Congress has tucked a provision into a bill to sanction Turkey for its two-week incursion into northern Syria that would study the possibility of removing US nuclear weapons and troops from Incirlik Air Base.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland’s bill to put forward stringent sanctions on Turkey calls on the Donald Trump administration to deliver an interagency report to Congress “assessing viable alternative military installations or other locations to host personnel and assets of the United States Armed Forces currently stationed at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey” within 30 days of enacting sanctions.
Introduced last week, the bill goes beyond Treasury Department sanctions on assets and travel against top Turkish officials suspended during a US-negotiated five-day cease-fire that expires Tuesday, slashing all American military sales and aid to Ankara.
The US government does not publicly acknowledge the presence of nuclear weapons staged overseas, including some 50 B-61 gravity bombs stored at the base in southern Turkey. Last week, The New York Times reported that the State and Energy departments were reviewing plans for the tactical nuclear weapons based at Incirlik after cross-border Turkish artillery fire put US troops in harms’ way in Syria.
But while Trump appeared to concede that the United States was “confident” about the security of the weapons at a press conference with the president of Italy earlier this week, experts say the security of the weapons has become an increasing challenge — even before a 2016 coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shook the country.
“It has been an issue for many years, even before the failed coup that seized the base where the nukes are stored,” said Stephen Young, a senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington. Young added, “Given Trump’s threats against Turkey, it makes a great deal of sense to withdraw them soon.”