Germany will recall soldiers from Turkey if MP visit blocked: vice chancellor

Soldiers of the German armed forces Bundeswehr stand next to the Patriot system before the arrival of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel at a Turkish military base in Kahramanmaras February 24, 2013. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany will recall soldiers serving at the Incirlik airbase in Turkey if Ankara continues blocking German lawmakers from visiting the troops, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said in remarks published on Wednesday.

Turkey, angered by a resolution passed by the German parliament last month that branded the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces a genocide, has denied German lawmakers access to the base.

“The German army answers to parliament,” Gabriel told the regional newspaper Mitteldeutsche Zeitung. “And if parliament cannot visit its army, then the army cannot stay there. This is absolutely clear.”

His threat to pull out the 250 soldiers at the base, who are part of NATO operations against Islamic State militants in Iraq, is the clearest sign yet of escalating tensions between the two members of the military alliance.

Though they are crucial partners in the effort to stem mass migration to Europe, Germany and Turkey’s relations have taken several blows in recent months.

President Tayyip Erdogan was perturbed by the broadcast of a satirical song about him on German television and in April launched legal action against the comedian who wrote it. The Armenian resolution last month, which prompted Ankara to recall its ambassador, compounded the rift.

Gabriel’s remarks echoed earlier demands by some German lawmakers that the soldiers should be recalled if Turkey did not change its position.

German forces are currently on missions in around 13 countries, including Afghanistan and Kosovo, as well as conducting monitoring in the Mediterranean. Lawmakers have often visited deployed soldiers, mainly in Afghanistan.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday that German lawmakers must be allowed to visit the soldiers and that she would try to solve the issue with the Turkish government.

Reporting by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky