Ankara has cautioned Washington that unless the United States alters its perceived attitude toward Turkey, reciprocal consequences will become inevitable.
The warning comes ahead of anticipated sanctions the Trump Administration is likely to slap on the regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for obstinately making additional purchases of Russian weapons, including the advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile system over objections from the White House.
A further strain in bilateral relations erupted after last week’s vote by the U.S. Senate to recognize the 1915 mass killings of Armenian Christians as genocide.
In an interview with a Turkish English language broadcaster A-News, Turkey’s leader threatened to close its Incirlik air base, which used extensively by the U.S.-led coalition for aerial operations against the Islamic State and thought to serve as a base for American nuclear warheads. “We will close down Incirlik (air base) if necessary,” declared Erdogan, adding “We will close down Kurecik (radar base) as well, if necessary. If the sanctions are implemented, we will give them the necessary answer within the rule of reciprocity.”
U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper indicated surprise over the developments after being asked to respond by a reporter aboard a military flight. “It’s not been brought up to me before. It’s…the first I heard of it, was reading in the papers, as you just mentioned,” said Esper, continuing, “So, I need to talk to my defense counterpart and understand what they really mean and how serious they are.”
When queried whether Washington thinks it is time to remove its nuclear weapons out of Turkey’s Incirlik base, America’s top defense official said “I make no comments with regard to where the United States may have weapons.” He then reiterated, “So like I said, it’s…I think the issue here is once again, what is Turkey‘s direction with regards to the NATO alliance and the actions are taking on any number of issues that I’ve mentioned in the past – whether it’s the S-400, whether it’s the holding up of NATO plans for the defense of Europe or other things.”