German foreign minister says Armenia bill ‘not legally binding’
REUTERS photoGermany’s parliamentary vote declaring the World War I mass killings of Ottoman Armenians in 1915 a genocide is “not legally binding,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Sept. 2, in a move that may signal at attempt to mend frayed ties with Turkey.
“The German parliament naturally has the right and the freedom to pass any resolution it likes, but the Bundestag itself has said that not every resolution is legally binding,” Reuters quoted Steinmeier as saying in Berlin.
Turkey accepts that many Christian Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War I, but contests the figures and denies that the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute genocide. It also stresses that many Muslim Turks perished at the time.
Strained relations between Ankara and Berlin due to the Armenian bill got even worse after Turkey rejected a German parliamentary delegation’s visit in late June to the İncirlik Air Base, which hosts 250 German troops, six surveillance jets and a refueling tanker.
Berlin threatened the removal of its military presence at the base to another regional country, but the German troops and jets at İncirlik contribute to the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria.
Earlier on Sept. 2, Germany’s Spiegel Online reported that German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert was expected to make a public statement that would distance the government from the Bundestag’s decision, in exchange for German lawmakers being able to visit the German troops based at İncirlik.
The report stated that the duty to make the announcement was given to Seibert on the grounds that “Steinmeier did not want to take on this role [and] a personal appearance by Chancellor Merkel was not an option because it would have been seen as kowtowing [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan.”
Merkel said on Sept. 1 that Germany was in talks with Turkey to resolve the row and she expected German troops to be able to continue flying six Tornado reconnaissance planes from the NATO base.
“We’re all in agreement that lawmakers must be allowed to visit our soldiers,” Merkel said in an interview with German broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) on Sept. 1, according to Reuters. “I’m also trying to achieve progress through discussions.”
Leaders of Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) in parliament are expected to agree on a foreign policy position paper on Sept. 2 that does not include a call to withdraw German troops from the base unless they are allowed to visit, as the left-leaning Social Democrats (SPD) coalition partners have demanded.