U.S. restarts visa issuing in Turkey in first step to ease crisis

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ANKARA (Reuters) – The United States has partially resumed issuing visas in Turkey after getting assurances about the safety of staff at its missions there, the U.S. embassy said on Monday, in the first step to ease a diplomatic crisis between the two allies.

A woman waits in front of the visa application office entrance of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

The Turkish embassy in Washington said almost immediately it would match the move, announced on the eve of a visit to the United States by Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.

But the U.S. embassy said it remained deeply concerned over the detention of two of its locally employed staff at diplomatic missions in Turkey, and the fate of U.S. citizens arrested under a state of emergency in force since a failed coup last year.

The arrest of a veteran employee at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul a month ago led the United States to suspend all non-immigrant visa services while it assessed the security of its staff in Turkey.

Within hours of the U.S. announcement on Oct. 8, Turkey said it was implementing reciprocal measures and President Tayyip Erdogan later angrily accused Washington of sacrificing a longstanding alliance with Ankara.

“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,” the embassy said in a statement.

“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.”

Based on those assurances, the embassy said it judged that the security situation had “improved sufficiently to allow for the resumption of limited visa services in Turkey”.

News of the partial resumption, reported by Reuters earlier, had helped the lira TRYTOM=D3 strengthen to 3.8356 to the dollar from 3.8708 beforehand.

“The decision came right before PM Yildirim’s visit to the U.S., showing that Turkey-U.S. agreed on a mutual solution regarding the visa service crisis,” Ozgur Altug, chief economist at brokerage BGC Partners, said in a note.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Consulate is pictured in Istanbul, Turkey, October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo

The gains in the lira, which was also boosted by central bank measures on dollar liquidity earlier on Monday, helped push Istanbul’s main BIST stock index .XU100 up 2.58 percent on Monday to close at a record high of 114.165,67 points.

“SERIOUS CONCERNS”

In May, a translator at the U.S. consulate in the southern province of Adana was arrested and, more recently, a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) worker was detained in Istanbul. Both are accused of links to last year’ failed coup. The U.S. Embassy has said the accusations are baseless.

General view of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, December 20, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Turkish officials have said police want to question a third worker based in Istanbul. His wife and daughter were detained over alleged links to the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Ankara for orchestrating the abortive putsch. They were later released.

“We continue to have serious concerns about the existing cases against arrested local employees of our mission in Turkey,” the embassy said. “We are also concerned about the cases against U.S. citizens who have been arrested under the state of emergency.”

Those citizens include Andrew Brunson, a U.S. pastor arrested in Turkey last year. Erdogan has said Brunson is “clearly linked” to Gulen, but the outgoing U.S. ambassador said last month he saw no merit in the charges against Brunson.

Turkey has been angered by what it sees as U.S. reluctance to hand over Gulen, who has lived in Pennsylvania since 1999. U.S. officials have said courts require sufficient evidence to order his extradition.

Gulen denies any involvement in the failed coup.

Erdogan has also lashed out at the United States after prosecutors there charged a former Turkish economy minister and the ex-head of a state-owned bank with conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions on Iran by illegally moving hundreds of millions of dollars through the U.S. financial system on Tehran’s behalf.

The charges stem from an ongoing case against Reza Zarrab, a wealthy Turkish-Iranian gold trader who was arrested in the United States over sanctions evasion last year. Zarrab, who is due to go on trial this month, has pleaded not guilty. Erdogan has said U.S. prosecutors have “ulterior motives” in that case, by including references to him and his wife in court papers.

Additional reporting by Ercan Gurses and Tulay Karadeniz; Editing by David Dolan, Dominic Evans and William Maclean

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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