Germany eyes Jordan as base for troops due to Turkey row

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany said on Wednesday it was considering moving the roughly 250 troops deployed at Turkey’s Incirlik base to help in the fight against Islamic State militants to Jordan because Ankara refuses to grant German lawmakers access to the site.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel addresses a news conference after meeting Africa Union chairperson Moussa Faki at the Africa Union Commission (AUC) headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in this file photo dated May 2, 2017. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Turkish officials have told Reuters a visit by German lawmakers to some 250 German soldiers at Incirlik to provide logistical support to the U.S.-led coalition would not be appropriate at the moment.

The deepening row has further soured relations that became increasingly strained ahead of a constitutional referendum in Turkey that handed President Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who is visiting Jordan at the weekend, told reporters after a parliamentary committee meeting that the government had been evaluating possible alternatives to Incirlik for some time.

“At the weekend in Jordan I will firstly get a picture of things there and also hold talks with the King,” she said, adding talks were also still going on with Turkey.

A defense ministry spokesman said Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete were also possible sites but that Jordan was the most favorable. Criteria including geography and ties with other allies were being taken into account, said the spokesman.

On Monday Chancellor Angela Merkel raised the possibility of moving the troops out of Turkey, and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel struck a tough tone in comments to a German newspaper on Wednesday.

“I can only hope that the Turkish government changes its mind in the coming days. Otherwise, the German parliament will certainly not leave the soldiers in Turkey,” Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung.

Relations between NATO allies Germany and Turkey have deteriorated sharply after a series of diplomatic rows.

Most recently, Turkey has expressed anger that Germany is granting asylum to Turks accused of participating in a failed coup in July.

The failed putsch prompted a purge of the Turkish military, judiciary and civil service. German officials have said more than 400 Turkish citizens with diplomatic passports and other government work permits had sought asylum in Germany since then.

Mass-selling daily Bild reported that two Turkish generals had sought asylum at Frankfurt airport late on Tuesday. The Office for Migrants and Refugees declined to comment.

However, in a sign of progress on another difficult issue, a spokesman for Germany’s foreign ministry said their officials had been granted permission to pay a second visit to a German-Turkish journalist held in prison in Istanbul.

Deniz Yucel, who works for Die Welt daily, was arrested in February on charges of propaganda in support of a terrorist organization and inciting public violence. Yucel denies the charges and the German government is pushing for his release.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers and Michael Nienaber; Editing by Gareth Jones