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“Turkey – an indispensable partner”

03.02.2014 - Interview

Foreign Minister Steinmeier speaks to the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet about the status of German-Turkish relations. Published on 1 February 2014

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What are your priorities for relations between Germany and Turkey?

Turkey is an important and indispensable partner to Germany. Here I am thinking of the three million people of Turkish origin who live in Germany and who closely link our two countries. They quite rightly expect us to pay particular attention to our dialogue with Turkey, something which I am happy to do and believe is important. Alongside the human side of our bilateral relations, one need only to look at a map to see Turkey’s international significance given its very exposed geostrategic location in a region which is anything other than stable. In this regard, I am thinking mainly of the terrible yet also dangerous situation in Syria which will in all likelihood remain at the top of our agenda for some time to come. Turkeywill play a very important role in resolving the Syriacrisis, yet Germany is also quite rightly expected to fulfil its responsibility as an anchor of stability in Europe and to make its contribution to international peacekeeping. This is why we want to actively engage in and further develop the strategic dialogue between Germany and Turkey.

How do you view the Turkish Government’s approach to the accession negotiations, particularly in the context of the latest developments in Turkey?

Turkey is a large country where a great deal has been set in motion in recent years. We have seen impressive economic growth in Turkey, and I say this explicitly in light of the current turbulence experienced by the Turkish Lira. Turkish society has changed and developed. During our discussions I will ask honest questions and listen carefully in order to understand how my interlocutors assess the situation in their home country. The calls for more participation as well as for more openness emanating from the heart of Turkish society show that the reform efforts undertaken by the Erdoğan Government during the accession process have taken root. A self-confident Government can be composed and open to dialogue in the face of peaceful challenges and protests. Allegations of corruption have now been put on the table. This offers the chance for the modern Turkish rule of law to prove itself. This topic will naturally be addressed at an appropriate time over the course of further accession talks – which I hope will be taken forward in a constructive manner by both sides.

A civil war is raging in Syria. This has placed a great deal of strain on Turkey and the country feels abandoned. How could the EU support Turkey? How do you view Turkey’s policy on resolving the situation in Syria?

The bloody conflict in Syria is spilling over into the whole neighbourhood. People in the area of Turkey which borders Syria live in constant fear. Germany stands shoulder to shoulder with its NATO partner Turkey in dealing with this situation – the German Bundestag recently agreed by a large, cross-party majority to extend the mandate for the use of German Patriot air defence missile systems to protect the population from rocket attacks.

The humanitarian situation is exerting a huge amount of pressure on Turkey. Turkey and its people have demonstrated very generous sympathy and willingness to help the people in Syria by having already taken in hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. Germany is actively helping to provide for the refugees through German non-governmental organisations as well as via our contributions to the UN refugee agency. We are giving direct aid to the areas bordering Syria in an attempt to improve the provision of supplies there and thus to alleviate the burden weighing on Turkey. On a political level we are coordinating closely with the Turkish Government. Deciding on how to continue dealing with the Syria crisis will also be an important feature of our discussions in Berlin.

What role can Iran play in Syria’s peace negotiations?

There is no doubt that the Government in Tehran has influence over Bashar al‑Assad’s regime. Iran should use this influence to encourage Damascus to approach the peace negotiations in a constructive manner. If Iran proves that it is willing to stand up for peace in Syria then the resistance that there has been to its official inclusion in the Geneva negotiations up to now will gradually disappear.

Interview: Celal Özcan. Reproduced by kind permission of Hürriyet.

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