US Ambassador in Turkey John Bass said that he is still waiting for an explanation from Ankara for the arrest of two employees of the US Consulate in Istanbul. Following the arrest, the US embassy halted the issuing of non-immigrant visas, while Turkey retaliated by suspending all visa services to the US citizens.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke by phone on Wednesday, sources in Ankara said, but the details of the talks haven’t been revealed. The spokesman for the ruling Turkish AK Party, Mahir Unal, has said in an interview that they hope the sanctions will be lifted soon and that the dispute will not have an impact on military operations of the two NATO members, Reuters reports.
Ambassador Bass said the decision to suspend visas was a difficult one for the State Department. “Unfortunately, the US government still has not received any official communications from the Turkish government about the reasons why our local employees have been detained or arrested,” the Ambassador told reporters at the US embassy in Ankara.
The move followed the last week’s arrest of a Turkish citizen and an employee of the US Consulate in Istanbul, Metin Topuz, who was charged with being linked to cleric Fetullah Gullen, designated by Erdogan’s government as the main suspect and mastermind behind the last year’s failed coup attempt.
As the diplomatic stand-off unraveled on Monday, another US consulate employee was called in for questioning, while his son and wife were taken into custody.
State Department denied the accusations, saying Bass’ actions were coordinated with the officials in Washington. Turkish state television has reported, however, that the US Ambassador has met with Ankara’s Foreign Ministry representatives on Wednesday.
Bass is expected to leave Turkey in the coming days and take a new post in Afghanistan, according to the decision made before the crisis erupted.
The status of Fetullah Gulen has been a source of great tension between Turkey and United States, as Washington repeatedly refused to extradite the cleric who currently lives in self-imposed exile in the US state of Pensylvania. Gulen denies any involvement in the events from 2016 coup attempt, which left more than 200 people dead. The post-coup crackdown resulted in more than 50,000 people arrested and over 150,000 people sacked from public sector jobs.
The strained relations were particularly visible during Erdogan’s visit to the United States in May, when a fight broke out between his bodyguards and Turkish diaspora protesters. A dozen members of Erdogan’s security team were arrested on charges of assault.
Recently, Ankara disputed Washington’s indictment of Turkey’s former economy minister Zafer Caglayan for “conspiring to violate sanctions on Iran.”
Turkey is a member of the NATO and is part of the US coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, but Ankara’s ties with Washington have been increasingly strained over support provided by the United States to the Syrian Kurdish militia People’s Protection Units (YPG), which spearheads Syrian Democratic Forces.
Turkey considers YPG the Syrian extension of the outlawed Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), designating both as terrorist organizations.