THE US Department of Defence on Thursday declined to comment on media reports that Washington was preparing to relocate over 20 nuclear warheads nukes from Turkey’s Incirlik airbase to Romania.
“It is US policy to neither confirm nor deny the presence or absence of nuclear weapons at any general or specific location,” Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump told news outlet Sputnik.
Earlier in the day, the Brussels-based EurActiv online news outlet cited sources as saying that the United States is readying to move the nukes from Turkey to Romania.
EurActiv said the devices would be relocated to Deveselu air base, near the city of Caracal, the new home of the US missile shield – a move which it said had infuriated Russia.
Also on Thursday, Romania’s foreign ministry likewise denied US nuclear weapons being transferred from Turkey to its territory.
Responding to EurActiv, a Romanian foreign ministry spokesperson stated that it “firmly dismisses the information you referred to.”
It has been the policy dating from the Cold War not to confirm leaked information regarding the presence of US nuclear weapons on European soil. It is, however, public knowledge that Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy host US nuclear weapons.
But according to two sources cited by EurActiv.com, the process of moving the nukes to Romania was already underway.
One of the sources said the transfer “has been very challenging in technical and political terms.”
“It’s not easy to move 20 plus nukes,” the source said, on condition of anonymity.
Earlier this week, the Stimson Center think tank warned that the United States was running the risk of losing control over tactical nuclear weapons deployed at Turkey’s Incirlik airbase to terrorists. The think tank stressed that a protracted civil conflict in Turkey would make the fate of the weapons uncertain, alluding to the attempted coup.
According to the Stimson Center, since the Cold War some 50 US tactical nuclear weapons have been stationed at Turkey’s Incirlik air base, approximately 100 kilometres from the Syrian border.
During the failed coup in Turkey in July, Incirlik’s power was cut, and the Turkish government prohibited US aircraft from flying in or out.
Former base commander Gen. Bekir Ercan Van was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the plot.
Another source told EurActiv.com that US-Turkey relations had deteriorated so much following the coup that Washington “no longer trusted Ankara to host the weapons.”
Romania was an ally of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but it never hosted nuclear weapons during that period.
EurActiv said that after enquiries it made to NATO, it received a “diplomatically worded comment which implies that allies must make sure that US nuclear weapons deployed in Europe remain ‘safe’.”
“On your question, please check the Communiqué of the NATO Warsaw Summit (published on 9 July 2016), paragraph 53: “NATO’s nuclear deterrence posture also relies, in part, on United States’ nuclear weapons forward-deployed in Europe and on capabilities and infrastructure provided by Allies concerned.
“These Allies will ensure that all components of NATO’s nuclear deterrent remain safe, secure, and effective,” a NATO spokesperson wrote back to EurActiv.
On Wednesday, the civilian head of the US Air Forces said Washington saw no need to move the nukes stored at Incirlik.
“We do have nuclear weapons and those nuclear weapons are safe and secure, and we are very confident in that,” US Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said, answering questions at the Foreign Press Club in New York City, according to Sputnik.
“Of course, it’s concerning because with so many members of the [Turkish] leadership gone, it’s going to take them time to grow new leaders and replace, so it remains to be seen what happens next,” she added.
“Incirlik is a key location, Turkey overall is a very important ally.”
After the failed putsch in Turkey, relations between Washington and Ankara are at their worst since Turkey joined NATO in 1952.
Ankara believes the US government is providing support to the Turkish US-exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom it accuses of having masterminded the failed coup.
Turkey is demanding Gülen’s extradition, and the issue is expected to take centre stage when US Vice President Joe Biden visits Turkey on August 24.
Gülen, 77, is currently residing in Pennsylvania.
He has denied any connection to the coup.
According to former FBI contractor-turned whistleblower and analyst Sibel Edmonds, in 1997 Gulen was run out of Turkey for allegations of conspiring to overthrow the secular government.
In that year, he was flown into the United States in a gulf stream private jet. He now oversees a vast organisation that has over $20bn at its disposal for setting up Islamic schools in over 100 countries.
Gulen did not waltz into the United States and gained immediate residency. Instead, he fought a protracted legal battle that included reference letters from well-connected political figures, including Graham E. Fuller, formerly vice-chair of the National Intelligence Council and former Station Chief i Kabul for the CIA.