U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Dec. 16 that he needed to speak with his Turkish counterpart to understand how serious Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was when he said he could shut down the İncirlik airbase, which hosts U.S. nuclear warheads.
Erdoğan’s warning on Dec. 15 that he could close İncirlik came in response to threats of U.S. sanctions and a separate U.S. Senate resolution that recognized the events of 1915 as a so-called “Armenian genocide.”
“It has not been brought up to me before. The first I heard of it was reading it in the papers as you just mentioned and so I need to talk to my defense counterpart to understand what they really mean and how serious they are,” Esper told reporters.
Turkey could also close the Kürecik radar base, Erdoğan added on Dec. 15.
“If necessary, we will hold discussions with all our delegations, and if necessary, we may close İncirlik [air base in southern Adana province] and Kürecik [radar station in eastern Malatya province],” Erdoğan said in a televised interview.
Esper said that if Turkey was serious about closing down the Kürecik base, it would have to be discussed by NATO.
“They are a sovereign nation to begin with, so they have that inherent right to house or to not house NATO bases or foreign troops,” Esper said.
“But again, I think this becomes an alliance matter, your commitment to the alliance, if indeed they are serious about what they are saying.”
Meanwhile, Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) on Dec. 16 voiced support for Erdoğan’s remarks on a possible shutdown of Kürecik and İncirlik air bases yet slammed the government for “waiting” to close the bases.
“We are tired of repeating this for nine years. They established a U.S. base in the middle of Anatolia and say, ‘We will close this’ every time the U.S. makes a decision. Does Turkey need to be attacked [for the bases] to be closed?” CHP Deputy Chair Veli Ağbaba said in a written statement.
Ağbaba, also a deputy for the eastern Malatya province, has been a vocal opponent of the Kürecik air base in Malatya. In his statement, he said that Kürecik is actually a U.S. base “disguised” as a NATO one.
İncirlik airbase in southern Adana province has been a main base for U.S. operations in the Middle East and while Kürecik, in Malatya, is a key NATO base.
Last week, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution recognizing the events of 1915 as a so-called “Armenian genocide.”
Turkey condemned the U.S. Senate measure last week.
“If they are threatening us with the implementation of these sanctions, of course, we will be retaliating,” Erdoğan had said.
Ankara and Washington have been at odds after Turkey’s decision to proceed with the purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense systems. Washington says the Russian system poses a threat to NATO and has removed Turkey from the U.S.-led F-35 stealth fighter jet program.
Tensions were raised further after Turkey’s anti-terror “Operation Peace Spring” into northeastern Syria against the YPG, the Syrian affiliate of the outlawed PKK.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S., and the European Union.
Hurriyet Daily News