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Merkel visits Turkey to settle growing differences

Angela Merkel and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on 29 March, 2010. Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in Turkey today for a two-day visit, meeting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the capital Ankara on Monday to discuss a range of issues. High on the agenda of the talks are Turkey's European Union membership bid, proposed sanctions against Iran, and the Middle East peace process.

Merkel and Erdogan do not appear to see eye to eye on many of the topics on the agenda, said Dirk Halm from Germany's Centre for Studies on Turkey in Essen.

He told RFI that the integration of Turkish immigrants into German society, notably, remained a topic of division for the two leaders.

When Erdogan proposed last week that Turkish high schools should be established in Germany this caused "a lot of unrest" in Germany, Halm said.

With comments like this Erdogan added to "suspicion that the Turkish government tries to influence the socalled Turkish minority in Germany not to integrate".

RFI interview with Dirk Halm from Germany's Centre for Studies on Turkey
16 h turkey germany 29/03/2010 - by Nina Haase Listen

Merkel and Erdogan have also set out radically different strategies for dealing with Iran's nuclear energy programme. Merkel had suggested on Saturday that sanctions be imposed if Iran did not show transparency as far as its nuclear programme is concerned.

Meanwhile, Erdogan wants to establish Turkey as a major player in the region and tries to keep an open space for political conflict-solving. "It gets ever harder for Erdogan to oppose the  Western view that sanctions what is needed at the moment", Halm said, "so maybe he will move into the direction of the Western community."

But while the two leaders are divided over essential topics, the German-Turkish ties in general remained strong. "German-Turkish relations are very special and very intense", Halm said, adding that "this does not always reflect in everyday’s political relations. So it would be good if the climate between the two leaders was better at the end of the visit than it was before the visit."