Diplomacy

France and Turkey attempt to mend fences after long period of confrontation

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on a visit to Athens, Greece, May 31, 2021.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on a visit to Athens, Greece, May 31, 2021. REUTERS - COSTAS BALTAS

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is visiting France this week, the first high-level diplomatic contact after months of tensions between the two countries, as Ankara seeks to normalise relations with Paris.

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Cavusoglu was set to meet with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian to discuss Turkey's “bilateral relations, with France and between Turkey and the European Union,” as well as “regional and international” issues, according to a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

The visit comes months after Ankara indicated it is seeking to normalise its relations with Paris after a long period of tension. Cavusoglu remarked, during a trip to Lisbon in January, that France and Turkey have been "working on an action plan, or roadmap, to normalise relations, and it has been going well ... If France is sincere, Turkey is ready to normalise ties with France as well.” 

In an op-ed for the French daily L’Opinion on 6 June, Cavusoglu wrote that “Turkey and France are two friendly and allied countries. And they will remain so. We must ensure that no misunderstanding comes to disturb this relationship of friendship to which we are sincerely attached.” 

He admitted that relations between Ankara and Paris had gone through a period of tension, which is unusual for two allied countries.

Points of contention

Points of contention between the two countries are many. They include Turkey's military backing - allegedly with the help of Syrian militia - of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya, a move strongly opposed by France. There has been the dispute over Turkish gas exploration off the northern coast of the divided island of Cyprus - a conflict which escalated when French warships participated in naval exercises in the region. Add to this French criticism of Turkey's increasingly dominant role in northern Syria, and Turkey's support for Azerbaijan against Armenia during the recent standoff over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. 

The low point in relations between the two countries came last October, when the Turkish head of state Recep Tayyip Erdogan questioned the "mental health" of French President Emmanuel Macron, accusing him of leading a "campaign of hatred " against Islam.

The remarks came after Macron had defended the right to caricature the Prophet Muhammad. Turkey also scolded France's new security and "anti-separatism" laws, calling them a "guillotine of democracy" and "anti-Muslim". A cartoon in French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo depicting a half-naked Erdogan, added fuel to Turkish anger. 

As a sign of appeasement, the two heads of state met last March by video conference. Ankara has been reaching out to its Western and regional allies since the start of the year in an attempt get out of its growing isolation on the international stage.

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