ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s foreign minister said on Thursday it would be inappropriate for politicians to visit an air base used by German and other Western forces in his country, drawing an angry response from Berlin in a mounting row between the NATO states.
Mevlut Cavusoglu’s words came a day after Germany’s defense ministry said Turkey was blocking plans by a senior German defense official and lawmakers to visit the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey.
Cavusoglu did not give his reasons – but one German lawmaker said Turkey’s stance was meant as a response to the German parliament’s decision this month to declare the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces a genocide, a label Turkey rejects.
The dispute comes at an awkward time for German Chancellor Angela Merkel who is counting on Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan to push on with an agreement with the European Union to stem the flow of refugees through Turkey into Europe.
Cavusoglu told reporters that military and technical delegations were free to visit the Incirlik air base, but Ankara did not believe it was appropriate for politicians to go.
German lawmakers urged their government to protest against his statement and raise the issue at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
Florian Hahn, a member of Bavaria’s conservative Christian Social Union party, said Germany should consider moving its six Tornado reconnaissance jets from the base, used in a U.S.-led air campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.
“It’s a scandal,” Tobias Lindner, a Green party member, told Reuters, saying Germany should cancel plans to spend 60 million euros ($68 million) on new housing and military facilities at the base if Turkey did not reverse course.
Juergen Hardt, spokesman for the parliamentary caucus of Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats, said the decision was “unacceptable” and German officials needed to have access to their troops overseas.
($1 = 0.8790 euros)
Reporting by Ercan Gurses in Ankara, and Andrea Shalal and Siebold Siebold in Berlin; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by David Dolan and Andrew Heavens