Fikri Isik. Picture: REUTERS
Fikri Isik. Picture: REUTERS

Ankara — Turkey said on Thursday that it had the right to close a key air base used by the US-led coalition to strike jihadists in Syria, as tension mounts between Ankara and Washington.

Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Ankara could close Incirlik air base in Adana province, southern Turkey, as part of its sovereign right.

"We always have in our hands the right to say ‘we will close it’ but as I said, the conditions will be assessed," Kalin told 24 TV channel.

But he added that Turkish authorities were not conducting any urgent assessments to decide whether to close the base to coalition planes.

Turkey is part of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State group in Syria and allows western war planes to use Incirlik as a base for air raids.

Turkey and the US are also allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, or Nato.

Kalin’s comments came after Turkish ministers hit back at the US over what they perceive as a lack of support for its own intervention in northern Syria and questioned Washington’s presence at the base.

Relations between Washington and Ankara have soured over the six-year conflict as the US sees Syrian Kurdish militias as an effective ground force against Islamic State. Ankara views them as linked to Kurdish separatist rebels waging an insurgency in Turkey.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that Ankara had seen no support from the US as it sought to take the Syrian town of al-Bab from Islamic State in a battle that has seen fierce fighting. "Our people ask, ‘why are you letting them [the US-led coalition] be based at Incirlik?’" he was quoted by NTV broadcaster as saying.

The base, which houses dozens of US tactical nuclear weapons, was a key flash point in the failed July 15 coup. Several former personnel — all Turks — have since been detained.

Defence Minister Fikri Isik said on Wednesday that Turkey was "questioning" the US presence at Incirlik.

But Washington sought to mollify Ankara, describing the base as "invaluable" for the fight against Islamic State.

"The whole world has been made safer because of operations that have been conducted" from Incirlik, said Col John Dorrian, a top US military official.

Just days before US President Barack Obama leaves office after eight years — during which time relations with Turkey have become frosty — Kalin appeared to suggest that president-elect Donald Trump’s administration would prove better for Turkish-US relations.

Referring to Incirlik, Kalin said: "I have the impression that a Trump administration will take Turkey’s sensitivities on this issue more into account."


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