Increasingly isolated, Turkey seeks to improve relations with France

In an attempt to end its growing regional and international isolation, Turkey is seeking to improve relations with France, which is leading efforts to impose European sanctions on Ankara in response to provocative Turkish policies.

Speaking alongside his Portuguese counterpart Augusto Santos Silva in Lisbon, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday Ankara is ready to improve ties with its NATO ally if Paris showed the same willingness.

He also added that Turkey and France are working on a roadmap to normalise ties and talks are going well.

Turkey has repeatedly traded barbs with France over policies in Syria, Libya, the Eastern Mediterranean and Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as over the publication of cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad in France. Paris has led a push for EU sanctions on Turkey.

Cavusoglu said the current tensions between the NATO allies stemmed from Paris “categorically” opposing Turkey since Turkey’s 2019 offensive into north-east Syria against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

“Turkey is not categorically against France, but France has been against Turkey categorically since Operation Peace Spring,” Cavusoglu said.

Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist organisation linked to Kurdish militants on its own soil.

On several occasions, French President Emmanuel Macron has described Turkey’s intervention in Syria as an aggression against its NATO partners, and accused Ankara of dealing with ISIS agents.

Macron’s criticism escalated after Turkey invaded northern Syria, where prisons and camps were built for ISIS fighters.

The French president considered Turkey’s move at the time to risk allowing ISIS militants to escape their detention there and infiltrate Europe.

“In the end, we had a very constructive phone conversation with my French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian and we agreed that we should work on a roadmap to normalise relations,” he said.

“We 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.”

Last month, the EU prepared punitive measures over Turkey’s dispute with members Greece and Cyprus over rights to offshore resources in the Eastern Mediterranean, but decided to postpone the measures until March despite an earlier push by France to sanction Ankara.

After months of tensions, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Macron discussed their differences in a phone call in September, agreeing to improve ties. But the two presidents later traded accusations over a host of issues as tensions flared again.