US, Turkey diplomatic row escalates, visa services suspended

RSTV Bureau
Turkey's President Erdogan

File photo of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The diplomatic row between United States and Turkey has escalated and both countries have suspended the visa services for each other.

The divide between US and Turkey widened after a Turkish employee at the US mission in Istanbul was arrested for aiding the last year’s failed coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

On Sunday the American embassy in Ankara said that “recent events” forced the US government to reassess Turkey’s “commitment” to the security of US mission services and personnel in the country.

In order to minimise the number of visitors while the assessment is carried out, “effective immediately we have suspended all non-immigrant visa services at all US diplomatic facilities in Turkey,” it added.

Non-immigrant visas are issued to all those travelling to the United States for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work or study.

Turkey responded by suspending “all visa services” for Americans in the US, saying the measures also apply to visas issued online and at the border.

FILE: Washington: File photo of US President Donald Trump. Photo - AP/PTI

File photo of US President Donald Trump. Photo – AP/PTI

The Turkish employee working in the US embassy in Ankara was remanded in custody by an Istanbul court late on Wednesday on accusations of links to the group of US- based preacher Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Ankara for last year’s failed coup.

The staffer has been formally charged with espionage and seeking to overthrow the Turkish government.

The US embassy on Thursday said it was “deeply disturbed” over the arrest and rejected the allegations against the employee as “wholly without merit”.

Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin has defended the arrest, saying “there must be serious evidence” and referred to a phone call made from the Istanbul consulate to a key suspect on the night of the coup.

That latest arrest also came after a Turkish employee at the US consulate in the southern city of Adana was arrested in March on charges of supporting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The Adana region is home to the US airbase at Turkey’s Incirlik military airport, where dozens of American nuclear missiles are stored and which serves as a key hub for operations in Syria.

In the recent past, Turkish officials had expressed hope of a new page in Ankara-Washington relations under President Donald Trump. Turkey has pressed Washington for the extradition of the Pennsylvania-based Gulen, who denies any link to the coup bid.

The lack of movement on the issue has further strained ties already fraying over Washington’s support for a Syrian Kurdish militia Ankara deems to be a terror group.

(With inputs from agencies)