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Jan 6, 8:40 AM EST

Germany, Turkey take small steps toward friendlier ties



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BERLIN (AP) -- The German and Turkish foreign ministers took small steps Saturday toward restoring friendlier relations after more than a year of tension between their countries, but they made clear that significant differences remain.

Germany's Sigmar Gabriel welcomed Turkey's Mevlut Cavusoglu to his hometown of Goslar as the Turkish leadership is making a broader effort to improve their country's strained relationship with Europe. On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited France.

Turkish-European ties worsened last year amid mass arrests and firings by authorities following a July 2016 coup attempt. Relations deteriorated further after authorities in some countries - including local officials in Germany - prevented Turkish ministers from holding rallies with expatriate Turks to promote a referendum on expanding the president's powers.

A particular irritant in relations between Ankara and Berlin has been Turkey's jailing of several German or German-Turkish nationals, including journalist Deniz Yucel, over terror-related allegations. Seven are currently being held for what Berlin considers political reasons.

Gabriel said there has been some progress lately, pointing to the release of some other Germans.

He said the two ministers agreed to recommend that a joint German-Turkish economic commission that hasn't met recently reconvene. They also want to revive a "strategic dialogue" between their ministries.

"We can't expect to agree on every question straight away. There are differences of opinion, but we are well-advised to continue our discussion openly and with mutual respect," Gabriel told reporters, noting that Germany and Turkey are both NATO members.

Cavusoglu stressed the importance of "sincere cooperation" and acknowledged differences over Turkey's stalled bid to join the European Union.

Despite those differences, he said, "We need to overcome issues such as the renewal of the customs union agreement that is of benefit to both sides."

Germany has made clear that journalist Yucel's detention is an obstacle to improved ties. The correspondent for German daily Die Welt has been in custody for nearly 11 months.

Gabriel said "you can be sure" the case came up during Saturday's discussions. Cavusoglu did not mention it at a public appearance with his German counterpart.

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Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul contributed to this report.

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