Turkey allows German lawmakers’ trip to Incirlik air base

A technician works on a German Tornado jet at the air base in Incirlik

BERLIN (Reuters) – Turkey has agreed to allow German lawmakers to visit soldiers stationed at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey in October, signaling some progress in easing strains between the two NATO allies, Germany’s Foreign Minister said on Thursday.

Turkey had banned German lawmakers from visiting the base in response to a parliamentary resolution declaring the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces a “genocide”.

The row over Incirlik has compounded tensions between Germany and Turkey just as Chancellor Angela Merkel needs Turkish help in dealing with Europe’s migrant crisis.

Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu confirmed Ankara would allow German lawmakers to visit the base, saying Berlin had fulfilled conditions required for the visit.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier welcomed the move, saying that it must be possible for deputies to visit an army that answers to parliament.

“With this decision by the Turkish government, we are a little further on in our relations,” he said in a statement.

It was unclear whether Ankara had agreed to just one visit to the 250 German soldiers at the NATO air base in October or whether it was a more general decision.

The German soldiers are stationed in Incirlik to help defend Turkish troops against possible attacks from Syria and to support the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State insurgents in neighboring Syria and Iraq.

The pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper quoted Turkish diplomatic sources as confirming that the German delegation had been given “partial authorization”.

Relations between the two countries are complex, with some 3 million people with a Turkish background living in Germany.

Critics say Merkel has become over-dependent on Ankara because of the migrant crisis and that she is turning a blind eye to Turkey’s human rights record.

Germany and the European Union fear Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is using public anger among Turks over a failed military coup in July to crack down on dissent. Tens of thousands of officials, judges, soldiers and others believed to have supported the putsch have been dismissed from their jobs or arrested.

Tensions between Germany and Turkey had been mounting before the coup attempt, especially after Erdogan took legal action against a German comedian who ridiculed him, as well as over the parliamentary resolution about the 1915 massacre of Armenians.

(Reporting by Holger Hansen and Michael Nienaber in Berlin, additional reporting by Nick Tattersall, Gulsen Solaker and Ece Toksabay in Istanbul; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Ralph Boulton)