Germany asks US to press NATO partner Turkey over Incirlik airbase

Germany asks US to press NATO partner Turkey over Incirlik airbase
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has turned to Washington for help in resolving its row with Ankara. Earlier this week, German lawmakers were denied permission to visit 260 troops serving at Turkey's Incirlik airbase in the campaign against Islamic State.

"We have again asked the Americans for support in our talks with Turkey,” Gabriel said in Washington on Wednesday, following a meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“It is unthinkable for a NATO partner to put pressure on each other regarding German parliamentarians visiting German armed force,” he added, as cited by German newspaper Zeit.  

"I believe that the Americans will also use the opportunities they have to talk to the Turkish side to say that we must have a different relationship with each other than the current one," the German FM said.

On Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Germany has carte blanche to withdraw its troops stationed at Incirlik.

"If they want to leave, that is up to them," Cavusoglu said in an interview with broadcaster NTV, as cited by Reuters. "We are not going to beg. They were the ones who wanted to come and we helped them. If they want to go, we would say 'Goodbye,'" he said, adding that Ankara was not trying to blackmail Berlin by denying German lawmakers access to Incirlik. Turkish officials told Reuters that such a visit would simply not be appropriate at the moment.

Cavusoglu has called on Germany to change its attitude towards Ankara.

"You can't treat Turkey as you wish anymore," he said. "If you want to get closer to Turkey, treat it like a friend, don't act like a boss."

Earlier on Wednesday, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen had said Berlin was considering eight locations where it could relocate aircraft supporting its mission against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) if Turkey continues to block German lawmakers from visiting troops.

Von der Leyen said that a team is currently in Jordan to assess a site for Germany's Tornado reconnaissance jets and a refueling plane, AP reported. Cyprus is also being considered, according to the minister. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday it was crucial for lawmakers to have an opportunity to visit soldiers serving at Incirlik airbase.

Berlin will "continue to talk to Turkey, but in parallel we will have to explore other ways of fulfilling our mandate," she said. "That means looking at alternatives to Incirlik, and one alternative among others is Jordan." 

Earlier this week, Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said Ankara’s decision to ban the visit was “absolutely inacceptable” and was one that would inevitably lead to consequences.

“In this case, we must think of how it goes further on,” he said, Die Welt reported.

The chairman of Germany’s Parliamentary Defense Committee, Wolfgang Hellmich, said “the concrete preparations [for the troops’ relocation] will now be tackled,” as cited by the newspaper.

The recent move to block the MPs’ visit came shortly after Berlin’s decision to grant asylum for a number of Turkish Army officers who fled the country after a failed coup attempt last July, which strained ties between Ankara and Berlin.

Last year, Turkey refused to allow access to the airbase to a German parliamentary delegation. The reason on that occasion was reportedly linked to Germany’s recognition of the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces.