President Abdullah Gül and his newly-elected French counterpart, François Hollande, have discussed ways to reset bilateral ties, strained mainly because of previous French President Nicolas Sarkozy's firm opposition to Turkey's membership in the European Union.
Hollande, who met with Gül on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Chicago, said relations with Turkey will not be a matter for internal politics during his term in office, Gül told a group of journalists accompanying him on his trip.
Gül said during the meeting that Turkey and France have deep-rooted ties and that Turkey was willing to open "a new page with France," as Hollande said "past misunderstandings" should not be allowed to cast a shadow over relations.
Gül lamented in the meeting that there has been no presidential visit from France in the past 20 years and asked if France has any interest in shunning Turkey. He said the Turkish authorities had reluctantly welcomed Sarkozy when he visited Ankara for only a few hours for a working visit within the G-20 framework out of respect for France.
The two leaders have agreed to instruct their ministers to work on ways to expand bilateral ties. Hollande has supported a reset in ties and said misunderstandings and mutual accusations should be avoided in relations between the two countries.
Gül touched upon the fundamental structure of the Turkish-French relationship, saying both countries wanted to open a new chapter in relations. Hollande said both countries should not waste time on the misunderstandings of the past, adding that it was his desire was to bring relations back to their former level. He also stated that Turkey is an important actor regarding the Syrian issue, adding Turkey is being referred to as an exemplary country in the region.
Gül further stated that there was no conflict of interest between the two countries, but common interests, adding that Turkey and France were the two great countries of Europe. The Turkish president, accompanied by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, also sought to mend strained ties between NATO and Pakistan during the NATO summit, which focuses on the future of the organization's 11-year Afghanistan mission.
Gül warned other NATO states against excluding Pakistan in debates over the future of Afghanistan. “The cost of treating Pakistan in the wrong manner is unimaginable,” Gül told journalists.
He reiterated that Turkey's contributions to Afghanistan would continue beyond 2014, when NATO ends its mission. Gül also met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, discussing a strategic partnership agreement between the two countries.
In addition to Hollande and Karzai, Gül also held bilateral talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, as well as his counterparts from Azerbaijan and Macedonia.
During their meeting over lunch, Merkel praised Turkey's economic performance, briefing Gül on a meeting of the Group of Eight (G8) countries summit held on Saturday.
Gül conveyed Turkey's expectations concerning the EU easing visa requirements for Turkish citizens, adding Turkey would not contact the EU term presidency if Greek Cyprus assumed the Union's rotating helm, but continue talks with the European Commission and other EU bodies.
Syria and Iran were the other topics discussed by the both countries.
Gül also had a meeting with Ban, where Afghanistan, Syria and Cyprus were the main topics of the discussion. On Syria, Gül said Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan should be implemented fully, not in parts. He also said the number of UN observers in Syria should reach several thousand, as 300 were not enough for a country as big as Syria.
Ban thanked Turkey for its assistance to Syrians staying in Turkey, adding, however that he was disappointed over not seeing any progress in the Cyprus issue.
The two-day NATO summit in Chicago focuses on international affairs, including NATO's Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR), stability in Afghanistan, its early warning radar system, developments in the Mideast, its expansion and financial status and its relations with Russia.
Gül, Obama discuss US drone sale to Turkey
President Abdullah Gül was to discuss a planned sale of US drones to Turkey during a scheduled meeting with US President Barack Obama.
Turkey seeks to buy armed drones from the United States, but the request has been controversial, with some in Congress refusing to sell the aircraft to Turkey given Ankara's deteriorating relations with Israel, a close US ally. The US administration, on the other hand, is reportedly willing to sell the drones to Turkey and is trying to persuade Congress not to block the sale.
Debate over the planned sale has heated up lately after a US report claimed that US drones providing intelligence on movements of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) across the Turkish-Iraqi border provided the first intelligence to Turkish officials about a group of Kurdish villagers who were smuggling goods from Iraq into Turkey. The US drones, according to the report published in the Wall Street Journal, alerted the Turkish authorities about the group. The villagers were thought to be PKK terrorists and attacked by Turkish warplanes, killing 34 people.
Gül, who was due to meet Obama later on Monday, told a group of journalists ahead of his talks that the proposed sale is to come up at the meeting. He argued that if the sale of drones is a sensitive issue, that should be the same for F-35 jet fighters, which are even “more dangerous” weapons than the drones. The US has decided to share F-35 technology with Turkey.