Commentary on germany’s turkey policy: gabriel stumbles over himself

It could have been a diplomatic masterpiece, but the foreign minister is ruining everything for himself. Because there’s one thing he hasn’t thought through.

Sigmar Gabriel in action Photo: dpa

The ideal scenario for German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) looks like this: Flight to Istanbul with the federally owned Airbus, handover of Turkish hostage Deniz Yucel on the tarmac, triumphant return to Berlin and motorcade to Kreuzberg. A dream.

If he succeeded in such a diplomatic masterpiece, Gabriel would be unstoppable. His party may not love him, but it could still no longer deny him continued employment in the next Groko. He could continue the job at the Foreign Office, which he has really taken to his heart, for the good of mankind.

For a long time, it looked as if Gabriel might succeed in this feat. When Turkish police arrested human rights activist Peter Steudtner in the summer of 2017, he tightened travel advice for holidaymakers and announced that he would scale back trade promotion. After the years under appeasement Foreign Minister Steinmeier, this was not only refreshing, but also successful: the security authorities did not arrest any more Germans, and the judiciary even released the first ones.

Repression against the Turkish opposition continued, to be sure. But since one of the German government’s most urgent tasks is to protect its own citizens, it was also right to react to the first releases with concessions and to invite the Turkish foreign minister at the beginning of January.

But what happens then? Gabriel ruins everything for himself. He does not bait his colleague with economic concessions or visa facilitation, but links the Yucel case with the prospect of arms deliveries. He also sells the retrofitting of Turkish tanks to the public as a moral duty in the fight against IS. At first glance, that just seems brazen.

Now that the Turkish army is driving up to the Kurds in northern Syria with these tanks, it becomes presumptuous. And so Sigmar Gabriel must now reckon with the worst-case scenario: He picks up Yucel from Istanbul, but the motorcade is cancelled. After all, the prisoner has communicated, "I am not available for dirty deals."

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