German chancellor sets ultimatum in Turkish air base row

It appears German Chancellor Angela Merkel has finally run out of patience with officials in Turkey who refuse to grant German members of parliament access to Bundeswehr troops stationed at an airbase in southern Turkey.

“I will make it very clear in the conversation with the Turkish president that, since we have a parliamentary army, members of the German Bundestag should be able to visit our soldiers,” Ms. Merkel said on Thursday during her trip to Brussels, where she attended the NATO summit and met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“Otherwise, we will have to abandon Incirlik,” she said in reference to the air base that is used for reconnaissance flight missions over Syria and Iraq to help identify Islamic State targets.

It is the first time Ms. Merkel has used such strong words in a row that has strained German-Turkish relations for almost a year. Turkish officials last week, for the second time in a year, refused to allow German lawmakers to visit some 250 troops stationed at the base.

German parliamentarians for months have called on the government to redeploy the troops to another country in the region, but government officials had tried to convince Turkey through diplomatic channels.

Turkey, for it’s part, appears unfazed. During an interview with Turkish broadcaster NTV on Thursday, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu sent the Germans a clear message.

“If they want to leave, let’s just say goodbye,” the minister said. “That’s up to them and we won’t beg.”

Berlin believes the staunch refusal to be a Turkish act of retaliation for Germany granting asylum to several Turkish soldiers, who were fleeing the country amid a crackdown in the wake of a failed military coup against Mr. Erdogan. A year ago, the Turkish government refused to let German parliamentarians visit the troops at Incirlik, after the Bundestag approved a resolution calling the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks during WWI genocide.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel last week had called on the United States to help diffuse the tensions between the two NATO member states at the defense alliance’s summit this Thursday.

Bundestag parliamentarians, in the meantime, are preparing a resolution for next week that calls for the withdrawal of German troops from the base. The German military has already been commissioned by parliament to look at alternatives to the Incirlik air base.

And the spat over the airbase isn’t Europe’s only struggle with its Turkish neighbor. The two heads of the European Union, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Council President Donald Tusk, also sounded out differences with Turkey during talks on Thursday.

“I put the question of human rights in the center of our discussion,” Mr. Tusk tweeted after a 40-minute talk behind closed doors.

Mr. Juncker, in a separate 30-minute conversation, wanted to inquire whether Turkey was still pursuing EU membership. Such talks are de facto on hold and Mr. Erdogan’s proposal to put the reintroduction of the death penalty up for a national vote would deal a death blow to any negotiations.

But Europe has an interest in maintaining amicable relations to Turkey after the country helped close the floodgates on a migrant influx in 2015. Under the deal, struck in March last year, the EU pays for the provisioning of migrants on Turkish soil. Turkey, in exchange, prevents migrants from reaching European shores in a deal that has widely been credited as saving Ms. Merkel’s political career at home, where pressure against her open-door migrant policy was mounting.


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