French minister to visit Turkey for talks on defense ties, Syria

March 18, 2013, Monday/ 16:09:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves le Drian is scheduled to visit Turkey for talks with his Turkish counterpart, İsmet Yılmaz, from March 28, focusing on defense cooperation between the two countries as well as the two-year-old Syrian crisis.

The two defense ministers are expected to discuss key issues related to defense cooperation between the two NATO allies, especially the issue of tenders in the defense industry. Le Drian's two-day visit will take place at the invitation of Yılmaz.

French companies have suffered badly in regards to defense industry tenders as a result of political bickering between Ankara and Paris during the last 10 years over the recognition of mass killings of Armenians in 1915.

Ankara earlier vowed to impose sanctions against France over a controversial piece of legislation that was overturned by the French Constitutional Council which would have made it illegal to deny that the deaths of ethnic Armenians in 1915 at the hands of Ottomans was genocide.

The latest situation in Syria, Mali and Afghanistan will also be among the issues to be discussed between the two countries.

With no end in sight to the two-year-old conflict in Syria, France is one of the countries that have started to defend the arming of the Syrian opposition, asking for the lifting of a ban on sending weapons by the EU.

Last week, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France and Britain will ask for an EU meeting to lift the embargo, possibly by the end of the month. The current embargo expires in May.

In remarks to French media, Fabius claimed that ending such an arms embargo would be useful in preventing the further consolidation of groups affiliated with al-Qaeda among the ranks of the armed Syrian opposition.

France, which has recently withdrawn its forces under NATO command in Afghanistan, is maintaining the ground and air operations it launched in the West African country of Mali to break the Islamist rebels' hold in the country. UN troops and forces from African-based organizations also support France in its military mission.

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