Turkey's president says he could close Incirlik Air Base over US sanctions
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 16, 2019
Turkey is prepared to kick the U.S. military out of Incirlik Air Base if Washington imposes sanctions on the country, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said, raising the stakes after a similar warning was made last week by Turkey’s foreign minister.
“We will close down Incirlik if necessary," Erdogan said Sunday on Turkey’s A Haber news program.
The U.S. has about 50 nuclear bombs stored at Incirlik, which watchdog groups have raised security concerns about. But President Donald Trump said earlier this year he is confident the weapons are safe at the base.
Erdogan also said a U.S. Army site in the small Turkish village of Kurecik, which houses a key radar for NATO missile defense efforts in Europe, also could be closed down. “If they are threatening us with these sanctions, of course we will be retaliating,” he said.
Erdogan’s warnings come a week after a U.S. Senate committee backed legislation calling for economic sanctions after Turkey acquired Russia’s S-400 missile defense system and over Ankara’s incursion into northern Syria. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu last week also blasted the action by U.S. lawmakers and warned Ankara would consider cutting off access to Incirlik and Kurecik if economic penalties were imposed.
Tensions between the U.S. and Turkey have been fraught in recent years. Turkey has already been removed from the Pentagon’s F-35 program amid concerns that its operation of Russian air defenses could compromise the fifth-generation aircraft’s stealth technology. Turkey had planned to buy more than 100 F-35s
Incirlik, a strategic base that dates to the early days of the Cold War, has played a role in U.S. operations against the Islamic State group.
While U.S. lawmakers in Congress have been critical of Erdogan and are calling for sanctions against the country, President Donald Trump has given no indication that he intends to move forward with penalties.
Earlier this month, Trump praised Erdogan and said Turkey was doing a good job in its military operation in northern Syria, putting the U.S. president at odds with Pentagon leaders who have been critical of the Turkish incursion.