Turkey's Erdogan changes tack to reset fragile relations with France

Presidents talk for first time in six months but minister says differences remain over Libya and Iraq

French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian gives a press conference with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba, at the Quai d'Orsay, in Paris, France, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Rafael Yaghobzadeh)
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Turkey appears to have adopted a more moderate stance and has stopped insulting France and the EU, said the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Mr Le Drian said the change in tone was positive but warned that relations between France and Turkey remain fragile.

"There aren't any more insults and the language is more reassuring," he told a parliamentary hearing.

There have been heated exchanges between presidents Emmanuel Macron and Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Turkish leader said Mr Macron needed "mental checks" and proposed a boycott of French products.

But in recent weeks he has sought to ease friction with the EU as his country faces economic challenges.

The two leaders spoke on Tuesday for the first time since September.

Mr Le Drian said the removal of Turkish ships from gas-rich Cypriot waters in the Eastern Mediterranean was positive, as was Turkey's desire to resume talks with Greece over maritime boundaries.

But he said disputes remained over Libya, Iraq and Nagorno-Karabakh.

"It's fragile because the list of disagreements is very long, but we want a healthy relationship with Turkey," Mr Le Drian said.

"Actions are needed and we will be able to position ourselves when those actions are carried out. For now, it's just verbal action."

During their video call, Mr Erdogan told Mr Macron that he wanted to co-operate in the fight against terrorism and could "contribute significantly to stability and peace" in Europe, the Caucasus, the Middle East and Africa, the Turkish presidency said.

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting to unveil the Human Rights Action Plan?in Ankara, Turkey March 2, 2021. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE./File Photo
In 2019, Recep Tayyip Erdogan went back on his vow to keep the doors open for refugees and at that year’s UN General Assembly detailed a plan to carve out safe zones in northern Syria. Reuters

"There are also measures that we can take together against terrorist organisations," Mr Erdogan said. "Turkey wishes to co-operate with France in all these areas."

He said the French-Turkish "friendship" has "overcome numerous obstacles" since the 16th century during the reign of French king Francis I and Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.

But the Turkish presidency did not mention the fate of more than a dozen French teachers at Istanbul's Galatasaray University, whose work permits are delayed and who face the threat of expulsion over the diplomatic dispute.

France and Turkey clashed on several fronts last year.

Mr Erdogan criticised Mr Macron’s plan to introduce a "separatism bill", which supporters say is aimed at preventing extremism and critics say targets Muslims unfairly.

The bill was introduced after the murder and beheading of teacher Samuel Paty, who showed his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed and was killed by an extremist.

France sided with EU member Greece after Turkey sailed into disputed waters.

Greece claims the area is part of its continental shelf, and called Turkish attempts to search for potential gas and oil deposits near Cyprus “illegal activities”.

Turkey says Greece and others are denying its rights to explore for energy resources in the Mediterranean.

Turkey and France were also at odds over the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, which is populated by ethnic Armenians and broke away from Baku's control in a 1990s post-Soviet war.

Fighting broke out in September until a Russian-brokered ceasefire deal was sealed last month. Turkey was a staunch ally of Azerbaijan.