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German lawmakers postpone Turkey NATO base visit

July 17, 2017

Ankara denied German lawmakers permission to visit Bundeswehr troops stationed at a NATO base near the Turkish town of Konya. Similar incidents at Incirlik prompted Berlin to relocate some 250 troops to Jordan.

Konya air base
Image: Imago/StockTrek Images

Germany's parliamentary defense committee was told on Friday that its trip to a NATO military base in south-western Turkey will be postponed, at the request of the Turkish government.

Committee chairman Wolfgang Hellmich told local media that Ankara had blocked the committee's trip to German troops serving on AWACS surveillance planes in Konya which had been scheduled for Monday. Turkey asked for a delay, citing the tense state of German-Turkish bilateral relations.

"Under these conditions, I see no way to extend the mandate," said Hellmich, adding that Turkey's decision had been conveyed to the German Foreign Ministry a day earlier on Thursday.

Read more: Taking German troops out of Incirlik: The least preferred option for NATO

"The government, especially Chancellor Angela Merkel, must now take the necessary steps to ensure lawmakers can soon visit the soldiers in Konya," said Social Democrats defense spokesperson, Rainer Arnold.

Talks to resolve dispute

Speaking on ARD television on Sunday, Merkel said lawmakers should be allowed to visit Bundeswehr soldiers at the NATO air base in Konya and that more talks were needed to resolve the dispute. But she refused to link the issue of extradition of Turkish asylum seekers with access to Konya in talks with Ankara. She said the two issues were completely unrelated.

"Before we draw conclusions, we should first wait for talks and discuss these things with NATO's help," Merkel said. 

The visit to Konya was set up last month to assess Germany's participation in reconnaissance flights over Syria.

German air bases in Turkey and Jordan
Germany moved troops from Incirlik to Jordan earlier this year

A repeat of Incirlik stand-off?

This latest move from Ankara will only mark a further escalation in tensions between the two NATO allies. Turkey sparked a months-long row after it twice blocked German lawmakers from visiting the 250 Bundeswehr troops that were stationed at the southern Turkish base at Incirlik.

In 2016, Turkey denied German lawmakers access in response to a resolution passed by the Bundestag declaring the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces was a "genocide."

German parliamentarians were again barred from visiting Incirlik in May of this year after Berlin refusal to extradite Turkish asylum seekers who find themselves on Ankara's post-coup "purge" lists.

This prompted the German government to move its troops and reconnaissance aircraft from Incirlik to a new base in Jordan. The withdrawal started earlier this week.

Read more: Jordan: A reliable host for Germany's Bundeswehr?

For historical reasons, Germany's armed forces remain under parliamentary control, with Berlin insisting that lawmakers must have access to its soldiers at all times.

Like the base at Incirlik, Konya has served as a base for German troops supporting international operations against the so-called "Islamic State" in Syria and Iraq. Bundeswehr troop presence at Konya is much smaller, however, with only between 20 and 30 German troops stationed there.

dm/jm (dpa, Reuters, AP)