Turkey, US joint working group on legal affairs to meet Jan 23

Turkey, US joint working group on legal affairs to meet Jan 23

Serkan Demirtaş - ANKARA
Turkey, US joint working group on legal affairs to meet Jan 23

The course of bilateral relations between Ankara and Washington “depends on steps taken by the U.S.” in 2018, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has said.

“Despite all these [problems] the U.S. is our ally and we want to have good ties with it,” Çavuşoğlu told Ankara bureau chiefs of media outlets on Jan. 3 at a meeting in which he discussed Turkish foreign policy in 2018.

“The course of our relationship depends on steps taken by the U.S.,” he said.

Ties between the longstanding allies were seriously hit in 2017 over a number disagreements. Turkey’s demands for the extradition of Pennsylvania-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, the U.S. military support to the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), and Turkey’s arrest of a local employee at the U.S. Istanbul Consulate on terror charges are among the key sources of tension between the two countries.

Sources have told the Hürriyet Daily News that Ankara and Washington have agreed on the formation of a new informal contact group based on politicians from two sides in a bid to narrow differences on various issues. A group of Turkish politicians paid a visit to Washington in early December and held meetings with scores of high-level U.S. counterparts on the instruction of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, sources informed.

“2017 was a troubled year in terms of our ties with the U.S.,” Çavuşoğlu said, adding that although the U.S. authorities are well aware of the Gülen’s role and responsibility in Turkey’s July 2016 coup attempt, “they have not moved a finger on Turkish extradition demands.”

The foreign minister also criticized Washington for not launching a federal probe into the activities of the group in the U.S. territories.

Reiterating Ankara’s concerns over U.S. military support to the YPG, Çavuşoğlu compared the situation to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, saying they “will in the future recognize their mistake.”

Joint working group on legal affairs to meet Jan 23

A joint Turkey-U.S. working group composed of interior, justice and foreign ministry officials will hold their first meeting on Jan. 23 in Ankara to discuss the row over ongoing court cases in both countries that strained bilateral ties at the end of 2017, Çavuşoğlu said.

The working group was decided to be set up at a meeting in October 2017 after a local employee of the U.S. General Consulate in Istanbul, Metin Topuz, was arrested on terror-related charges. Citing security problems and lack of sufficient cooperation, the U.S. had announced its decision to restrict non-immigrant visa applications of Turkish nationals at its diplomatic missions in Ankara and Istanbul.

After nearly three months, visa processes returned to normalcy in the last week of December after Washington said it received assurances that no any other local employee or U.S. nationals were under investigation.

Speaking about his recent conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Çavuşoğlu denied that Turkey had provided assurances to Washington about further investigations.

“I asked him: ‘Rex, can you give me any assurances on ongoing legal cases in the U.S., given the principle of the rule of law? No, you can’t. How can you expect me to give you such assurances?’” he said.

‘Attila case a comedy show’

He also claimed that the ongoing New York court case, in which a former Turkish banking executive is being tried on charges of evading U.S. sanctions on Iran, has been proven to be a “comedy show,” saying that Turkey therefore will not pay any attention to how it may conclude.

Çavuşoğlu-Gabriel to meet in Germany

Touching on other key aspects of Turkish foreign policy in 2018, Çavuşoğlu said he will visit Germany on Jan. 6 to meet German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, reiterating Ankara’s willingness to mend ties with European countries and revive its accession process with the EU. As part of this, he said he invited Austria’s new foreign minister Karin Kneissl to Istanbul’s Büyükada, the largest of the Princes Islands off Istanbul.

“We should be able to start talks for upgrading the Customs Union. Upgrading the Customs Union will be to the advantage of the EU as much as it is of Turkey,” Çavuşoğlu said.

‘PYD off table in Sochi’

On the future of Syria, the Turkish foreign minister noted that Russia will bring together various ethnic, religious and political groups around the table in Sochi later this month, while stressing that the YPG will not be among participants. “Instead, representatives of Syrian Kurds who are in exile in Europe and in Turkey, as well as others who have never been involved in acts of terror in Syria, will represent the Kurdish community in Sochi,” he said.

Çavuşoğlu stated that one of central objectives of Turkish foreign policy in 2018 will be to “integrate the Geneva, Astana and Sochi processes” so that a political settlement can be reached in Syria.

Fight against FETÖ at OSCE

On the fight against Gülen’s Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), Çavuşoğlu noted that “many fugitives have been returned to Turkey in order to be tried in 2017” thanks to the Foreign Ministry’s efforts.

Turkey’s initiatives also produced results for the exclusion of FETÖ-related civil society organizations from U.N.-led activities, he said, adding that “it is now time to do same at the [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] OSCE,” referring to a panel due to be established soon at the OSCE to choose with which civil society bodies it partners with in the coming period.

“We told them we would review our relations with the OSCE and withdraw our support if they do not [take Turkey’s concerns about FETÖ-linked groups into account],” Çavuşoğlu said.

US, US Turkey, bileteral relations, diplomacy, visa crisis, visa row,