U.S. Signals Turkey Crisis Could Drag on Over Detained Employee


The U.S. blamed Turkey for instigating the latest crisis between the two countries and said a resolution will depend on how quickly officials explain why two Turkish employees at American outposts in the country were detained this year.

Photographer: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

While the White House and State Department stayed silent, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass issued a video statement on YouTube saying he hasn’t been told why a Turkish employee working for the U.S. was arrested last week, the second such arrest this year. The embassy stopped issuing non-immigrant visas in Turkey, a NATO ally and key trading partner, in a move that roiled markets and prompted a retaliatory response by Turkish authorities.

“This was not a decision we took lightly and it’s a decision we took with great sadness,” Bass, a career diplomat, said in his 4 1/2-minute video. “We hope it will not last long, but at this time we can’t predict how long it will take to resolve this matter.”

Bass’s unusual statement — and the lack of comment from Washington — was the latest unexpected twist in a relationship that seemed poised for an upgrade when Trump took office in January, after deteriorating ties during the Obama administration. As recently as last month at the United Nations, Trump said Erdogan was “becoming a friend of mine” and that “frankly, he’s getting high marks.”

Read More: A QuickTake Q&A on Why the U.S. and Turkey Are in a Standoff

Below the surface, however, ties remain frayed following a failed coup against Erdogan in July 2016. The Turkish government blames the attempted putsch on Fethullah Gulen, an exiled cleric and former Erdogan ally living in Pennsylvania who the U.S. has refused to extradite, citing a lack of evidence.

Other Feuds

The two countries have also feuded over U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, which Ankara says are aligned with domestic terrorists, and American charges that a former Turkish economy minister and a state bank conspired to help Iran launder hundreds of millions of dollars through the U.S. financial system.

Ambassador Bass said the employee arrested last week works in an office “devoted to strengthening law enforcement cooperation with Turkish authorities and ensuring the security of Americans and Turkish citizens.” He blamed Turkish officials he didn’t name for leaking information about allegations against the employee to local media without providing that same information or any evidence to the employee’s lawyer or U.S. authorities.

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