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17 01 2008 - Sarkozy too busy to meet with Erdocan in February
A meeting sought by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdocan with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy during a planned visit to Germany in early February has been moved to a later date after French officials said Sarkozy would be unable to attend, citing his busy schedule.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

Erdocan, speaking at a press conference in Madrid on Monday, said he planned to meet with the German and French leaders in May. Officials told Today's Zaman that Sarkozy was warm to the idea of a trilateral meeting with German and Turkish leaders, though he did not want that meeting to take place Feb. 7-9, when Erdocan is due to visit Germany.

Erdocan wants to discuss Turkey's bid to join the European Union with the two leaders, the strongest opponents of Turkish membership in the 27-nation bloc. Merkel supported the idea of a privileged partnership with Turkey, instead of a full membership in the EU while her party was in opposition. Sarkozy says Turkey does not have a place in Europe and proposes instead a role within a "Mediterranean union" that will have close ties with the EU. It is not clear whether Erdoðan will be able to change the two leaders' minds about Ankara's membership in the EU, but diplomats say he deserves to be congratulated for his attempt to discuss the issue directly and frankly with them.

Speaking at a press conference in Berlin yesterday, Merkel confirmed that Sarkozy will not join the talks with Erdocan in February and added that Turkey's EU bid will be the key item of the discussions. She said membership talks between Turkey and the EU continue but reiterated that her party preferred a privileged partnership.

During his visit to Germany, Erdocan is also expected to raise the issue activities of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Europe and problems of the Turkish community in Germany. Erdocan will present Merkel with a report on PKK activities in Germany and will ask her to step up efforts to track these activities, officials said.

The prime minister will also call for joint work to resolve problems of the Turkish community in Germany and discuss the German government's policies towards Turks and immigrants in general. Germany's immigrants, of whom the Turks are the largest group, have been at the center of a bitter controversy since late December, when a 20-year-old Turk and a 17-year-old Greek were caught on videotape severely beating a 76-year-old retiree in the Munich subway. A key ally of Chancellor Merkel, Roland Koch, who is the Christian Democratic (CDU) premier of the state of Hesse, has drawn the ire of immigrant groups with his call for tougher action against youth crime and the deportation of foreign criminals.

A group of researchers and experts headed by Egemen Baրիþ, in charge of foreign policy in Erdocan's Justice and Development Party (AK Party), will study the issue and present the team's findings to the prime minister before his Germany visit.



A. Melikian

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