US to resume granting visas in Turkey as rift is repaired

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Washington and Ankara have made progress towards mending a month-long rift, with the US announcing it will resume issuing visas in Turkey ahead of a visit by the country’s prime minister.

The US embassy in Ankara said it would resume “limited visa service” after receiving “high-level assurances” from the Turkish government that no investigations of US employees were pending in the country.

“We have also received initial assurances from the government of Turkey that local staff of our embassy and consulates will not be detained or arrested for performing their official duties,” the US Department of State added. It noted it had been assured that “Turkish authorities will inform the US government in advance if the government of Turkey intends to detain or arrest a member of our local staff in the future”.

The embassy had decided to suspend most visa applications in the country last month in response to the detention by Turkish authorities of one local staffer and a summons to a second for questioning. A third staffer had been arrested a year ago, while at least a dozen US citizens, some dual nationals, have been held in Turkish prisons for months.

In retaliation, Turkey imposed similar restrictions on visa applications within the US.

The breakthrough came on the eve of Binali Yildirim’s five-day trip to the US, which was announced last week and is scheduled to start on Tuesday.

“With Prime Minister Yildirim’s visit to the US we are likely to see some easing and improvement in the relationship with the US — already seen with a limited lifting in US visa restrictions,” Timothy Ash, a sovereign strategist at Bluebay Asset Management, said in a note to his clients. “But unless there is a sea change in the tone of the relationship — unlikely — the core problems remain and are not being adequately addressed.”

The impasse over visas has contributed to weakness in the Turkish lira, as investors fret about strained relations with Washington.

The embassy said on Twitter that “we continue to have serious concerns about the existing cases against arrested local employees of our mission in Turkey,” which the Turkish authorities link to probes into a failed coup attempt last year.

The spat over visas was also part of a broader deterioration in ties between the two Nato allies, which have plummeted to their lowest point in recent years.

Flashpoints include tensions over Washington’s backing for a Kurdish militia in Syria that Ankara sees as its enemy, and broader concerns about what some US officials and analysts see as the increasing anti-western stance of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, who has accused the US of supporting terrorist acts against his country.

Mr Erdogan seeks the extradition from the US of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric he blames for last year’s coup attempt.

In turn, the Trump administration is concerned about the detention of Andrew Brunson, an evangelical pastor the Turkish authorities have held in connection with the coup attempt — despite Mr Brunson’s insistence he was not involved in any way.

Mike Pence, the US vice-president who is set to meet Mr Yildirim this week, has made clear he is particularly focused on the pastor’s plight.

In comments that appear to show that Turkey is interested in extracting concessions from Washington in return Mr Brunson’s release, Mr Erdogan has suggested that the US agree to exchange Mr Gulen for the detained pastor.

Relations have also been tested by the arrest of a Turkish-Iranian gold trader in Miami and of a deputy chief executive of a large Turkish state-owned bank in Manhattan, as well as charges filed against a former Turkish minister of economy. They are all part of a case involving alleged violations of sanctions against Iran by Turkish-based people or institutions.



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