Turkey urges U.S. to review visa suspension as lira, stocks tumble

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A woman waits in front of the visa application office entrance of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

ANKARA: Turkey urged the United States on Monday to review its suspension of visa services after the arrest of a U.S. consulate employee sharply escalated tension between the two NATO allies and drove Turkey’s currency and stocks lower.
Relations between Ankara and Washington have been plagued by disputes over U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, Turkey’s calls for the extradition of a U.S.-based cleric and the indictment of a Turkish former minister in a U.S. court.
But last week’s arrest of a Turkish employee of the U.S. consulate in Istanbul marked a fresh low. Turkey said the employee had links to U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Ankara for a failed military coup in July 2016. Gulen denies any connection with the coup.
The U.S. embassy in Ankara condemned Ankara’s charges as baseless and 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, Ankara announced it was taking the same measures against U.S. citizens seeking visas for Turkey.
The U.S. ambassador said the duration of the visa services’ suspension would depend on talks between the two governments about the reasons for the detention of local staff in Turkey.
In a written statement late on Monday, Ambassador John Bass said the length of the suspension would also depend on “the Turkish government’s commitment to protecting our facilities and personnel here in Turkey”.
He noted that the move was not a visa ban on Turkish citizens, that valid visas could still be used and visa applications could be made outside of Turkey.
The U.S. Embassy had been unable to learn the reasons for the arrest of its Turkish staff member last week or what evidence exists against the employee, Bass said, adding that he had not been allowed sufficient access to the employee’s lawyer.
Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul 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,” Gul told A Haber television. “Trying a Turkish citizen for a crime committed in Turkey is our right.”
The Turkish foreign ministry summoned a U.S. diplomat to urge the United States to lift the visa services suspension, saying it was causing “unnecessary tensions”, and President Tayyip Erdogan also criticized the U.S. move.
“For the (U.S.) embassy in Ankara to take such a decision and implement it, it is upsetting,” Erdogan told a news conference during a visit to Ukraine.
State-run Anadolu news agency said another U.S. consulate worker had been summoned to testify over his wife and daughter’s suspected links to Gulen – which it said had emerged during the questioning of Metin Topuz, the employee arrested last week. – Reuters

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