Turkey, Germany fail to resolve split over İncirlik base
Ankara and Berlin failed to reach a consensus in the ongoing dispute over a demand from the German parliament to visit German soldiers at the İncirlik air base in southern Turkey, at a meeting of the foreign ministers of the two countries in Ankara on June 5.
Turkey said current conditions were “not suitable” for German lawmakers to visit the İncirlik base, which is used in strikes on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria, but they would be welcome to visit a military base in Konya, where Germany has troops and early reconnaissance planes deployed as part of a NATO mission.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel pledged in a joint press meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu more efforts to fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) activities in Germany.
Both Turkey and Germany underlined the need to maintain good ties by focusing on a “positive agenda,” as a breakdown in relations would serve neither side.
“At the moment a visit to the Konya base is possible but not to İncirlik,” Çavuşoğlu said, recalling that the issue was discussed between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Brussels on May 25.
“The proposal we have made is about a visit to the Konya NATO base by the German delegation. This would be better to start with it,” Çavuşoğlu said.
Germany has six Tornado surveillance planes and around 250 troops deployed at the İncirlik base serving under the international coalition fighting against ISIL. It also has a few dozen troops in the Konya base operating AWACS as part of a NATO mission. Turkey has been blocking the visit of German lawmakers to İncirlik over Berlin’s granting of asylum to members of what prosecutors and the government call the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ) in the aftermath of the July 2016 coup attempt.
“My Turkish colleague explained to me that in the current situation, Turkey is not able to allow every visit by German parliamentarians to İncirlik - for domestic reasons,” Gabriel said.
“I regret that. Conversely, I ask for understanding that we - for domestic political reasons - must transfer soldiers out of İncirlik, because the German parliament has a parliamentary army and places value on German lawmakers being able to visit Bundeswehr soldiers at any time,” he added.
Gabriel expressed satisfaction with Turkish permission to German lawmakers to visit troops in the Konya base while underlining that talks between officials will continue in the coming days.
Shortly after he spoke, sources in Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s office said he had cancelled a planned meeting with Gabriel, citing a “busy work schedule.” A German delegation under Gabriel later met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and government officials along with Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
One likely destination for German troops and Tornados based in İncirlik would be Jordan, as Berlin had already sent military and technical teams to study the availability of Jordanian military facilities.
Another key issue discussed between the two foreign ministers was Turkey’s growing complaints about PKK activities in German territories and the German government’s apparent reluctance to study Turkish demands for the extradition of alleged PKK members.
Gabriel stressed that PKK is also a danger for Germany and said they were determined to take additional measures against the group, which Berlin has recognized as a terrorist organization since 1993.
He also promised that Berlin will review Turkey’s demand for the extradition of around 4,500 Turkish nationals residing in Germany and accused of terror offences.
Çavuşoğlu reiterated Turkey’s expectations from Germany in the anti-PKK fight.
“The PKK is involved in all kinds of crimes, racketing, human and drug trafficking. The PKK is our enemy and poses a threat to all of us. They might even start launching attacks in Germany after the German government takes measures against it. This is not something I want but it is a terror organization,” he said.
On Deniz Yücel, a Turkish-German journalist who was arrested in February, Çavuşoğlu claimed that he was not arrested because of his journalistic work “but because of his links with terror organizations.”
“Turkey has an independent judicial system, just like Germany. There is an ongoing prosecution of Yücel,” he stressed.
Gabriel expressed “sadness” over the continued arrest of Yücel and said he made some suggestions on this case to Çavuşoğlu.
“As a foreign minister, I have no word on these suggestions, but I will pass them to our relevant organizations,” he said.
Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu also claimed that foreign intelligence services had recently “started to use journalists” as part of “spying missions” in Turkey.
“A journalist from another country was arrested recently after he photographed our military facilities and then shared them from Iraq. When we arrest him, we are criticized for arresting a journalist. If it is about journalism then you are right, but if it’s about supporting terrorism or illegal activities there are also measures taken against these offenses in Germany and in Europe,” he said.