ANKARA (Reuters) - Germany is pressing Turkey to allow German lawmakers to visit 250 German soldiers stationed at Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday, after meeting her Turkish counterpart.
Germany sent troops, six Tornado surveillance jets and a tanker aircraft to Incirlik late last year as part of the U.S-led fight against Islamic State militants. Germany is also working with Turkey in the Aegean Sea to stop illegal migrant flows.
Von der Leyen met Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik on Friday in Ankara after visiting the base and said they would continue to try to resolve their disagreements on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Warsaw next week.
Turkey’s prime minister this week approved von der Leyen’s visit, reversing an apparent effort to block the trip that angered German lawmakers and prompted some to suggest an end to German deployments to Turkey.
Von der Leyen, who traveled to the base without media or parliamentarians, said she told Isik how important it was to give German lawmakers responsible for military matters access to their troops in Turkey.
“We agreed to continue discussions about our many common interests, as well as difficult topics,” von der Leyen said.
Some German politicians called on the government to press their case more forcefully with Ankara.
Hans-Peter Bartels, the German military’s ombudsman in parliament, told the German newspaper Passauer Neue Presse it was “absolutely unacceptable” that von der Leyen’s deputy and German lawmakers were banned from visiting the base.
Von der Leyen said she conveyed her condolences to Isik after suicide bombers killed 44 people in Istanbul this week. She pledged to continue to fight extremism. “We stand at Turkey’s side,” she said.
Strained relations between Turkey and Germany took a turn for the worse in May after the German parliament passed a resolution declaring the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces was genocide.
Turkey accepts that many Christian Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One, but contests assertions that up to 1.5 million were killed and the killings constitute a genocide. It also says many Muslim Turks perished at the time.
Reporting by Sabine Siebold and Andrea Shalal; Writing by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Janet Lawrence