Turkey’s Erdogan, in Berlin, pledges EU visa push

Much of central Berlin was in lock-down for the visit. (AFP)
Updated 28 September 2018

Turkey’s Erdogan, in Berlin, pledges EU visa push

  • The government will move to meet the EU’s criteria for achieving visa liberalization: Erdogan
  • But there are concerns about Turkey’s human rights record and press freedom.

BERLIN: Turkey aims to win easier access to the European Union for its citizens, President Tayyip Erdogan said in Berlin on Friday during a state visit that aims to repair relations between the two countries after a bitter dispute.
The government will move to meet the EU’s criteria for achieving visa liberalization, he said on the second day of the visit that also aims to improve ties with the European Union.
The country’s economic crisis has been aggravated by sanctions imposed by US President Donald Trump and the government hopes improved relations will bring in private investment from the economic superpower on its doorstep.
Germany, home to 3 million ethnic Turks and reliant on Turkey to help contain a migrant crisis beyond Europe’s borders, is also keen to repair ties, which have frayed since the Turkish crackdown after a failed coup in 2016. But there are concerns about Turkey’s human rights record and press freedom.
“We are planning to fulfil the remaining six criteria for visa liberalization as soon as possible,” Erdogan said. “Visa liberalization, updating the customs union and reviving accession talks will benefit both Turkey and the EU.”
Merkel, at the same news conference, said she had pushed for the release of German citizens among the tens of thousands of people arrested since the coup, blamed by Ankara on supporters of US-based cleric Fetullah Gulen. Gulen denies involvement.
Germany needed more evidence if it was to classify Gulen’s movement, described by Turkey as the Fetullah Gulen Terrorist Organization (FETO), as an illegal group like the Kurdish militant PKK.
“We take very seriously the evidence Turkey provided but we need more material if we are to classify it in the same way we have classified the PKK,” she said.
She said authorities were looking for suspected coup plotters that Turkey wanted extradited, but said she and Erdogan had differing views on topics including press freedom.
Newspaper Bild reported that Erdogan had been ready to call off the news conference if it was attended by Can Dundar, a journalist who fled into German exile after spying charges were brought against him. In the event, Dundar stayed away.
“I decided not to go because it was clear to me that Erdogan would use my presence as an excuse not to appear at the press conference and face critical questions from my German colleagues,” Dundar later told reporters.
Erdogan had earlier described the former editor of Cumhuriyet newspaper — which published a video purporting to show Turkey’s intelligence agency trucking weapons into Syria — as a “spy” who should be extradited to serve time.
Dundar rejected that allegation, saying that, in making it, Erdogan had “lied in the face of world opinion.” He warned that German companies would run a grave risk if they invested in Turkey, since “the rule of law is not guaranteed.”
Turkey’s highest court ruled in March that Dundar should have been sentenced to up to 20 years in prison on espionage charges.
The day was punctuated by protests, starting when a participant in the news conference wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Freedom for Journalists” was bustled out when he began attempting to shout Erdogan down.
Much of central Berlin was in lock-down for the visit, reflecting nervousness at the divisiveness of a visitor who is hailed a hero by many German Turks and reviled as an autocrat by many others.
Protesters holding Turkish flags and posters of Erdogan’s political opponents lined some streets. Later, some 1,000 protesters gathered on the city’s central Potsdamer Platz to protest Erdogan’s presence.
“It is a scandal in the history of this country that it rolls out the red carpet for dictators,” Left party politician Hakan Tas told the crowd. “The day will come when the mass murderer of the Bosphorus will sit behind bars.” 

Dick Cheney: Upcoming decade bleak if US adopts ‘disengagement’ policy

Updated 10 December 2019

Dick Cheney: Upcoming decade bleak if US adopts ‘disengagement’ policy

  • Former US vice president sounds warning during panel discussion on ‘The global order 2030’
  • Remarks seen as indirect criticism of President Trump’s pledge to pull forces out of Syria

DUBAI: Dick Cheney, one of the most influential vice presidents in US history, has warned that “American disengagement” from the Middle East would only benefit Iran and Russia.

The 78-year-old politician’s warning came during a speech at the Arab Strategy Forum (ASF) in Dubai, an annual event in which the world’s leading decision-makers address global challenges and opportunities in “a precise, balanced and politically scientific manner.”

Cheney’s remarks could be seen as indirect criticism of US President Donald Trump’s pledges to pull forces out of northern Syria.

Addressing conference delegates, he cited the withdrawal of US troops from Syria and the 2015 lifting of sanctions against Iran during Barack Obama’s presidency, as events that amplified instability in the region.

“Our allies were left abandoned, and no one wants to feel that way again,” said Cheney, who was chief executive of Halliburton between 1995 and 2000 and held high posts in several Republican administrations.

The former VP’s remarks came during the forum’s concluding session titled, “The global order 2030: The Unites States and China,” which was attended by Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.

Joined by Li Zhaoxing, a former Chinese foreign minister, in a candid panel discussion, Cheney offered his views on the world order in the next decade within the context of Iran’s regional ascendancy, China’s rise and Russian ambitions in the Middle East.

“I am not here to speak on behalf of the US government, or to speak to it,” Cheney said, adding that his talking points reflected concerns he suspected everyone shared.

“For decades, there’s been a consensus of America’s influence in the world and how to use it,” he said, citing instances where US disengagement had caused the political situation in the Middle East to implode.

“Humanity has benefited from America’s protectionism of the world and its relationship with its allies in the region.”

According to him, the upcoming decade would be bleak should the US adopt a disengagement policy, with the pressures most felt by supporters and partners in the Middle East.

Turning to the role that the US and China would play in the global status quo by 2030, Cheney said there were still concerns over China’s reputation.

“We had hoped that there would be a political evolution in China, but that hasn’t happened yet,” he added.

Li said: “China will never learn from a world superpower and will never try to be hegemonic,” citing as examples China’s strong relations with the UAE and the wider Arab world, and the impact of the Belt and Road Initiative (a global development strategy) on Chinese foreign policy.

“History is the best teacher, but the US has forgotten its own history. You don’t keep your promises,” added Li, directing his statement at Cheney.

Cheney said that since the end of the Cold War, the US had expected that its policy toward China would have had a beneficial effect on its behavior and helped to deepen bilateral relations.

“It was disappointing to see that these expectations were not borne out – China has only grown richer, the regime has become more oppressive, and instead of evolving, it became more assertive,” he said.

In a separate ASF meeting at the Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Center, Karim Sadjadpour, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank, discussed Iran’s policies in a session titled, “The race for relevance and influence in the region: GCC, Iran, Turkey and Russia.”

Sadjadpour said he expected in the next 10 years to see the arrival of “an Iranian Putin” with a military background as the country’s next leader.

“After 40 years of a clerical regime and a military autocracy, there is now a rise of Persian nationalism. This is a shift from the sheer revolution ideology,” he said.

Sadjadpour said there had been an evolution of “Shiite Arab” identity during the past two decades, with the focus more on religion than nationality.

Under the circumstances, he noted that Sunni Arab powers had an important role to play in welcoming Shiite Arabs into their fold “and luring them away from Iran.”

The analyst added that the future of the Arab world could not be explored and forecast without considering a growing mental health crisis. “Today, hundreds of millions of people in the region suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and the effects of this will be with us for decades to come, resulting in issues like radicalism.”

He said there was a need for training thousands of counselors in the field of mental health in order to reach out to those whose lives had been robbed by extreme violence and conflicts.