Germany calls for NATO to discuss Turkey’s excursion into Syria
BERLIN - Germany on Thursday voiced "great concern" about Turkey's cross-border offensive against a Kurdish militia in northern Syria and called for NATO to discuss the operation.
Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Berlin had put a temporary halt on arms deals with Turkey and that he had "asked the Secretary General of NATO (Jens Stoltenberg) to also discuss within NATO the situation in Syria and in the country's north".
"We are committed, together with France, to stopping a further escalation, to allowing humanitarian access and protecting the civilian population. That has top priority," Gabriel said in a statement.
While Berlin and Paris agreed that "Turkey's security interests should be taken into account", he said that efforts to bring peace and stability to Syria "must not be stopped by further military confrontation".
He also said Berlin would freeze for now approvals for defence deals with Turkey -- including the upgrade of German-made tanks used in Ankara's offensive in Syria against the Syrian-Kurdish militia YPG.
Gabriel said Chancellor Angela Merkel and he had agreed that they would postpone any decisions until after their parties launch a new coalition government, which is unlikely to be before late March.
The German government has come under domestic pressure after battlefield images showed Turkey deploying German-made Leopard 2 tanks in its offensive in northern Syria.
Berlin-Ankara ties have only recently started to recover from a deep crisis after Germany criticised the human rights situation in Turkey, particularly amid a mass wave of arrests following a 2016 failed coup.
Germany has been particularly angered by Turkey's arrest of several of its citizens, including dual-nationality Die Welt daily journalist Deniz Yucel, who has been held for 11 months.
News weekly Der Spiegel reported that Turkey wanted Berlin to allow German arms maker Rheinmetall to overhaul its fleet of Leopard 2 battle tanks with better armour and defence systems, after several were destroyed by Islamic State group jihadists in 2016.
Germany had hoped that this would aid efforts to free Yucel, wrote Der Spiegel, although the government has denied any link.
Industrial powerhouse Germany is a major global weapons exporter, a sensitive issue for many voters who believe that profiting from military conflicts is unethical.
The far-left Die Linke and Greens opposition parties have demanded a halt to all military cooperation with Turkey.
Gabriel said that, "concerning the current discussions about defence exports, the government is clear about the fact that we must not and will not export into conflict zones".
He said weapons exports would be discussed in coming weeks in talks between his Social Democrats and Merkel's conservatives on whether to renew their current right-left "grand coalition".
"That is why we as the caretaker government agree that we will ... postpone any consultations on critical projects until the formation of a new government," Gabriel said in a statement.
Yucel himself said in a written interview with German news agency DPA from his Turkish jail cell this month that he was "not available for any dirty deals" to win his freedom.