Hopes rise for improved Turkish-German ties

The pilgrim David Britsch speaks with a journalist in his home in Schwerin, eastern Germany, on December 22, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 22 December 2017
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Hopes rise for improved Turkish-German ties

ANKARA: There is new hope for an improvement in Turkish-German relations with the release on Thursday of 55-year-old German pilgrim David Britsch, and three days prior of Mesale Tolu, a German journalist of Turkish origin.
“Months of uncertainty and waiting in detention in Turkey are finally over,” said German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.
“Decisions like this make us hope we can rebuild confidence and the bilateral relationship step by step.”
Gabriel said he agreed with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu to continue talks on unresolved issues.
Britsch was reportedly arrested by Turkish authorities near the border with Syria en route to his pilgrimage in Jerusalem.
Tolu was released on Monday, after spending some eight months in prison, on condition that she not return to Germany.
Seven Germans are still being held in Turkey on terror charges, among them Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yucel.
Tensions between the two NATO members reached a peak with the arrests of several German nationals in Turkey, and Turkish politicians being prevented from political rallying during the election campaign earlier this year in Germany, which is home to about 3 million Turks.
Due to a lack of evidence, German federal prosecutors recently dropped an inquiry into Turkish-origin Muslim clerics who had been suspected of spying in Germany on behalf of the Turkish government. Last month, German activist Peter Steudtner was released after his arrest in July in Istanbul.
“Although German officials will continue to pressure for the release of Yucel and the formal end of the trials against Tolu and Steudtner, the releases — especially before Christmas — are an important signal for the new German government,” Magdalena Kirchner, a fellow at the Istanbul Policy Center, told Arab News.
Gabriel’s meetings with Cavusoglu in Turkey, and the involvement of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, were influential in the recent releases, Kirchner said.
“These are positive signals that might restore at least some of the trust that was lost in the turbulent recent months,” she added.
Schroder is known to have warm personal ties with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Some news reports said Schroder helped broker the release of some German nationals last month, but Ankara denies this.
Alper Ucok, Berlin representative of the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TUSIAD), said the recent releases can be read as signs of goodwill by Turkey to rebuild trust between the two countries.
“Turkey is seeking to restore good relations with Germany in particular, and with Europe in general,” Ucok told Arab News.
“Ankara seems determined to give fresh impetus to the EU front, including the revitalization of the visa-liberalization process and long-sought customs-union modernization,” he said.
“Berlin remains one of the most important actors for Turkish foreign policy, if not the key one.”
Bilateral ties are very resilient and will eventually normalize, as long as both sides address each other’s concerns constructively and with empathy, Ucok added.
“Already some major steps were taken to restore ties, including the high-level bilateral contacts of last month,” he said.
“Presumably, in these conversations some mutual steps toward reconciliation were discussed, and now they’re being implemented.”
While Ucok is optimistic about progress toward normalization of ties in 2018, he said: “There is still a long way to go to return to the status quo ante.”
He added: “Even if the political sphere restarts dialogue and reconciliation, public opinion might take longer than expected to improve.”
According to a recent survey by the Turkish European Foundation for Education and Scientific Studies (TAVAK), 67.2 percent of Turks think reconciliation with Germany is necessary. Germany is Turkey’s primary trade partner and largest export market.


North Korea faces lowest crop harvest in 5 years, widespread food shortages -UN

Updated 20 September 2019

North Korea faces lowest crop harvest in 5 years, widespread food shortages -UN

  • South Korea has pledged to provide 50,000 tons of rice aid to its northern neighbor through the UN World Food Programme
  • Sporadic famines are common in North Korea, although a severe nationwide famine in the 1990s killed as many as a million people

SEOUL: North Korea’s crop production this year is expected to drop to its lowest level in five years, bringing serious shortages for 40 percent of the population, as a dry spell and poor irrigation hit an economy already reeling from sanctions over its weapons programs, the United Nations said on Thursday.
In its latest quarterly Crop Prospects and Food Situation report, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the poor harvest of the country’s main crops, rice and maize, means 10.1 million people are in urgent need of assistance.
“Below-average rains and low irrigation availability between mid-April and mid-July, a critical period for crop development, mainly affected the main season rice and maize crops,” the FAO said. The report, which covers cereal supply and demand around the world and identifies countries that need external food aid, didn’t disclose detailed estimates of production by volume.
North Korea has long struggled with food shortages and a dysfunctional state rationing system, and state media has in recent months warned of drought and other “persisting abnormal phenomena.”
The crops shortfall comes as the country bids to contain the spread of African swine fever in its pig herd, following confirmation of a first case in May.
The disease, fatal to pigs though not harmful to humans, has spread into Asia — including South Korea — since first being detected in China last year, resulting in large-scale culls and reduced production of pork, a staple meat across the region including in North Korea.
The FAO report followed earlier UN assessments this year that the isolated country’s food production last year fell to its lowest level in more than a decade amid a prolonged heatwave, typhoon and floods.
South Korea has pledged to provide 50,000 tons of rice aid to its northern neighbor through the UN World Food Programme (WFP). But its delivery has been delayed by Pyongyang’s lukewarm response amid stalled inter-Korean dialogue and denuclearization talks with the United States, Seoul officials said.
In July, the North’s official KCNA news agency said a campaign to mitigate the effects of drought was under way by digging canals and wells, installing pumps, and using people and vehicles to transport water.
But North Korea has told the United Nations to cut the number of its staff it deploys in the country for aid programs. citing the “politicization of UN assistance by hostile forces.”
Sporadic famines are common in North Korea, but observers said a severe nationwide famine in the 1990s killed as many as a million people.