‘Progress’ between US and Turkey on visa crisis: State Dept
The United States and Turkey made “substantial progress” during talks to resolve an ongoing visa row, but Washington continues to protest over the arrests of Turkish employees from its diplomatic missions, the State Department said on Oct. 19.
An American delegation that traveled to Turkey and was led by senior State Department official Jonathan Cohen “made substantial progress,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters in Washington.
Nauert added that the United States “will remain engaged” in order to “address the relevant issues with a view to restore a normal visa procedures swiftly.” Already-strained relations between the NATO allies deteriorated further early this month after a court formally charged an Istanbul mission staffer with espionage and seeking to overthrow the Turkish government.
In reaction to the employee’s arrest, the U.S. ambassador on Oct. 8 announced the suspension of all visa services in Turkey, except immigrant visas. Ankara responded with similar measures.
According to Washington, two of its Turkish diplomatic mission staff were arrested this year, while a third was summoned by prosecutors.
“The government of Turkey has still not provided us the evidence,” Nauert said on Oct. 19, referring to the accusations of “terrorist-tied activity” against the employees.
“If they have evidence, by all means do provide it,” she added.
The row was sparked on Oct. 8, when the U.S. Embassy in Ankara announced the suspension of non-immigrant visa services for Turkish nationals, following the arrest of a local employee at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, prompting a tit-for-tat response from Ankara.
U.S. consulate employee Metin Topuz was arrested over alleged ties to the Gülen network, widely believed to have been behind last year’s failed coup attempt.
Despite statements from the State Department that the decision was taken in coordination with Washington, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said once again that outgoing U.S. Ambassador John Bass was to blame for the visa row.
“Who said this? The ambassador in Ankara. Who is this ambassador?” he said at the closing session of the TRT World Forum in Istanbul.
“If he [the ambassador] can just say ‘we have suspended visas’ in one paragraph on behalf of the great U.S., then I will have to reconsider the strategic partnership,” Erdoğan said.
He also noted that U.S.-based Fethullah Gülen, an ally turned nemesis of the government, “controls its network in 170 countries from 400,000 square meters of land in Pennsylvania.”
“Of course, this man is just symbolic. The main administrators [of the network] are other people ... He has neither the talent to administer such a network nor the power,” he said.
On the question of the arrest of Topuz, Erdoğan said Turkey “will do whatever is necessary as a democratic state under the rule of law.”