German Lawmakers Postpone Visit to Konya NATO Base in Turkey
(Source: Detusche Welle German Radio; issued July 16, 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.
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.
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.
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.
NATO Head Stoltenberg Advises Germany and Turkey to Resolve Issues
(Source: Deutsche Welle German Radio; issued July 16, 2017)
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called the Turkish and German foreign ministers last week in a bid to intervene in a diplomatic standoff that has seen Ankara refuse German lawmakers access to two air bases, the alliance says.
Stoltenberg called German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday to ask them to settle the disputes, a NATO spokesman said.
In the face of Turkey's actions, calls have been amassing for Germany to withdraw its military from Turkey altogether.
Germany has already started to pull its personnel from one base in Incirlik in southeast Turkey but may now consider withdrawing service members from the NATO-base in the south-central city of Konya, located 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of the Turkish capital, Ankara, as well, as German parliamentarians were once again refused access to the soldiers stationed there.
Stoltenberg seeks resolution of conflict
Stoltenberg stressed that the base in Konya was highly important for the fight against the self-styled terrorist group "Islamic State" (IS) in Iraq and Syria.
Stoltenberg meanwhile also paid homage to those who lost lives while resisting last July's coup attempt in Turkey and stressed that any attempts to undermine democracy in any one of NATO allied nations was "unacceptable." It was unclear, however, whether Stoltenberg was referring to the coup or hinting at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's crackdown on dissidents ever since.
"We hope that Germany and Turkey are able to find a mutually acceptable date for a visit," a NATO spokesman said, suggesting that the issue between Turkey and Germany might still be resolved during a face-to-face meeting.
The list of disagreements between Germany and Turkey has, however, been growing since the July 15, 2016 failed coup in Turkey. Germany has squarely refused to extradite asylum seekers to Turkey whom Ankara has accused of having been involved in the thwarted coup attempt. Turkey meanwhile has incarcerated several German nationals as part of the ongoing purge since the coup attempt, including journalist Deniz Yucel.
Politicians in Germany differ on future course
Reactions from German politicians with regards to the latest confrontation between the two countries suggest that some kind of action might be taken in the foreseeable future.
Wolfgang Hellmich, chairman of the Bundestag's Defense Committee, said that under these current conditions, he saw "no possibility" of extending Germany's mandate to deploy troops in the fight against IS. German soldiers currently still contribute to a NATO air surveillance mission out of the NATO base Konya, with their mandate due to expire in November this year.
Alexander Neu of the Left party, who was supposed to travel to the base in Konya on July 17, said that if no visits were allowed "before September, then I think the right thing to do would be to pull out of all the bases in Turkey. Anything else would be a further act of humiliation." Neu, however, also told DW that he believed Erdogan held the upper hand in the ongoing standoff.
"Erdogan is engaged in his own geopolitics which is, above all, directed against the US presence in the region." Neu believes that no matter what Erdogan does, "he can't be thrown out of the NATO alliance, and can still demand NATO protection."
Rolf Mützenich, vice-chairman of the Social Democrats' (SPD) parliamentary group on foreign policy, defense and human rights, meanwhile disagreed with that view and warned Erdogan against overestimating his power within the military alliance.
"I think that the Turkish government would be well advised to recognize that their actions are a very serious matter for the whole NATO alliance."