NATO chief mediates between Turkey and Germany in İncirlik rift
BERLIN - The Associated Press
AFP photoThe chief of NATO has said he is in touch with both Germany and Turkey regarding their latest dispute over visiting rights to a Turkish airbase where German soldiers are stationed.
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told German daily newspaper Bild on May 21 that he was focusing on finding a solution and would not speculate on hypothetical questions, including the possible withdrawal of German troops from the İncirlik Air Base.
Ankara and Berlin are locked in another spat over Turkey’s refusal to allow German lawmakers to visit the İncirlik base in Adana, which is used by the international coalition fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Germany warned last week that it could move its troops elsewhere, with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel accusing Turkey of “blackmail.”
“It is up to them, we will not beg them,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu said, adding that Ankara was not blackmailing Germany.
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen is looking at alternatives, including Jordan and Cyprus, and said on May 20 that she had been impressed with a possible base in Jordan but stressed the government had not yet made a decision.
Germany has about 250 military personnel stationed at the base in southern Turkey that fly Tornado surveillance missions over Syria and refueling flights for partner nations battling ISIL jihadists.
Chancellor Angela Merkel on May 15 described Turkey’s position as “unfortunate,” saying that Germany, while continuing talks to resolve the issue, would also look for alternatives, including in Jordan.
“If it is not possible to work normally at İncirlik – and this includes visits by German parliament lawmakers – then we will have to look for alternatives,” Gabriel told German newspaper Neue Osnabrucker Zeitung.
“I can only hope that the Turkish government will change its mind in the coming days. Otherwise, the parliament will no longer let our soldiers go to Turkey,” she said.
Çavuşoğlu said that if that Gabriel made such remarks, it was “disrespectful,” as Turkish and German officials were working to improve relations.
Ties between NATO allies Ankara and Berlin have been strained since the failed coup in Turkey last year, but have worsened over multiple issues including the campaign for a Turkish referendum on major constitutional amendments that was held on April 16.
Last year, another row over İncirlik saw Turkey deny German lawmakers the right to visit for many months after the German parliament voted to recognize the Ottoman Empire’s World War I-era massacre of Armenians as “genocide.”