Thursday, 6 May 2021

US-Turkey tensions boil over after arrest of consulate employee

U.S. consulate Istanbul

WASHINGTON: When they met last month in New York, President Trump hailed what he called his “personal relationship” with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and said the United States and Turkey were “as close as we have ever been.”

Erdogan called Trump “my dear friend Donald.”

Close observers of Ankara and Washington would have been ­forgiven for rolling their eyes. For the past several years, the ties between them have repeatedly frayed to near the breaking point, only to be temporarily patched. On Sunday, they snapped.

Following the arrest last week of Metin Topuz, a Turkish employee of the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, the United States announced that it was immediately suspending the issuance of non-immigrant visas in Turkey. Ankara quickly responded with identical restrictions, suddenly upending the plans of countless Turkish and American tourists, students, busi­ness­peo­ple and others who did not already possess the necessary travel documents.

While the Turkish government provided no information about the Topuz arrest, the Daily Sabah, a pro-government paper, said in a Monday editorial that he was accused of “facilitating the escape” from Turkey of “known Gulenists” – followers of a U.S.-based Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey accuses of being behind a July 2016 coup attempt.

That report and others provoked John Bass, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Turkey, to post a 4½ -minute video on the embassy site to “explain” the visa suspension decision. Topuz, who worked in an office coordinating with Turkish law enforcement and ­“ensuring the security of American and Turkish citizens,” was the second such U.S. diplomatic employee arrested this year, Bass said, raising questions “about whether the goal of some officials is to disrupt the long-standing ­cooperation between Turkey and the United States.”

Without guarantees of Turkey’s respect for “the principles of rule of law that all modern democracies follow,” he said, the United States could not be sure its facilities were safe. He expressed hope the suspension of new visas at U.S. facilities in Turkey would not last long but offered no prediction.

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