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Germany

MPs threaten to block military cooperation with Turkey

The row triggered by the German parliament's Armenia resolution is rumbling on. Bundestag MPs have threatened to scupper NATO's new reconnaissance flights if they cannot visit German soldiers at Incirlik, Turkey.

The diplomatic impasse between German MPs and the Turkish government has escalated, with the Bundestag's defense committee threatening to deny the mandate for Germany's participation in reconnaissance flights over Syria if they are not allowed to visit the German soldiers stationed at the Incirlik NATO base in southern Turkey.

The Bundeswehr has about 250 personnel stationed at the base who help fly Tornado planes on reconnaissance missions to locate the "Islamic State" militia in Syria. But the Bundestag's vote in early June to recognize the Ottoman massacre of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915-16 as genocide has precipitated a diplomatic fallout that is threatening the countries' military cooperation.

On Thursday, committee chairman Wolfgang Hellmich told the "Bild" newspaper that the Bundestag could vote to block the AWACS reconnaissance flights that NATO wants to fly over Syria.

"I hope that the NATO secretary-general realizes that if he wants to have AWACS, then German soldiers are necessary," committee spokesman Rainer Arnold told DW.

Türkei Von der Leyen in Incirlik

Von der Leyen visited Incirlik last week

Just two weeks after the vote on the Armenia resolution, which triggered personal abuse from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan against certain MPs, Turkey refused to allow a senior German defense official and several Bundestag members to visit the base. The trip was "seen as inappropriate," in the words of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu - though he suggested that a "nonpolitical" delegation would be allowed.

The Left party MP Alexander Neu said the committee was planning a trip to Incirlik on September 15 - which is now likely to be seen as a test of relations. The Defense Ministry was also hoping to sign a new stationing agreement with Turkey and build new barracks and a command post, all plans that are currently on hold because of the deadlock.

'No alternative'

Since all of Germany's military missions need parliamentary approval, the Bundestag regularly sends members of its defense committee to visit field operations. "The German army is a parliamentary army," Arnold said. "We decide whether the Bundestag grants a mandate or not, and so of course it's important that we make the decision based on our own observations - there is no alternative."

During these visits, MPs survey the installations, talk to soldiers, check working conditions and observe the military cooperation with allies. "And, of course, we bring criticisms back to Germany if any soldier has a concern," Arnold said.

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen did visit the base last week and returned to report to the Bundestag defense committee, but she did not have good news. "I did not ask for permission for visits," she was quoted as saying in "Der Spiegel" this week - though she did point out to her opposite number, Defense Minister Fikri Isik, that Bundestag visits had to be "a matter of course."

Aufklärungsflugzeug vom Typ Awacs NATO Konya Türkei

NATO wants to launch AWACS missions from the base

Parliamentary principles

Arnold said von der Leyen's presence at the base was no substitute for parliamentary control - though he added that he had no complaints about her conduct. "As an MP I can't just rely on what the government tells me," he said. "I'm not there just to say yes: I'm there to use my own judgment, and foreign operations aren't just anything - they may involve the use of force, and I want to see and hear for myself."

It's not enough, Arnold said, for "the MPs to just give fine speeches about having a parliamentary army: The soldiers, of course, expect the parliament to look after their interests."

Nevertheless, Arnold underlined that he hoped the current friction could be assuaged quickly and quietly. "The Turks know that the Bundestag can't extend any military mandate if it's impossible to visit the soldiers," he said. "I would've preferred it if the visit we are planning in September hadn't been in the press, and if it could have been approved quietly. For now, I hope things settle a bit - the request will take its normal path, and we hope that everyone follows the rules."

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