’s joint press conference with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Davutoğlu, Steinmeier moreover highlighted the significance of bilateral relations between Germany and Turkey. The German Foreign Minister spoke in favour of intensifying EU accession negotiations with Turkey, declaring as follows:
Anyone who wants to see us progress together on matters of substance must want to see this rule‑of‑law chapter in the accession process opened.
He expressed the hope “that we can overcome the resistance being put up by a few individuals”. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Davutoğlu affirmed his country’s undiminished strategic interest in joining the EU.
Consultations in six working groups
As part of the Strategic Dialogue, six working groups comprising around 70 high‑level government representatives from Germany and Turkey had been engaged in consultations since Thursday (19 June).
In an intensive exchange, the two countries’ experts discussed bilateral issues, regional and international topics, Europe, security policy and counter‑terrorism. The consultations were brought to a close on Friday (20 June), in a session with the two Foreign Ministers.
Strengthening interpersonal and cultural relations
Before boarding his flight to Turkey, Foreign Minister Steinmeier had made it clear that part of his intention with this visit was to strengthen interpersonal and cultural relations between Turkey and Germany. It was to that end that he launched the German‑Turkish Youth Bridge at the Tarabya Cultural Academy on Saturday (21 June).
The initiative is meant to boost school and youth exchanges between the two countries. Its goal is to be enabling 10,000 young Turks and Germans per year to go on exchanges by 2018. Steinmeier commented as follows: “Just like the Tarabya Cultural Academy, which is already a successful flagship in our cultural exchange with Turkey, the Youth Bridge is intended to create even broader foundations to underpin our relations.”
A previous message from the Turkish Foreign Minister also underlined the importance of this initiative to bilateral relations. The Youth Bridge, he said, would “facilitate and deepen friendships connecting our societies”.
Alongside the German and Turkish young people, the event at the Tarabya Cultural Academy was also attended by artists and other creative professionals, such as well‑known actor Adnan Meral (of the German comedy‑drama “Türkisch für Anfänger”).
A meeting of old friends
Shortly before flying back to Berlin, Steinmeier enjoyed an audience with Turkey’s President Gül at the latter’s Istanbul residence. The two politicians worked closely with one another during Steinmeier’s first term in office (2005-2009). In 2006, for example, they launched the Ernst Reuter Initiative for Intercultural Dialogue and Understanding together in Istanbul. The Initiative boosts German‑Turkish cooperation in the fields of art, culture, politics and the media, business, education and research. Before he was elected President in 2007, Gül also served as Foreign Minister, which made him Steinmeier’s direct counterpart.