, ANKARA, Feb 25 – German Chancellor Angela Merkel was due to meet Turkey’s leaders on Monday for talks focusing on Ankara’s troubled bid to join the European Union and the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
Merkel was to hold talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul in Ankara on the second and final day of her visit.
Ahead of the trip, Merkel said she favoured a “new chapter” in Ankara’s stalled bid to join the European Union.
“These negotiations have stalled a little recently and I am in favour of opening a new chapter in these talks so we can advance,” Merkel said in her weekly video message, stressing that “a long path of negotiations lies ahead of us”.
“Although I am sceptical, I have approved the continuation of the membership discussions,” she said.
Merkel arrived in Turkey on Sunday and headed to the southeastern city of Kahramanmaras to visit German troops stationed there since January.
The 300 German troops are operating two Patriot batteries brought in to protect NATO ally Turkey from any conflict spillover from Syria, another issue that is expected to be central to Monday’s talks.
Merkel also visited the ancient Anatolian town of Cappadocia, where she met with Christian minorities and toured the open air museum famous for its display of early Christian heritage.
The chancellor will end her two-day visit by taking part in a German-Turkish economic forum Monday evening.
Germany is one of the countries, along with France and Cyprus, opposed to Turkey’s membership in the 27-nation bloc and has instead offered “privileged membership,” a tailored version that falls short of Ankara’s aspirations.
Earlier this month, French President Francois Hollande said Paris would resume stalled talks with Turkey on the chapter regarding regional aid.
Ankara welcomed the move as a sign of a change of heart in Europe and demanded stronger support from Berlin and Paris for a “fair chance” in the membership process.
Turkey, an associate member of the old European Economic Community since 1963, first sought to become an EU member in 1987 but did not launch formal accession talks until 2005.
Since then, it has opened talks on only 13 chapters of the 35 so-called policy chapters EU candidates must negotiate.