JERUSALEM, Israel - US officials from the State and Energy departments met over the weekend to discuss the possibility of removing 50 nuclear bombs that the US is housing at Turkey's Incirlik Air Base, the New York Times reported Monday.
While the Pentagon does not openly discuss where its nuclear weapons are located, the US is widely believed to be housing about 50 B61 gravity bombs in Turkey. The US is storing the weapons in Turkey as part of NATO's nuclear deterrence policy.
Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek did not confirm or deny the report, but told the Air Force Times there "have been no daily operations changes at the base."
A senior official reportedly told the Times that the weapons "were now essentially [Turkish President Recep] Erdogan's hostages" because removing them would mark the end of America's alliance with Turkey, but keeping the weapons there would leave them vulnerable.
The meetings come amid increased tensions between the NATO allies. US President Donald Trump announced on Monday heavy new sanctions against Turkey until President Recep Tayyip Erdogan immediately stops his deadly incursion into northeast Syria that has already displaced more than 100,000 people.
Despite the United States' threats, Erdogan remains defiant and vows to complete the operation. The leader wrote in the Wall Street Journal on Monday that he will "remove all terrorist elements in northeastern Syria" and relocate millions of Syrian refugees there. The "terrorists" Erdogan referred to are the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces or SDF, a US ally that led the fight on the ground against ISIS. Erdogan says these forces which include Kurds, Arabs, Christians and other ethnic groups are terrorists since the main Kurdish group among the SDF – the YPG - is linked to a violent Kurdish separatist group in Turkey. However, the Syrian Kurds have never launched a terror attack on Turkish soil and retired General John Allen, who worked with the SDF says the YPG is not a terrorist group.
Ankara launched the operation after Trump said the US would stand by and abandon its Kurdish-led allies.
Last month, Erdogan also expressed his frustration that Turkey does not have nuclear weapons.
"Some countries have missiles with nuclear warheads, not one or two. But (they tell us) we can't have them. This, I cannot accept," the Reuters news agency quoted him as telling his ruling AK Party members.
Suspecting that Israel has nuclear weapons, Erdogan said Turkey should be allowed to have nuclear bombs if the Jewish state also has them.
"We have Israel nearby, as almost neighbors. They scare (other nations) by possessing these. No one can touch them."
Only the US, Russia, the UK, France and China can have nuclear weapons according to international treaties.