AP Interview: Turkey open to conditional terror law talks

BRUSSELS (AP) — Turkey would be willing to modify its anti-terror law if the changes don’t impede the fight against terrorism and if Turkish citizens are guaranteed visa-free travel in Europe, Turkey’s ambassador to the European Union said Thursday.

Ambassador Selim Yenel told The Associated Press in an interview that “it’s very difficult to change the legislation, but we’re not closing the door.”

“As long as it doesn’t affect our fight against terrorism, in all its forms, then we can look at some wordings,” he said.

The EU wants Turkey to change its definition of terrorism and what constitutes a terror act to ensure that journalists and academics aren’t arrested.

That condition is one of 72 benchmarks that Turkey must respect before it can win the visa-waiver. But several suicide bombings in Turkey, on top of last month’s failed coup attempt, make it almost politically impossible for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to soften his stance on terrorism.

The waiver is part of a package of incentives — including up to 6 billion euros ($6.7 billion) in funds for Syrian refugees in Turkey and fast track EU membership talks — the EU has offered to persuade Ankara to stop migrants coming to Europe and take back thousands more. More than 1 million migrants arrived in Europe last year and EU nations still can’t agree on how best to tackle the emergency.

Yenel warned that Turkey would suspend the migrant deal if the EU doesn’t grant the waiver “in the next few months.” The waiver would allow Turkish citizens to travel visa-free in the 26 European nations of the Schengen open borders area for up to 90 days without a visa. Turkey had hoped to qualify for it last month.

“If we fulfill everything, and still we don’t get visa liberalization, then the (migrant) readmission agreement will not be realized. We will suspend it,” he said.

Yenel underlined that the widely-criticized deal is working, with migrant arrivals from Turkey down from thousands daily to a few dozen.

“We have solved their so-called existential problem and we feel that we need something in return,” he said.

The ambassador also appealed for understanding from allies in Europe and at the NATO military alliance, saying that “we’re very lucky that they botched” the July 15 coup attempt.

Ankara blames the action, in which at least 270 people died, on U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. Gulen denies involvement.

In response, Turkey has launched a sweeping crackdown on the Gulen movement. More than 16,000 people have been formally arrested — most of them soldiers — while 5,000 others are in custody pending investigations. More than 76,000 people with suspected links to Gulen have also been suspended or dismissed from their jobs in the judiciary, media, education, health care, military and local government. One member of the Turkish delegation in Brussels has been suspended pending an investigation.

“Please give Turkey the benefit of the doubt,” said Yenel, who accused the “chameleon” like movement of creating a “parallel state” in the country.

He acknowledged that the Turkish military had been shaken by events, but said NATO “should not be worried.”

“Although the numbers of military people implicated have been high, it’s only a small proportion, and the army is capable of managing things,” he said. “In a few months’ time, this will be over.”

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