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The German military is exploring locations outside Turkey that could serve as a key airbase for the Middle East, a report has said. Responding to the report, Chancellor Merkel said no move was under consideration.
Amid strained relations with Ankara, Germany is considering moving its Tornado reconnaissance jets, currently deployed in international missions against the so-called "Islamic State" (IS), out of the Turkish airbase at Incirlik.
According to the forthcoming Saturday edition of the German newspaper "Bild," the German military is exploring alternatives in Cyprus, Jordan and Kuwait, at the request of parliament. Reports also suggest that military officials are scheduled to travel to Amman on Saturday to hold talks on the subject.
Reports suggest that concrete plans to relocate have yet to be drawn up, while a defense ministry spokesman said Saturday's visit was designed to explore alternative arrangements in the event of an emergency.
"It is too early to say whether it will become necessary to withdraw our forces from Incirlik," the spokesman told "Bild." Any relocation, however, would likely take "several weeks," in which time the Tornado reconnaissance jets would be out of action.
On Friday evening, German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared to dismiss reports the Bundeswehr would move to another base.
"At the moment everything is going all well and good," Merkel said. "I want to emphatically say here once more: Incirlik isn't even in debate." She added the Bundeswehr was only examining other sites in Jordan and Cyprus as part of contingency plans.
Tornado reconnaissance jets are currently deployed in non-combat missions in the fight against IS in Syria and Iraq, alongside the maximum number of German soldiers permitted to be deployed overseas, some 1,200.
Incirlik is a key location for the German military, as it sits near Turkey's border with Syria. Reports in September suggested that Germany was planning to invest millions into the base after Merkel and Erdogan held what were at the time perecived to be positive talks. Relations between the two states have since become increasingly frosty.
Fraught relations played out in Incirlik
German officials have voiced concern with Turkey's handling of the Incirlik site. This year, the Turkish government repeatedly denied German lawmakers from visiting the base after Berlin passed a resolution that labeled the killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire a century ago as genocide.
Merkel said on Friday evening problems surrounding the visit of German lawmakers to the base had been overcome.
Some members of parliament have also accused Ankara of using reconnaissance data gathered on the site in its own conflict against Syrian Kurds - factions that are allied with United States in the fight against IS.
Head to head with Erdogan
Leading German officials have voiced their concern at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's purge against opposition parties, civil servants, academics and journalists since the failed military coup attempt in July. During a state visit to Turkey earlier this month, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier described Erdogan's actions as a threat to democracy, while Germany's Europe Minister Michael Roth said: "What is happening in Turkey goes against our understanding of European values, rule of law, democracy and media freedom."
On Friday, one day after the European Parliament voted in favor of freezing EU membership talks with Turkey, Erdogan said Turkey could open its borders and allow migrants to leave for Europe.
cw/dm/rs (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)