German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (L) and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu give a press conference in Ankara, on June 5, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Turkey says it will continue to prevent German lawmakers from visiting Incirlik Air Base, with Germany responding that it would pull out its troops from the key NATO base in the Anatolian country.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Monday made it clear for German leaders that Ankara would definitely not allow German legislators to visit the base, which has been at the center of a dispute between the two NATO allies for the past three weeks.
The top Turkish diplomat made the remarks at a joint press conference with his German opposite number Sigmar Gabriel in the Turkish capital of Ankara, suggesting another base in the Middle Eastern country for German lawmakers to visit.
"Right now it is possible to visit the NATO base in Konya (in central Turkey), not Incirlik," Cavusoglu further noted, adding, "Conditions are not ripe right now to visit Incirlik."
The fresh diplomatic row broke out between the two NATO member states on May 15, when Berlin announced that Ankara had turned down a request for German lawmakers to visit their country's troops at Incirlik Air Base. German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the time denounced the Turkish government's decision and described it as "unacceptable."
Germany has more than 250 troops deployed to Incirlik, using the airbase for flying Tornado jets over Syria and refueling flights as part of the US-led coalition allegedly battling the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group in Iraq and Syria.
This file photo taken on July 28, 2015, shows a military aircraft on the runway at Incirlik Air Base, on the outskirts of the city of Adana, southeastern Turkey. (Photo by AFP)
On May 16, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim officially unveiled the reason behind Incirlik's decision, saying Germany was free to choose Turkey or coup plotters. He referred to Berlin’s move to grant political asylum to several hundreds of military officials and alleged supporters of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Ankara for staging the failed coup in July 2016. Furthermore, Ankara has branded the Gulen movement, as the "Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO)."
Echoing Yildirim's argument, Cavusoglu further said at the presser that Ankara would not like to "see members of FETO" had taken a sanctuary inside "friendly" Germany. He also maintained that some facts could not be ignored, adding that over 400 Turkish diplomatic or official passport holders, all linked to FETO, had allegedly received asylum in the European country.
However, Cavusoglu, without giving details, requested Berlin's cooperation with Ankara over the issue, saying, "If Germany takes one step forward toward us, we will always take two steps further."
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (L) and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu give a press conference in Ankara, on June 5, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
The German foreign minister, whose visit to Turkey was mainly paid in an attempt to resolve the current dispute and try to pave the way for German legislators to visit the air base, for his part, said that he regretted Ankara's decision. “Turkey has made clear that, for domestic political reasons, it cannot approve visits of all lawmakers,” he said.
Gabriel went on to say that Ankara "must understand that in this situation, we must transfer German soldiers out of Incirlik.”
On May 20, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen proposed the possibility of moving Incirlik-based German troops to an airbase in Jordan if the Turkish ban lingered on.
But Gabriel on Monday maintained that no decision whatsoever had yet been made or "concrete plan" drafted for the relocation of the German soldiers from Incirlik.
“In this situation, the Bundestag (parliament) will ask the government to find another location for the German soldiers in Incirlik” he added.
This file photo taken on January 21, 2016 shows German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen chatting with soldiers during a visit to the German Armed Forces Bundeswehr at the air base in Incirlik, Turkey.
Meanwhile, Premier Yildirim's office cancelled a planned meeting with the German minister, citing Yildirim's "busy schedule."
Last month, Germany, the European Union’s most powerful country, had threatened that it might withdraw its troops from Incirlik if Turkey kept denying German lawmakers access to the site, a warning that did not have any effect on Ankara's firm stance.
Turkey-Germany relations worsened soon after a chain of diplomatic rows. Berlin has severely criticized Ankara for a widespread crackdown that began in the wake of the coup attempt and has so far affected hundreds of thousands of people.
Turkey, for its part, severely criticized German authorities' decision to prevent a number of Turkish ministers from holding rallies to secure a 'Yes' vote in the April 16 referendum on expanding the powers of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, citing public safety concerns.
Berlin seems to be more willing to repair ties with Ankara in the face of the current row. Turkey is perceived by Germany as an important country, in part because of some three million ethnic Turks in the European country, by far the largest Turkish diaspora community in the world, after a "gust worker" program initiated in the 1960s and 1970s.

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