Turkey-US rift heats up with visa, arrest crises

Turkey-US rift heats up with visa, arrest crises

Turkey-US rift heats up with visa, arrest crises

Tension between Ankara and Washington escalated to unprecedented levels on Oct. 9, with the arrest of U.S. Consulate staff members and a mutual suspension of visa services added to the list of ongoing disputes between the NATO allies. 

Tension between Ankara and Washington escalated to unprecedented levels on Oct. 9, with the arrest of U.S. Consulate staff members and a mutual suspension of visa services added to the list of ongoing disputes between the NATO allies. 

Last week’s arrest of a Turkish employee of the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul triggered the latest deterioration, with the US Embassy in Ankara saying on Oct. 8 that it would stop issuing visas for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work or study.

The embassy said “recent events” have forced the U.S. government to reassess Turkey’s “commitment” to the security of U.S. mission services and personnel in the country.

Later in the day, Turkey announced suspension of all non-immigrant visa services at all Turkish diplomatic facilities in the U.S., in retaliation for the US decision to suspend all non-migrant visa services at its diplomatic facilities in the country.

The Turkish Embassy in Washington issued two almost word-for-word copies of the U.S. statement in both English and Turkish.    

“Recent events have forced the Turkish Government to reassess the commitment of the Government of the United States to the security of Turkish Mission facilities and personnel. In order to minimize the number of visitors to our Embassy and Consulates while this assessment proceeds, effective immediately we have suspended all non-immigrant visa service at all Turkish diplomatic facilities in the U.S.,” a statement by the Turkish Embassy said late on Oct. 8.

“This measure will apply to visas in passports as well as e-Visas and visas acquired at the border,” it added. 

A Turkish official told the Hürriyet Daily News that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had not mentioned the visa suspension during an Oct. 7 phone conversation with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

 

Turkish MFA summons US diplomat   

Meanwhile, Ankara has reportedly been working to convince Washington to reverse its decision to halt the issuing of all regular visas at U.S. consulates in Turkey.

Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara Philip Kosnett was summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry on the morning of Oct. 9 amid the tension.

Ministry sources told the Hürriyet Daily News that during the meeting two general directors of the ministry asked the U.S. official to secure “immediate relief” to the “unjust treatment of Turkish citizens,” stressing that the decision was “disproportionate” but adding that Turkey will step back from reprisals if the U.S. lifts its decision. 

Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Ümit Yalçın spoke on the phone with U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass late on Oct. 8, following the U.S Embassy visa statement.

Sources said Ankara’s suspension of all non-immigrant visa services at Turkish diplomatic facilities in the U.S. would go into effect late on Oct. 9.

The Foreign Ministry has already removed the e-visa application section for the U.S. from its official website.

The move comes at a time when relations between the two allies are going through severe turbulence, amid the arrest of Istanbul Consulate staff member Metin Topuz late on Oct. 4 over espionage charges and alleged links with some leading members of the Gülen network, accused of being behind last year’s failed coup attempt.

According to the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, Topuz is accused of talking on the phone with Zekeriya Öz, a fugitive former prosecutor who was dismissed from his post, and four former Gülenist police officers, Yakup Saygılı, Nazmi Ardıç, Mahir Çakallı and Mehmet Akif Üner, before the December 2013 corruption probes.

Öz was a major figure in the December 2013 corruption cases, which targeted figures close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) including four ministers.

The embassy had previously slammed the arrest in a statement on Oct. 5, saying Washington “is deeply disturbed by the arrest.”

“The United States Government is deeply disturbed by the arrest of a locally-employed staff member of the U.S. Consulate General Istanbul on Oct. 4, and by leaks from Turkish government sources aimed at trying the employee in the media rather than a court of law,” read the statement.

 

Another consulate member invited to testify

Later on Oct. 9, Turkish authorities reportedly issued a detention warrant for a second U.S. consulate worker who was allegedly hiding at the consulate compound.

The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office stated on Oct. 9 that it has invited a consulate staff member at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul to testify as a suspect.     

“The man, who is a staff member at the U.S. Consulate Istanbul and does not have ‘diplomatic immunity,’ has been invited to the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office for his testimony,” the prosecutor’s office stated.It added that the suspect’s wife and child have already been detained in the Black Sea province of Amasya.

 

Minister calls for review of US decision

Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül said that if Washington had any security concerns about its missions in Turkey, steps would be taken to address them.

“I hope the U.S. will review its decision,” Gül said in a televised interview, adding that Turkey is “open to pursuing judicial cooperation” with the U.S. but stressing that the government would not intervene in judicial decisions.

The arrest of a Turkish citizen suspect over an incident that took place in Turkey is the “right” of the country, Gül also said, adding that there is no arrest procedure regarding other personnel of the U.S. consulate in Istanbul.

Turkey, United States, Consulate