Turkey has urged the United States to review its suspension of visa services after the arrest of a US consulate employee sharply escalated tensions between the two NATO allies.
- Turkey says the tensions are “unnecessary” and “upsetting”
- The US is still trying to obtain evidence as to why their Turkish employee was detained
- Ankara says “trying a Turkish citizen in Turkey” is their right
Relations between Ankara and Washington have been plagued by disputes over US support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, Turkey’s calls for the extradition of a US-based cleric, and the indictment of a Turkish former minister in a US court.
But last week’s arrest of a Turkish employee of the US consulate in Istanbul marked a fresh low.
The US embassy in Ankara condemned Ankara’s charges as baseless and announced on Monday that it was halting all non-immigrant visa services in Turkey while it reassessed Turkey’s commitment to the security of its missions and staff.
Within hours, Ankara announced it was taking the same measures against US citizens seeking visas for Turkey.
The US ambassador said the duration of the visa services’ suspension would depend on talks between the two governments about the reasons for the detention of local staff in Turkey.
In a written statement, US ambassador John Bass said the length of the suspension would also depend on “the Turkish Government’s commitment to protecting our facilities and personnel here in Turkey”.
He noted that the move was not a visa ban on Turkish citizens, that valid visas could still be used, and visa applications could be made outside of Turkey.
‘Trying a Turkish citizen in Turkey is our right’
The US embassy has been unable to establish the reason behind the arrest of its Turkish staff member last week or what evidence exists against the employee, Mr Bass said, adding that he has not been allowed sufficient access to the employee’s lawyer.
However, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said that if Washington had serious security concerns about its missions in Turkey, steps would be taken to address them.
“If it’s an issue regarding the arrest of the consulate employee, then this is a decision the Turkish judiciary has made,” Mr Gul told reporters.
“Trying a Turkish citizen for a crime committed in Turkey is our right.”
Overnight, the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned a US diplomat to urge the US to lift the visa services suspension, saying it was causing “unnecessary tensions”, as President Tayyip Erdogan also criticised the US move in a press conference..
“For the [US] embassy in Ankara to take such a decision and implement it, it is upsetting,” Mr Erdogan said.
‘This harshness is a result of a build-up’: analyst
US-Turkish tensions have risen in recent months over US military support for Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria, considered by Ankara to be an extension of the banned PKK which has waged an insurgency for three decades in south-east Turkey.
Turkey has also pressed, so far in vain, for the United States to extradite Mr Gulen, viewed in Ankara as the mastermind behind the failed coup in which more than 240 people were killed.
Friction with the US has also arisen from the indictment last month by a US court of Turkey’s former economy minister Zafer Caglayan on charges of conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran.
Sinan Ulgen, an analyst and former Turkish diplomat, said those underlying disputes had created a crisis of confidence, which made this latest fall-out particularly bitter.
“This harshness is a result of a build-up,” he said.
“We should not consider this as solely a reaction to the detentions of consulate employees”.