By Ayhan Simsek
Germany’s defense minister on Tuesday welcomed a NATO-brokered deal to enable German lawmakers to visit their soldiers stationed in Turkey, after months of tension between Ankara and Berlin.
“It’s a good solution that now the German lawmakers will be able to visit the base under the umbrella of NATO,” Ursula von der Leyen told German news agency DPA.
The lawmakers were demanding unrestricted access to bases where their soldiers were deployed in Turkey as part of international anti-terror operations. However, Ankara turned down several requests in the past, due to political tensions between the two allies.
Turkey’s government was particularly angry at several opposition lawmakers within planned delegations who had publicly announced their support for the PKK, a terrorist organization hostile to Turkey.
A NATO official confirmed to Anadolu Agency on Tuesday that, following discussions among the allies, a visit to Konya was planned for early next month.
“NATO Deputy Secretary-General Rose Gottemoeller is working with German and Turkish authorities to facilitate a parliamentary visit to Konya airfield within a NATO framework,” the official said, speaking anonymously.
"The German and Turkish authorities have agreed that such a visit could take place on Sept. 8, 2017. Talks are underway on the next steps,” he added.
NATO's mission in Konya provides intelligence support for the international coalition fighting Daesh and around a dozen German soldiers are stationed at the base.
Tensions between Ankara and Berlin over parliamentary visits to military bases increased in recent months, as German opposition parties increased their pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government ahead of general elections in September.
The opposition parties criticized the government for making Germany “too dependent” on Turkey in addressing the refugee crisis, and have demand a harsher tone against Ankara.
In June, the German government decided to withdraw its Tornado surveillance jets and around 260 troops from Incirlik, another key military base in Turkey, after a similar dispute between Berlin and Ankara.
The German government has underlined that its army is controlled by parliament, which also decides on military deployments abroad. Berlin has insisted such parliamentary visits to military bases should be possible without any restrictions.