Turkey, US must focus on future in ties: PM

Turkey, US must focus on future in ties: PM

Murat Yetkin - WASHINGTON
Turkey, US must focus on future in ties: PM

Turkey and the United States must focus on the future amid an ongoing crisis in ties, Turkish Prime Mnister Binali Yıldırım has said on the eve of a crucial meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

“We will openly talk on the situation of our relations and which way should we move on,” Yıldırım told a group of Turkish journalists in Washington on Nov. 8, one day before a meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in the White House.

“Our ties are not currently perfect, but we must focus on the future,” Yıldırım said, adding that it would be wrong to expect an immediate result from the meeting.

“The purpose of this trip is to make some progress on the issues that have been problematic for both sides, in a way we can further develop our ties” the prime minister said.

“I believe that our counterparts are not also happy with the current situation. We have the will to improve the relations, and we will do everything we can for this purpose.”

Yıldırım said regional issues, such as the situations in Iraq and Syria, and Turkey’s objections to the U.S.’s ongoing partnership against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) with the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara sees as the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as well as Turkey’s extradition demand for U.S.-based preacher Fethullah Gülen, will also be on the table during the meeting.

“There is no doubt that FETÖ [the Gülen network] is behind the failed coup attempt. We expect the U.S. to take legal steps against Gülen,” the prime minister said.

Yıldırım arrived in Washington on Nov. 7 along with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, with the visit being held under extraordinary security precautions.

“The incidents during our president’s trip in May may be the reason behind the tight measures,” Yıldırım said, adding that the Turkish side did not apply for increased security.

Arrest warrants have been issued against the bodyguards of President Tayyip Erdoğan after forcibly dispersing protesters on U.S. soil during Erdoğan’s visit to Washington in May.

Yıldırım also commented on the visa crisis, saying that the latest steps were “in the right direction.”

“I believe that we will have this problem over very soon,” he said.

His remarks came two days after U.S. diplomatic missions in Turkey announced that they have begun accepting non-immigrant visa applications on a limited basis. The measure was introduced on Oct. 8 after the arrest of Metin Topuz, a Turkish national who has long been serving at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, charged with terror offenses and alleged involvement in the July 2016 coup attempt.

Hamza Uluçay, another Turkish national working at the U.S. Adana Consulate, was also arrested earlier this year on charges of having links with the outlawed PKK.

A statement issued from the U.S. Embassy in Ankara said the limited restart of visa processes was only possible after initial high-level assurances were submitted by Ankara that there will be no more arrests or detentions of additional local staff just for doing their job. Ankara then denied giving any assurances, saying it has no power to intervene in independent judicial matters.


US says ‘limited assurance given’

During a daily briefing on Nov. 7, U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert echoed Prime Minister Yıldırım’s statement that easing visa measures was a “step in the right direction.”

“We have received limited assurances that if something should happen with our staff, if Turkey wants to detain our staff, that we will be given a heads-up. That’s among the things that we were assured. We were told that they wouldn’t arrest our people simply for doing their jobs,” Nauert said.

“We still have two locally employed staff members who have been detained. In terms of Turkey’s questioning of our previous statements, I can tell you that the safety and security of our folks is a top issue. The people who were detained, as a natural course of their business, had to engage with law enforcement and the Turkish government. That is an appropriate part of their job, part of their job description,” she added.

“We think that for Turkey to put people in jail and claim they are involved in activities when they’re simply doing their jobs is incorrect. But nevertheless they’ve taken some steps in the right direction and we’ve taken some steps in the right direction,” Nauert said.

Meanwhile, Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke on the phone late on Nov. 7. The phone conversation took place upon the request of Sessions, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Turkey’s appeals for Gülen’s extradition have been not responded to positively so far, and Gül earlier told the media that a new appeal on the basis of new evidence of Gülen’s involvement in the coup attempt would be made to U.S. institutions.

Meanwhile, Ankara has also voiced concern over cases against Turkish nationals in the U.S. There is an ongoing case against Iranian-origin Turkish citizen Reza Zarrab and a Turkish public bank official, Hakan Attila, on charges of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran, while there is also an arrest warrant against former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan in the same case.

On the U.S. side, Washington demands the release of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor who was arrested in Turkey over alleged links to the illegal network of Gülen. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has hinted on a number of occasions that Turkey could free Brunson if the U.S. States hands over Gülen.