German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his tricky trip to Turkey. In a press conference with his opposite number, Steinmeier said he hoped ties would soon normalize.
Germany’s foreign minister and likely next president, Frank Walter-Steinmeier, arrived in Turkey on Tuesday morning amidst a period of particularly frosty relations between the two countries. The Social Democrat (SPD) politician began his day at a meeting with intellectuals who campaign for human rights and press freedom, in what seemed a sign to Ankara that Berlin does not approve of the post-coup attempt crackdown on journalists and the civil service.
Steinmeier is then set to meet with his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Davusoglu. The pair are likely to discuss the contentious situation at Incirlik airbase, a key station for the US-led coalition fighting “Islamic State” terrorists in Syria. German delegations have been repeatedly turned away from the base since factions of the Turkish military tried to overthrow the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July.
Erdogan’s administration has accused Chancellor Angela Merkel and her government of not showing enough solidarity in the wake of the crisis. Berlin, meanwhile, has been consistent in its disapproval of mass purges across Turkey that has seen more than 100,000 military officials, judges, civil servants and academics dismissed from their positions. Under the same auspices, Ankara has silenced dissident voices in the press and shuttered leading news outlets.
During a joint press conference with Davusoglu, Steinmeier said he was “irritated” by Erdogan’s accusation that Germany harbored terrorists, but thanked the Turkish foreign minister for “what was not exactly an easy discussion” and expressed his hopes that ties between the two countries would soon “return to their previous condition.”
Davusoglu then made the surprising announcement that Erdogan had issued a last-minute invitation to Steinmeier for a private chat.
Steinmeier: Purges threatening Turkish democracy
Berlin has been clear about its stance on press freeom and rights violations in Turkey. Norbert Röttgen, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and a chairman of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, has said that he was unsurprised that “President Erdogan would use this coup to consolidate his power mostly by eliminating constraints and the opposition.”
Steinmeier himself said ahead of his trip that he would press the issue: “When the existence of civil society is threatened, then democracy is also threatened.”
“That is our experience. We Germans know how important constitutionally guaranteed freedom is for journalism, culture and science. We also know how dangerous it is when these free spaces are closed off.”
The foreign minister’s trip comes on the heels of the announcement that the ruling SPD-CDU coalition would put forward his name for the German presidency when Joachim Gauck reaches the end of his term next year. Steinmeier, who is unlikely to face much serious competition for the job, has expressed his gratitude at support “across the political spectrum.”