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Germany's Merkel Makes Some Headway on Trip to Turkey

  • Dorian Jones

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Turkey for an official visit overshadowed by disagreements over Iran's nuclear ambitions and Ankara's plans to join the 27-member European Union.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel began her trip by presenting her Turkish counterpart, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a model of a white dove of peace. A diplomatic move considering a number of issues she faced in Ankara.

Mr. Erdogan and the German chancellor discussed their different approaches to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Mr. Erdogan says Turkey's view is that sanctions are not a healthy path and the best route with Iran is diplomacy. He said there are already nuclear weapons in the region.

Turkey is a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and Mr. Erdogan said it had not yet reached a firm decision on how it would vote on a U.S.-backed sanctions resolution.

Ms. Merkel urged NATO ally Ankara to be ready to support the imposition of sanctions through the United Nations unless Iran shows transparency to assure the international community that it has no ambitions for nuclear weapons. She said the United States and the European Union be would happy if Turkey votes for the Iran issue in April at the United Nations.

The leaders also discussed Turkey joining the European Union.

Ms. Merkel has voiced opposition to Turkey's E.U. bid, but said her country would continue to support the Turkey accession process. The chancellor had angered Ankara by calling for a so-called privileged partnership for Turkey, instead of membership. Mr. Erdogan dismisses that proposal out of hand.

Since E.U. membership talks began in 2005, negotiations on Turkey's ascension into the European Union also have been frozen because of Turkey's refusal to allow ships and planes from Cyprus to enter its ports and airspace. The European Union says Ankara must open its airspace to EU members if it wants to get closer to membership itself.

In return, Turkey insists on the lifting of what it says is the unofficial trade embargo on the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north of the island, which was divided into a Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish Cypriot north following Turkey's 1974 invasion.

Ms. Merkel said she plans to continue discussing the question of Cyprus with Turkey, saying a resolution "is in all our interests."

After their meeting, Mr. Erdogan announced an apparent breakthrough in a bilateral issue.

Tomorrow in parliament we pass legislation for a German-speaking university. We have many German speaking schools, he said. It is important for youth to speak German and I am glad to say Chancellor Merkel now shares our point of view for similar Turkish schools in Germany.

Germany is Turkey's biggest trading partner, and nearly three million Turks live in Germany.

Mr. Erdogan asked for Ms. Merkel's support for the establishment of Turkish-language schools in Germany, reciprocating the existence of several German-speaking schools in Turkey. The long-standing proposal has annoyed German authorities who have stressed the need for integrating millions of Turkish-origin immigrants into German society, but Ms. Merkel appeared to have softened her stance.