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German Turkish airbase visit in doubt

September 3, 2016

Doubt's over next month's planned visit by a delegation of German parliamentarians to the 250 German soldiers stationed at Incirlik air base in Turkey has highlighted the state of relations between Ankara and Berlin.

The Incirlik air base
Image: Bundeswehr/Falk Bärwald/dpa

The visit by a delegation of German lawmakers to the airbase in southern Turkey had been planned for the beginning of October. But Turkey's official displeasure with this summer's Bundestag resolution on the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces has strained ties between the countries - and put the visit in doubt.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the G20 summit that starts Sunday in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou. It is their first high-level meeting since the parliamentary resolution, and the July failed coup attempt in Turkey.

Merkel and Erdogan are also expected to discuss the state of bilateral ties and the Turkey-EU migrant deal, which would allow Turkish citizens to travel to the EU without a visa.

Diplomatic distance?

Some German lawmakers have expressed concerns that Merkel may be distancing herself from the Bundestag resolution on the Armenian massacre, even though she voted in favor of it. On Friday, the newsmagazine "Der Spiegel" reported that the government was seeking to play down the resolution's importance. Several leading German politicians quickly denied the report.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert commented that such resolutions were not "legally binding," as did Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

In response, Turkish embassy spokesman Refik Sogukoglu said: "We appreciate Seibert's statement that it is for the courts to decide what genocide is, not for parliament. In addition, we agree with Seibert's comment that the federal government does not always have to have the same opinion as the Bundestag."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Matthias Schaefer said Turkish and German officials were discussing the Incirlik visit, and that it remained to be seen how officials in Ankara would respond.

The current mandate for use of Incirlik ends in December. The base is used by six German surveillance jets and a refueling tanker backing the US-led coalition's operations against the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) group. The base was first built by US troops in the 1950s and is being used for combat flights against the IS group.

The Incirlik airbase near Turkey's border with Syria
The Incirlik airbase near Turkey's border with Syria

Parliamentarians respond

Some German MPs have called for the troops to be stationed away from the Incirlik base and operations to be moved elsewhere. Cem Özdemir, co-leader of Alliance '90/The Greens said: "As lawmakers who send soldiers to places, we must know where they are, how they are and be able to talk to the soldiers." He added "If that is not possible in Turkey, then the soldiers must come back to Germany."

Rainer Arnold , the defense spokesman for the SPD parliamentary group, confirmed lawmakers' desire to visit the troops.

"We want to fly to Turkey on October 4," he said in comments to the "Frankfurter Rundschau."

A German Tornado jet in a hangar at Incirlik
A German Tornado jet in a hangar at IncirlikImage: Getty Images/AFP/T. Schwarz

Necessary steps

Germany's Foreign Ministry official for European affairs Michael Roth visited Ankara last week and reported that the two countries had made progress in resolving the dispute over Incirlik.

"I have the impression that there is great movement here," Roth said. "I hope and wish that parliamentarians from our Bundestag will soon be able to visit our soldiers," he told the public broadcaster Südwestrundfunk.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the visit would only be possible if Berlin took "the necessary steps." He added, "I have to say that those that mangle and manipulate our history in an unfair manner cannot be allowed on this visit."

Turkish officials have indicated that they expect the German government to take no steps in relation to the Bundestag resolution. They also expect a clearer display of support following the July failed coup attempt.

Steinmeier is expected to visit to Turkey in mid-September in a bid to rebuild political ties.

jm/sms (epd, dpa)