Kerry cautions Turkey over crackdown

US Secretary of State John Kerry at a joint press conference with High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission (unseen) after their bilateral meeting at the EU Headquarters in Brussels, on
US Secretary of State John Kerry at a joint press conference with High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission (unseen) after their bilateral meeting at the EU Headquarters in Brussels, on July 18.PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS • US Secretary of State John Kerry cautioned that Turkey's membership in Nato could be jeopardised if it abandons democratic principles and the rule of law in a post-coup crackdown.

"Nato also has a requirement with respect to democracy," Mr Kerry told reporters yesterday as European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned Turkey against executing coup plotters.

She warned that such a move could derail Ankara's long-stalled bid to join the EU, a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the country would consider a return to capital punishment.

Germany had earlier yesterday also warned Turkey against reinstating the death penalty, as Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert blasted "revolting scenes of caprice and revenge".

"Germany and the EU have a clear stance: We categorically oppose the death penalty. A country with the death penalty cannot be a member of the EU," he said.

Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004 under reforms aimed at obtaining EU membership.

Mr Kerry said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has repeatedly assured him that the government will respect democracy and the law.

The top US diplomat warned that Nato will "measure" its actions.

"Obviously, a lot of people have been arrested and arrested very quickly," Mr Kerry said. "The level of vigilance and scrutiny is obviously going to be significant in the days ahead. Hopefully, we can work in a constructive way that prevents a backsliding."

Friday's attempted coup in Turkey has turned what was expected to be a routine meeting of the European Council into crisis management. Virtually every diplomat attending the meeting expressed concern, even alarm, over the Turkish government's arrests of thousands of judges and members of the armed forces in a purge that continued yesterday.

Many Europeans fear that the crackdown could unleash a new wave of refugees fleeing persecution in Turkey.

It also threatens a recent agreement in which Turkey agreed to take back some Syrian refugees, a policy aimed at reducing the number of Syrians crossing the Mediterranean to Greece. But the crackdown could prompt refugees to argue that they would not be protected in Turkey and should not be sent back.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that "the rule of law must prevail".

"We have to be vigilant that the Turkish authorities don't put in place a system which turns back democracy."

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders also urged restraint, saying: "It's normal to punish those involved in the coup, but it's (also) normal to ask for respect for the rule of law."

WASHINGTON POST, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2016, with the headline 'Kerry cautions Turkey over crackdown'. Print Edition | Subscribe