Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to close down two U.S. military bases in Turkey if sanctions against the country are approved by President Donald Trump. One of the U.S. bases, known as Incirlik, is believed to house roughly 50 nuclear bombs.
“If necessary we’ll close Incirlik and also Kurecik,” Erdogan said during a TV interview on Sunday, according to an English translation by DW. “If the threat of sanctions is implemented against us, we’ll respond to them in the framework of reciprocity.”
Erdogan also said he may push for a new resolution in Turkey acknowledging genocide against Indigenous people in the United States during previous centuries. The act would be retaliation against a U.S. Senate resolution that passed on Thursday recognizing the Armenian Genocide of the 1910s and 20s. Turkey denies perpetrating the Armenian Genocide, which killed roughly 1.5 million people.
The existence of U.S. nuclear bombs in Turkey has never been officially acknowledged by the Pentagon, but it’s widely accepted that there are 50 B-61 gravity nuclear bombs at Incirlik Air Base. The B-61 is a relatively low-yield bomb that’s considered a tactical weapon and delivered by aircraft rather than through a missile launch. The U.S. military theoretically has sole control of the bombs, but no security system is foolproof, especially on foreign soil, which is why there’s renewed focus on U.S. nuclear weapons housed in Turkey right now.
The potential U.S. sanctions against Turkey are primarily retaliation for the country’s purchase of a Russian S-400 missile system rather than an American weapons system. As a NATO ally, it was expected that Turkey would not purchase a system from Russia, the primary geopolitical foe of the NATO alliance, and many traditional conservatives in the U.S. are not happy.
The sanctions against Turkey were passed by a U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday but haven’t been taken up by the entire Senate and it’s still unclear if President Trump would sign the bill if it reached his desk. The sanctions bill, officially called the “Promoting American National Security and Preventing the Resurgence of ISIS Act of 2019,” is opposed by some Trump loyalists like Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.
Back in October, the New York Times reported that storage of the nuclear bombs in Turkey was already under review by the Pentagon, but it’s not clear whether the bombs have been moved yet to another location. U.S.-Turkey relations have been on the rocks recently ever since the U.S. president sent conflicting messages to President Erdogan over the authoritarian leader’s incursion into Syria to wipe out the Kurds.
President Trump seemed to give a green light for the ethnic cleansing in Northern Syria, but also hedged publicly by saying that the Kurds would get protection if they just moved to an area with oil. President Trump repeatedly said that the U.S. would be keeping the oil that it controlled in Syria’s north, a blatant war crime under international law.
Nuclear weapons aside the Incirlik Air Base has served other strategic purposes for the U.S. military. The base is roughly 100 miles from the Syrian border and has been an important launching point for drone missions against ISIS since at least 2011. Kurecik Radar Station, in eastern Turkey, is considered an important early-warning station for NATO forces that was first opened in 2012.
But President Trump was already harming America’s military interests in the region long before Erdogan made his most recent threats to close the two U.S. bases. Trump diverted military funds from dozens of projects around the world in an effort to fund his U.S.-Mexico border wall, with one of the projects being $14.5 million that was supposed to be allocated to Kurecik specifically.
President Trump’s ties to Turkey make him tremendously susceptible to pressure from Ankara, especially since the president has a financial stake in the region, something that mainstream news outlets in the U.S. have rarely pointed out.
As just one example, President Trump can be seen on video from April 2012 opening up Trump Towers in Istanbul, Turkey.
“You can go to the United States, and so many people hear about the United States, and all the great things... we have nothing as beautiful as this. This is as good as it gets,” Trump told the crowd in Turkey.
“I also want to thank the Prime Minister because I know he was here yesterday for the ribbon cutting [...] The Prime Minister is very highly respected throughout the world and in the United States. He’s a good man and he’s representing you very well,” Trump said, referring to Erdogan, who was at the time Prime Minister.
Needless to say, it seems highly unlikely that Trump would allow a bill sanctioning Turkey to get beyond his desk without a veto, given his personal business interests. But who knows? Trump could grow up and do something in America’s interest for once. Stranger things have happened.
On second thought, Ivanka Trump (who currently works in the White House for some reason) probably gave us a clue back in 2012 that other priorities will win out. As Ivanka said at the time, “we look forward to this being the first of many projects we do here in Turkey.”
So much for that idea.