Germany, Turkey to discuss impasse over visiting troops

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey on Monday refused to budge on its decision to refuse German lawmakers permission to visit troops stationed at a Turkish air base, saying it expected “positive steps” on Turkey’s requests for Germany to crackdown on Kurdish rebels and alleged coup plotters.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his visiting German counterpart, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey would allow German legislators to visit a NATO base in the central province of Konya, but not Incirlik Air Base, where some 270 German troops are stationed with Tornado reconnaissance jets and a refueling plane. The German troops are part of the international coalition against the Islamic State group.  

“At the moment, a visit to Konya is possible but not to Incirlik,” Cavusoglu said during the news conference with Germany’s Sigmar Gabriel. “In the future, if the conditions are there and there is normalization (a visit to) Incirlik may be possible.”

“If Germany takes positive steps, we will always take two (positive) steps. But we cannot ignore the current situation,” he said. Turkey blocked the visit to Incirlik, angered by German authorities’ decision to grant asylum to soldiers and other individuals that Turkey accuses of participating in last year’s failed coup. Turkey also accuses Germany of harboring Kurdish militant groups, which it considers to be terrorists.

Germany has said it may relocate troops that are based at Incirlik to Jordan over the impasse. Gabriel’s visit was widely viewed as the last chance to resolve the impasse, and relocating the troops from Incirlik appears politically inevitable after Monday’s rebuff, though the timing isn’t yet clear. There’s no appetite in Germany, which faces elections in September, for making concessions to the Turkish government. German officials have said that completing the transfer of the Tornados could take up to two months, though the tanker plane could be moved in two weeks.

Gabriel told reporters that visits by parliamentarians are a requirement of the German constitution and parliamentary system, and it will not be possible for Berlin to retain troops in Incirlik under the circumstances. He said, however, that Germany had no concrete plans yet for the withdrawal of troops.

Gabriel added that Berlin welcomed Turkey’s decision to allow visits to Konya and that Germany did not want to escalate the tensions. “Turkey and Germany are going through a troubled period,” Gabriel said.

Ties have also been soured by the jailing in Turkey of two German journalists and by German authorities banning planned campaign rallies by Turkish ministers earlier this year. Cavusoglu reiterated on Monday Turkey’s position that Die Welt journalist Deniz Yucel, who holds Turkish and German citizenship, was not detained for any journalistic activity, insisting that he was being prosecuted for allegedly aiding terror groups.

He also claimed that foreign intelligence agencies are using journalists for their activities. “They have started a trend in Europe, the intelligence agencies are using journalists. Why? So that if they are caught, they can start a campaign and press for their release by claiming ‘a journalist has been arrested, journalists are being jailed,'” Cavusoglu said.

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