April 14, 2017 / 10:06 AM / in 8 months

Turkey says could suspend EU migrant deal if no progress on visas

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey could re-evaluate or suspend all agreements under its migration deal with the European Union if the bloc does not give a positive response on visa-free travel for Turks, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Friday.

The Turkish government agreed in early 2016 to help curb a flood of migrants into Europe from its territory, in return for visa-free travel for Turks to Europe. But Brussels first wants Ankara to modify anti-terrorism laws that it says are too broad.

In an interview with broadcaster A Haber, Cavusoglu said the migrant deal and visa liberalization were a package.

“If we get a negative response from the EU we have the right to re-evaluate and suspend all of these agreements,” he said. “The EU needs to give the visa-free travel our people deserve.”

Relations between Turkey and the European Union have deteriorated sharply in the run-up to a referendum on Sunday which could grant sweeping powers to President Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey has warned before that the migrant deal was in jeopardy. Last month Erdogan said he could hold a referendum on whether to continue EU accession talks, and victory in Sunday’s vote would strengthen his domestic position in his dealings with the bloc.

Erdogan has repeatedly accused the German and Dutch governments of acting like Nazis after they banned, on security grounds, referendum campaign rallies by Turkish officials.

“It’s high time we disarmed verbally. The Nazi insults are unbearable,” German Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Roth said in an interview with the Welt am Sonntag newspaper due to be printed on Sunday.

Campaigning for the referendum had been “anything but fair,” Roth added. “Whoever visits Turkey can see the extent to which the Yes campaign dominates the streets.”

Cavusoglu said Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in a telephone call on Thursday to improve relations that have been strained over their diverging policies on Syria.

“We will strengthen our ties with Russia on maintaining a ceasefire in Syria, (finding a) political resolution, and humanitarian aid. We will make our ties with Russia even stronger,” he said.

”Though there are violations (of Syria’s ceasefire accord), we see that the fighting has stopped to a large extent. We want to continue cooperation with Russia.”

He said that a planned visit to Russia next week by Turkey’s deputy prime minister and economy minister aimed to “lift current restrictions on trade”, which has been hit by the political rift between the two countries.

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay in Ankara and Michelle Martin in Berlin; Writing by Dominic Evans; editing by Mark Heinrich

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