Even if only ‘limited,’ US visa step is positive: Turkish PM

Even if only ‘limited,’ US visa step is positive: Turkish PM

Sevil Erkuş - ANKARA
Even if only ‘limited,’ US visa step is positive: Turkish PM

Mutual steps taken by Ankara and Washington for accepting visa applications on a “limited basis” are “positive,” Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said on Nov. 7 before departing for an official trip to the U.S.

“The launch of visa services between the U.S. and Turkey, which were suspended some time ago, ahead of my visit can be considered a positive development,” Yıldırım told reporters at the airport.

Referring to the arrest and trial of a number of Turkish citizens in the U.S. and U.S. citizens in Turkey, Yıldırım stressed that neither Ankara nor Washington can give “assurances” for ongoing judicial cases “because both countries are states of law.”

“Any negotiations for asking or giving assurances would not conform to the principles of a state of law,” he said.

Turkey’s request for the arrest and extradition of Fethullah Gülen, a self-exiled Islamic preacher based in Pennsylvania, will be on Yıldırım’s agenda in Washington, where he will meet U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

“We have strong findings and evidence that Gülen was behind the coup,” Yıldırım said referring to Turkey’s July 2016 coup attempt.

He also noted that developments in Iraq and Syria will also be addressed.

“We aim to deal with issues regarding the struggle against the [Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units] YPG and [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] ISIL, in accordance with the laws of two allies,” Yıldırım said.

The Turkish Embassy in Washington announced on Nov. 7 that Turkish missions in the U.S. have begun accepting visa applications again from American citizens but on a limited basis, in a move mirroring a U.S. decision earlier in the day.


Two ministers agreed on visa resumption

The two allies announced a resumption of mutual visa services on a limited basis after two phone conversations between Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Nov 3 and Nov 5, a Turkish official told the Hürriyet Daily News.

The step eased a nearly month-long visa logjam and bilateral row, but the content of the U.S. statement claiming “assurances” given by Turkey led to unease in Ankara.

“Turkey is resuming the process of visa applications of U.S. citizens at its diplomatic and consular missions in the U.S. on a limited bases,” read the first one-sentence statement of the Turkish Embassy in Washington.

However, it subsequently replaced the statement after the U.S. side said the Turkish government had given “assurances” that no additional local employee is under investigation and that its local staff will no longer be detained or arrested for performing their duties.

Turkish and U.S. ministers in principle agreed to the mutual announcement of the resumption of limited visa services, but the U.S. Embassy “did not release the text agreed,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

They claimed that during phone conversations, the Turkish side did not give any “assurances” for ongoing jurisdiction cases regarding arrested U.S. consular staff. The U.S. side asked for the release of Metin Topuz - a U.S. Istanbul Consulate employee detained on charges of links to Fetullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), the group believed to have been behind the July 2016 coup attempt - and also asked for the return of his phone and SIM card, the official stated.

“We have received initial high-level assurances from the Government of Turkey that there are no additional local employees of our Mission in Turkey under investigation. We have also received initial assurances from the Government of Turkey that our local staff will not be detained or arrested for performing their official duties and that Turkish authorities will inform the U.S. government in advance if the Government of Turkey intends to detain or arrest a member of our local staff in the future,” read a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Turkey on Nov. 6.

“Based on these preliminary assurances, we believe the security posture has improved sufficiently to allow for the resumption of limited visa services in Turkey. We continue to have serious concerns about the existing cases against arrested local employees of our Mission in Turkey,” it added.

“We are also concerned about the cases against U.S. citizens who have been arrested under the state of emergency. U.S. officials will continue to engage with their Turkish counterparts to seek a satisfactory resolution of these cases,” it added.

The Turkish Embassy in Washington stated that Ankara has not given any assurances regarding ongoing jurisdiction files.

“The personnel in question employed by the U.S. is the subject of a judicial process, not because of his official duties but due to very serious charges against him,” it said in a statement, referring to Topuz.

The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office alleges that Topuz was linked to 121 FETÖ suspects, including police chiefs, over an extended period of time.


No mention of providing information on current detentions

“Turkey is a state of law and our government cannot provide any assurances regarding files that are the subject of ongoing legal processes,” the Turkish Embassy’s statement read.

“In the coming period, it is the duty of the independent judiciary to initiate legal proceedings against those who overstep their consular duties and commit crimes in Turkey,” it added.

The statement added that the U.S.’s concern about the security of the employees that work at the U.S. missions “does not reflect reality,” as Turkey has taken “all necessary measures for the security of all U.S. employees.”

Although most of the demands to ease visa suspensions raised by the U.S. delegation, chaired by Assistant Secretary Jonathan Cohen, during talks with Turkish officials on Oct. 18 in Ankara have been met, one of the expectations by the U.S administration - receiving quality information on the current detentions of its diplomatic missions staff - was not mentioned in the U.S. Embassy statement.

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