Erdogan describes US visa ban as ‘upsetting’

Ankara urges Washington to end restrictions amid tensions over consular employee’s arrest

A general view of the US consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Photograph: Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of the US consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Photograph: Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images


Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has described the US’s move to cut back visa services at its mission in Turkey as “upsetting”, amid continued fallout over the arrest of an employee at the US consulate in Istanbul.

“For the [US] embassy in Ankara to take such a decision and implement it, it is upsetting,” Mr Erdogan told a news conference on Monday during a visit to Ukraine.

The comments followed reports earlier on Monday that Turkish authorities had summoned another US consulate worker to testify over his relatives’ alleged links to last year’s failed coup attempt, days after the arrest of the consulate employee.

The state-run Anadolu news agency said the man was wanted for questioning after his wife and daughter were detained in the Black Sea city of Amasya. It did not say whether he had complied with the summons.

The man’s wife and daughter were detained over alleged links to the network of US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, Anadolu said, the man who is blamed by Ankara for orchestrating the abortive putsch.

The two were later brought to Istanbul for legal procedures, it said.

“US consulate worker NMC, husband and father of the suspects in question, has no diplomatic immunity and has been called to the prosecutor’s office to testify,” Anadolu reported, quoting a statement from the Istanbul prosecutor’s office.

The Turkish prosecutor’s office said that testimony from the arrested consulate employee pointed to the two suspects detained in Amasya being high-ranking members of Gülen’s network.

Visa restrictions

On Sunday, the US mission in Turkey and the Turkish mission in Washington cut back visa services after Metin Topuz, an employee of the US consulate in Istanbul, was arrested in Turkey last week over his alleged links to last year’s coup. Washington said the charges linking him to Gülen were baseless.

The US embassy in Ankara announced on Sunday night 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, Turkey announced it was taking the same measures against US citizens.

Turkey urged the US on Monday to review its suspension of the visa services, amid escalating tensions between the two Nato allies.

Relations between Ankara and Washington have long been plagued by disputes over US support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, Turkey’s calls for the extradition of Gülen and the indictment of a Turkish former minister in a US court. But the current row marked a fresh low.

On Monday, the Turkish foreign ministry summoned a US diplomat to urge the US to lift the visa suspension, saying it was causing “unnecessary tensions”.

Minister for justice Abdulhamit Gül said that if Washington had serious security concerns about its missions in Turkey, steps would be taken to address them.

“But if it’s an issue regarding the arrest of the consulate employee, then this is a decision the Turkish judiciary has made,” Gül told A Haber television. “Trying a Turkish citizen for a crime committed in Turkey is our right.”

Deep strains

The dispute with the US coincides with deep strains in Turkey’s relations with Germany, another key ally, and with Turkish military activity at the Syrian and Iraqi borders.

US-Turkish tensions have risen in recent months over US military support for Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria, who are considered by Ankara to be an extension of the banned PKK which has waged an insurgency for three decades in southeast Turkey.

Turkey has also pressed, so far in vain, for the US to extradite Gülen, viewed in Ankara as the mastermind behind the failed coup in which more than 240 people were killed. Gülen denies any involvement.

Friction with the US has also arisen from the indictment last month by a US court of Turkey’s former minister for the economy Zafer Çaglayan, who was charged with conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran.

Sinan Ülgen, an analyst and former Turkish diplomat, said those underlying disputes had created a “crisis of confidence” which made this latest fallout 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.”