‘We’ve been very patient with Ankara’, says Germany’s defense minister
Reuters – 9 August 2017, Tuesday
BERLIN - A German lawmaker from the far-left Left party wants security guarantees from the German foreign ministry before embarking on a NATO-led trip to visit soldiers serving at an air base in Turkey next month.
Disputes over access to German soldiers at Turkish bases have heightened tensions between the NATO allies. Germany warned its citizens about traveling to Turkey after Ankara's arrest of 10 human rights activists last month, including a German, in a security crackdown.
Left Party lawmaker Alexander Neu told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper he was worried about his safety given Turkey's "absurd" claim that he had contacts to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is classified as a terrorist group in Germany and the European Union.
"It has to be clear that I will be able to get out of Turkey," said Neu, who was not immediately available to comment.
The German foreign ministry said it would do all it could to ensure that seven German lawmakers, to be picked by the parliamentary defense committee, could go ahead with the visit. But it said Turkey had ultimate control over who to let in.
"We have a firm commitment from the Turkish government that such a visit can take place, and we will hold them to it," spokesman Martin Schaefer told a government news conference.
Turkey has agreed to let the lawmakers visit soldiers at the Konya air base on Sept. 8 as part of a NATO trip after refusing a German-led trip in July in which Neu had also expected to participate.
Parliamentary sources said they expected Neu to be on the list for next month's NATO-led trip, and that fact had likely been shared with Turkish officials in working out a compromise for the trip.
Schaefer said it was unclear if Turkey would allow future German-led trips to the base. The government and parliament would review the situation in coming months if Ankara continued to only allow visits to the base under NATO supervision.
Repeated refusals by Ankara to let lawmakers visit German soldiers at another air base, at Incirlik in Turkey, made Berlin relocate those troops to Jordan.
German armed forces are under the control of parliament, not the executive branch, and Berlin insists lawmakers must have access to them.
German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen welcomed Turkey's agreement to the upcoming visit by lawmakers to Konya, and lauded NATO for its initiative.
"We've been very patient with Ankara," she told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper.
"Of course Turkey is threatened by a bloody conflict on its borders and terrorism, but that is no reason to throw the rule of law overboard, limit freedom of expression and hold German citizens in jail without any legal basis," she said.