UPDATE - Turkey, Austria look to normalize relations

UPDATE - Turkey, Austria look to normalize relations

'We’ve agreed to normalize our relations with Austria,' says Turkish FM


By Nilay Kar

ISTANBUL (AA) – Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday that Turkey and Austria looked to normalize relations after months of tensions between Ankara and Vienna.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his Austrian counterpart Karin Kneissl, Cavusoglu said: “We’ve agreed to normalize our relations.”

“It will be more beneficial to speak [to each other] directly, stop communicating through the press,” he added.

Kneissl said: “We know we have some disagreements between each other. This is not a secret […] but we think that there are many subjects between Vienna and Ankara that we can negotiate. This was the main reason for coming here.”

Ties between the two countries soured in 2016, due to restrictions imposed by Austrian authorities on Turkish politicians who wanted to campaign in the country ahead of a key referendum in Turkey. The campaigns were to take place targeting Turkish nationals living in Austria.

Ankara had also sharply criticized the Austrian government for what it considered to be illiberal integration policies, its populistic rhetoric, and failure to take a strong stance against growing racism and Islamophobia.

Regarding Operation Olive Branch, the Austrian minister said: "I told [Cavusoglu] that we have been following the developments here [in Afrin] with concern [...]. I can say that we have agreed that all the subjects here [in Afrin] could be resolved actually through negotiation. We said that political decisions should be taken here."

On Saturday, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to remove PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin.

According to the Turkish General Staff, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkish borders and the region as well as to protect the Syrian people from the oppression and cruelty of terrorists.

- Establishing trust with the U.S.

In response to a question over the U.S. proposal to set up a 30-kilometer (approx. 19 miles) safe zone in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region, Cavusoglu said: "We need to establish trust first with the U.S. in order to [...] talk about [establishing] a safe zone [in Syria] or a serious subject."

According to a diplomatic source on Wednesday, Cavusoglu said his U.S. counterpart had proposed a 30-kilometer safe zone in Syria's northwestern Afrin region.

On the sidelines of a foreign ministers' meeting, which was held in Paris on Tuesday, Cavusoglu met U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The Afrin issue topped the agenda in the meeting, said the source, who asked not to be named due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

Tillerson told Cavusoglu that the proposed 30-km safe zone would address Turkey's security concerns, the source added.

During Thursday's news conference, Cavusoglu said one of the reasons behind why Turkey's trust in the U.S. was lacking had to do with the arms provided to YPG/PKK.

“Mr. Trump said the U.S. is not giving arms to YPG from now on, during yesterday’s phone conversation [with Erdogan]. We also need to see all of these [promises] practically.”

Cavusoglu also addressed Turkey’s EU bid, saying: “The EU does not need to waste our time anymore. We cannot wait for 60 more years.”

Turkey had applied for the EU membership in 1987 and accession talks began in 2005.

However, negotiations stalled in 2007 due to the objections of the Greek Cypriot administration in the divided island of Cyprus, as well as opposition from Germany and France.

To gain membership, Turkey has to successfully conclude negotiations on 35 policy chapters that involve reforms and the adoption of European standards.

As of May 2016, 16 chapters had been opened and one concluded. However, in December 2016, the member states said no new chapters will be opened.

Since then, the country has held many negotiations with the bloc officials, insisting that Turkey wants to open Chapter 23 on the judiciary and fundamental rights and Chapter 24 on justice, freedom, and security.

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