German defense minister to fly to Turkish air base on July 1

German defense minister to fly to Turkish air base on July 1

German defense minister to fly to Turkish air base on July 1

AFP photo

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen will pay a visit to Turkey’s İncirlik Air Base on July 1, after a row erupted last week with Turkey on who could visit the base.

Von der Leyen said on June 29 that she would fly to İncirlik in southern Turkey on July 1, to visit around 250 German troops there, according to Reuters. 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on June 23 that a visit by Germany’s state secretary for defense, Ralf Brauksiepe, and other lawmakers to İncirlik was “not appropriate.” However, von der Leyen told Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper three days later that she would personally go to İncirlik.

Asked about von der Leyen’s remarks, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said on June 27 that Turkey would allow the German defense minister’s visit and there was not a problem on the issue. 

Von der Leyen, speaking during a tour of German military facilities on June 29, said she had called her Turkish counterpart, Fikri Işık, to offer condolences over the attack at Istanbul’s Atatürk airport on June 28 that killed at least 42 people and wounded 239 others.

She said she assured Işık that Germany would continue to support Turkey in its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which U.S. officials and Yıldırım suspect carried out the airport attack.

German lawmakers had reacted angrily to apparent efforts to block visits by politicians to the base, with some calling for an end to German deployments to Turkey.

Relations between Turkey and Germany have been strained for some time, but took a sharp turn for the worse in May after the German parliament passed a resolution declaring the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman forces during World War I amounted to genocide.

Germany sent troops, six Tornado surveillance jets and a tanker aircraft to İncirlik late last year as part of the U.S-led fight against ISIL. Germany is also working closely with Turkey in the Aegean Sea to stop illegal migrant flows under a NATO mission.

Von der Leyen also plans to look at the housing situation at the base before finalizing a 60 million euro ($66 million) deal for Germany to build new barracks, an air operations center and other facilities at the İncirlik Air Base.