Germans are eager to sell Turks arms

BERLIN (Reuters) – Turkey’s progress towards European Union membership talks should open the way for Germany to resume arms sales to Ankara, German Defense Minister Peter Struck said on Thursday. Turkey, which on Wednesday won a green light from the European Commission to open negotiations to join the 25-nation bloc, has long been reported to be interested in acquiring more than 200 of Germany’s surplus Leopard 2 battle tanks. Struck said there was still no official request from Turkey for the tanks but added that nothing should now stand in the way of a deal. «I do think that the fact the EU is now heading toward membership talks will and should lead to a change in opinion among those who have up to now opposed the sale of Leopard 2 tanks to Turkey,» Struck told a news conference after talks with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Berlin. Germany’s Greens, the junior partner to Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democrats in the ruling coalition, have long opposed arms sales to Turkey due to doubts about its commitment to human rights and the treatment of minorities, such as Kurds. However, some leading Greens, including Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, have signaled a softening in their position. In an interview with newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, Angelika Beer, a former Greens leader and defense expert now serving as a member of the European Parliament, said Turkey should now be able to purchase weapons from Germany. «With the start of accession talks the restrictions on weapons sales in place until now will be lifted,» the paper quoted Beer as saying. The EU executive said Turkey had made substantial progress in political reforms but must improve implementation. It said talks could be suspended if Ankara backtracks on democracy and human rights. Germany wants to trim its heavy armor to make its forces more mobile. It plans to mothball or sell about 2,000 Leopard 2 tanks and has already sold some to Poland and Finland.