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Turkey threatens to scrap EU refugee deal unless visa-free deadline met

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks during a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, August 2, 2016. (Photo by Reuters)

Turkey has once again threatened to scrap a refugee deal it has struck with the European Union (EU) unless the bloc grants visa-free entry into Europe to Turkish citizens by October.

Speaking in an interview with the German Bild newspaper, which was published on Monday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu implied that hundreds of thousands of refugees in Turkey would be allowed into Europe if Turks were denied free-visa travel by October.

“I don’t want to talk about the worst case scenario — talks with the EU are continuing — but it’s clear that we either apply all treaties at the same time or we put them all aside,” Cavusoglu said.

“It can’t be that we implement everything that is good for the EU but that Turkey gets nothing in return,” he added.

The agreement that Turkey is threatening to scrap was signed in March. Under the deal, Turkey has committed to taking back all the asylum seekers and refugees who have used the Aegean Sea to illegally reach Greece. In return, Ankara has been promised a number of things, including the acceleration of visa liberalization talks but not visa-free travel itself — at least not yet.

Turkey has been negotiating a sub-deal to obtain that privilege for Turks.

A child sits among tents outside the old international airport in Athens, which is being used as a temporary camp for refugees, Greece, April 24, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

Efforts to reach that deal, however, have been hampered by Turkey’s refusal to revise its anti-terrorism laws, which the EU says are too broad, as well as a Turkish government crackdown following a failed coup.

European Commissioner Guenther Oettinger has recently ruled out granting visa-free travel for Turks this year because of Ankara’s crackdown on coup suspects.

So far, over 60,000 people in the Turkish military, judiciary, civil services and schools have been detained, dismissed or suspended over suspected links with US-based opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for the botched coup.

Answering a question about whether Ankara would leave NATO, Cavusoglu told the German daily that his country would remain a member in the military alliance, attributing the recent rumors about quitting NATO to what he called anti-Turkey groups.

He did mention a number of caveats, however.

“It’s clear that we also need to cooperate with other partners on buying and selling weapon systems because some NATO partners refuse to allow us to sell air defense systems for example or to exchange information,” the top Turkish diplomat said.

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