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US, Turkey scale back visa services in spat over US-based cleric

The spat between the two Nato allies escalated after the arrest of an American consulate employee in Istanbul last week by Turkish authorities.

world Updated: Oct 09, 2017 22:06 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Fethullah Gulen,US Turkey visa,Andrew Brunson
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) listens to US President Donald Trump during a dinner at UN headquarters on September 19.(AP File)

In an escalating diplomatic row, the United States and Turkey have scaled back visa services in almost identical announcements issued just hours apart citing the need to review security concerns.

“Recent events have forced the United States government to reassess the commitment of government of Turkey to the security of US mission and personnel,” the US mission in Ankara said in a statement.

“In order to minimize the number of visitors to our embassy and consulates while this assessment proceeds, effective immediately we have suspended all non-immigrant visa services at all US diplomatic facilities in Turkey.”

The Turkish government followed up with an announcement of their own in Washington DC, mirroring the American statement: “Recent events have forced Turkish government to reassess the commitment of the government of the United States to the security of Turkish Mission facilities and personnel.”

The spat between the two Nato allies escalated after the arrest of an American consulate employee in Istanbul last week by Turkish authorities who have since charged him with alleged links to a Pennsylvania-based Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara blames for the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016. Gulen has denied any involvement.

The Turkish government has also been holding a dozen Americans in custody, alleging they participated in the coup. They include Andrew Brunson, an American pastor. The New York Times reported last week that Erdogan has offered to release the pastor in exchange for Gulen.

“They say, ‘Give us this certain pastor’,” he was quoted as saying, recounting an exchange with American officials. “You have another pastor in your hands; give him to us.”

Turkey has ignored personal appeals for their release from President Donald Trump, who received Erdogan during a visit marred by violence started by his security personnel, and Vice President Mike Pence and a letter signed by members of congress.

In a travel advisory issued in September, the US state department said that in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt, “Turkish authorities have detained US citizens without granting access to lawyers or family members… Delays or denial of consular access to US citizens detained or arrested by security forces have become more common, and US mission Turkey does not have consular access to arrested US citizens who also possess Turkish citizenship.”

US-Turkey relations have also been tense over America’s support for YPG, the Kurdish group in Syria viewed by Ankara to be an extension of the banned PKK, which has been fighting for equal rights and autonomy for Kurds within Turkey.

First Published: Oct 09, 2017 22:00 IST