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Germany freezes any decision on tanks upgrade for Turkey

FILE PHOTO: German army battle tank Leopard 2 returns after NATO enchanced Forward Presence Battle Group Lithuania exercise in Pabrade military training field, Lithuania, May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s caretaker government has decided to put on hold any decision on upgrading German-made tanks in Turkey as requested by its NATO ally Ankara.

Turkey’s use of the Leopard 2 tanks in an offensive in northern Syria has fuelled a debate about Berlin’s approval of arms exports, a domestically sensitive issue given the country’s World War Two history.

A government spokesman said centre-right Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, had agreed Berlin would not decide on the Turkish request before both party blocs had sealed a new coalition deal.

Gabriel said in a statement that arms exports would be a big topic for discussion in negotiations on forming a new German coalition government, due to begin on Friday.

“For this reason, we in the caretaker government agree we don’t want to anticipate the results of the current coalition negotiations, and we will wait for the formation of a new government before weighing up critical projects.”

Gabriel said that Germany, the world’s third biggest arms exporter, was very concerned about the military conflict in northern Syria and had asked the NATO secretary general to advise NATO members on the situation there.

“The chance for political negotiations for peace and stability in Syria is there and must not be further hindered by military conflicts. I have repeatedly made this clear to the Turkish government.”

Germany and Turkey earlier this month resumed bilateral government consultations that had been suspended after Ankara’s arrest of German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel in February 2017. The Yucel case, however, remains a major irritant.

Reporting by Michael Nienaber and Andreas Rinke; Editing by Paul Carrel/Mark Heinrich