- By Dan De LuceDan De Luce is Foreign Policy’s chief national security correspondent. He joined FP in June 2015 after working as Pentagon correspondent for Agence France-Presse. Prior to that, Dan reported for the Guardian from Iran until he was expelled by the regime in 2004. After the end of communist rule in Eastern Europe, Dan worked as a freelance journalist in Prague. He later covered the war in former Yugoslavia for Reuters from 1993 to 1995 before serving as Sarajevo bureau chief after the conflict. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Dan lives in Washington with his wife, journalist and author Caitriona Palmer, and his four children.
An obscure website published a vague report Thursday making the dramatic claim that relations between Washington and Ankara had deteriorated so badly that the United States had begun moving nuclear weapons from Turkey to Romania.
The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be any basis at all for the report, which alleged B61 nuclear weapons were on their way to Romania’s Deveselu base. Romania’s defense ministry promptly denied it and experts dismissed the idea as illogical for technical and other reasons.
But that didn’t stop some of Russia’s rabidly anti-American news outlets, including Sputnik and Pravda, from picking up the story and running with it.
“Where do U.S. nuclear weapons travel from Turkey?” read a piece in Pravda posted Friday, speculating wildly about how the whole alleged transfer would work.
Although the Obama administration declined to comment, officials privately scoffed at the report when asked by FP.
The article that set off the chatter came from EurActiv, and did not impress nuclear weapons expert Jeffrey Lewis, the director of non-proliferation studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey.
For starters, Lewis tweeted, Romania does not have the special WS3 vaults needed to store the weapons safely. And, he noted, the article lacked evidence or quotes to back it up.
“They consulted one person, a generalist who said it was bunk, and Romania, which denied it. Then published anyway,” tweeted Lewis, a contributor to Foreign Policy.
Lewis added that the story cites B61 weapons but that it was written “by a guy who doesn’t know what a B61 is.”
The author, Georgi Gotev, defended his story but acknowledged in a tweet he did not know what a B61 is. (It’s a 300-pound U.S.-made tactical nuclear bomb that’s carried by fighter jets with a blast yield of up to 340 kilotons).
Romania’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that it “firmly rejects these pieces of information” and that “so far there have not been any plans or discussions (among NATO members) on this topic.”
Romania also is not part of a small number of NATO member states like Turkey that have agreed to host U.S. nuclear weapons and deploying the bomb to Romania would be deemed a provocative move by Moscow.
Although the article was widely rejected as off the mark, the failed coup last month in Turkey has set off questions about whether the United States might reconsider keeping nuclear weapons deployed at its Incirlik air base. During the attempted coup, Turkish authorities cut off electricity to the base.
And Turkey has been at odds with the Obama administration over the legal fate of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric who Ankara accuses of orchestrating the July 15 attempted coup. Turkey is demanding his extradition, but the U.S. says Ankara hasn’t provided enough evidence of his involvement.
Photo credit: Incirlik Air Base/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images