ANKARA --- Turkey’s top diplomat has hit back at German plans to pull its troops out of a key NATO base on its soil, saying on May 18 that it would “not beg” them to stay.
Ankara and Berlin are locked in another spat over Turkey’s refusal to allow German lawmakers to visit the İncirlik base near Syria, which is used by the international coalition fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Germany warned earlier this week that it could move its troops elsewhere, with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel accusing Turkey of “blackmail.”
“It is up to them, we will not beg them,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu told broadcaster NTV, saying Ankara was not blackmailing Germany.
Germany has about 250 military personnel stationed at the base in southern Turkey that fly Tornado surveillance missions over Syria and refueling flights for partner nations battling ISIL jihadists.
Chancellor Angela Merkel on May 15 described Turkey’s position as “unfortunate,” saying that Germany, while continuing talks to resolve the issue, would also look for alternatives, including in Jordan.
“If it is not possible to work normally at İncirlik – and this includes visits by German parliament lawmakers – then we will have to look for alternatives,” Gabriel told German newspaper Neue Osnabrucker Zeitung. “I can only hope that the Turkish government will change its mind in the coming days. Otherwise, the parliament will no longer let our soldiers go to Turkey.”
Çavuşoğlu said if that Gabriel made such remarks, it was “disrespectful,” as Turkish and German officials were working to improve relations.
He said Gabriel had made different remarks in private, suggesting the minister was using the dispute for political gain ahead of September elections in Germany.
Gabriel said he used his face-to-face meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to ask Washington to help resolve Berlin’s diplomatic rift with Turkey over the air base.
“I believe that the Americans will also use the opportunities they have to talk to the Turkish side to say that we must have a different relationship with each other than the current one,” Gabriel said.
Ties between NATO allies Ankara and Berlin have been strained since the failed coup in Turkey last year, but have worsened over multiple issues including the campaign for a Turkish referendum on major constitutional amendments that was held on April 16.
Last year, another row over İncirlik saw Turkey deny German lawmakers the right to visit for many months after the German parliament voted to recognize the Ottoman Empire’s World War I-era massacre of Armenians as “genocide.”
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the row was a “bilateral issue” and had no effect on NATO activities. “We had a similar situation [before]... then it was solved. I hope that this dispute will also be solved this time,” he said.