The decades-old strategic and cordial relationship between Turkey and the United States is now has reached a lowest point with Washington suspending non-immigrant visas for Turkish nationals and restricting travel of Americans to Turkey. When Turkey reacted to the US move and imposed its own restrictions on American nationals, the US Embassy in Turkey explained “this suspension of services is not a visa ban on Turkish citizens…It’s a suspension of our consideration of new visa applications.”
Speaking to Diplomatic Correspondents Association in Ankara on October 11, 2017 the outgoing US Ambassador John R. Bass maintained: “It appears they’ve been detained simply for performing their normal duties at the Embassy or Consulates which involved a lot of contact with Turkish government officials.
Following deterioration of ties Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim tried to defuse the tension on October 11, 2017 and said that Ankara was looking forward to a normalization of US-Turkey relations.
“Our wish is that relations between the two allies get back to normal soon. We, as Turkey, will not give up on common sense at a time when regional and global tensions have been rising,” Yildirim said, addressing governors on Oct. 11 in Ankara.
Apparently the relations touched the lowest point after Turkey arrested a US consulate Turkish employee on charges of linked with the Gulen’s FETO movement. The diplomatic spat worsened after another US consulate official was summoned for questioning as a suspect in an unidentified case late on Oct. 9. 2017. Media reports claimed that many other wanted suspects were hiding within the US Embassy and Consulates in Turkey. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim’s reconciliatory remarks came one day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the US of triggering the crisis. Anatolia news agency quoted the President Erdogan as saying: “The offender in this problem is the US itself.” “If the outgoing US Ambassador to Ankara, John Bass, acted on his own in suspending visa services in Turkey, Washington should recall him from the country, Erdogan said, adding that Ankara “does not consider Bass to be Washington’s legitimate representative in Turkey.”
The relations further worsened when a spokesperson for the US Department confirmed late on Oct. 10 that the US’s decision to suspend visa services at diplomatic facilities in Turkey was coordinated with the State Department, the White House and the National Security Council, adding that Ambassador Bass had the “full backing” of the US government. The suspension of visa services in Turkey “punishes ordinary citizens” and the problem must be resolved immediately “through dialogue,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) group meeting. Reports say that two locally employed US consulate staff members in Turkey had been arrested early this year on charges related to last year’s failed coup elements. The second arrest at the Istanbul consulate, Metin Topuz, last week led to the US announcing on Oct. 8, 2017 that it had stopped issuing non-immigrant visas in Turkey – a move reciprocated within hours by Ankara.
Hopes for improvement of ties were once again high when Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held their first telephonic talks on October 11, 2017 since new crisis developed. But an official statement issued by the US State Department again dashed the expectations of Turkish officials and particularly media.
A brief statement issued on October 11, 2017 by the Spokesperson of US State Department said “Secretary Tillerson spoke today with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. Secretary Tillerson conveyed to the Foreign Minister his profound concern over the detentions of Turkish national employees of our diplomatic mission to Turkey and of several American citizens.” Without mentioning Turkey’s concerns the US statement further added: “Secretary Tillerson emphasized the importance of transparency in the accusations made by the Turkish government and the need for the Turkish government to present the evidence behind these accusations.”
The US statement also made it clear that “Secretary Tillerson and Foreign Minister Cavusoglu agreed the two sides would remain in close contact to address US concerns about these detentions.”
The American “visa embargo” as the Turks perceive it, further strained Turkish American relations already troubled with issues related to Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish developments along with the presence of an Islamist mullah in the United States, whom Ankara believes to have masterminded the July 15, 2016 coup attempt.
Middle East watchers believe that the arrest of Turkish staff working with US mission or US officials’ alleged links with last year’s failed coup d’etat elements are not the only reason that led to this crisis but US policy in Middle East, support for creation of a Kurdish state (which threatens Turkey’s integrity), US collaborations with Kurdish and other armed groups in Syria, Turkish-Russian rapprochement, Ankara’s quest for S-400 and Turkish-Iranian “understanding” are the real disputes between two NATO allies.
A senior analyst and an advisor of President Erdogan, Mr. Ilnur Cevik asked in Daily Sabah on October 11, 2017 “Is the US our ally or our adversary” and commented “The fact that the US has been extremely sluggish in processing Ankara’s extradition request for FETÖ leader Fetullah Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania, and that he is treated more as a guest rather than a coup suspect has raised eyebrows in Turkey.”
Mr. Ilnur Cevik added “ The fact that the US has allowed FETÖ members to roam in the US and continue their activities against the Turkish government has created the impression that the US is more than involved in the coup.” Writing in Daily Saba another columnist Ms. Mevre Sebnem (Shebnem) Uruc (Uruch) commented on October 11, 2017 “The evidence for the US Embassy scandal unfortunately proves Turks right in their suspicion that the US had a hand in last year’s coup attempt.”
Ms. Mevre Sebnem noted that “.if someone turns out to be affiliated with a terrorist organization that is seen as an existential threat for Turkey and responsible for the killings of many Turkish citizens, the US sees the case as a matter of freedom and democracy.” In her column Ms. Mevre Shebnem also explained that “ The US has also been backing the Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is the northern Syrian affiliate of the outlawed PKK (Kurdish terrorist wing), by sending tons of arms and ammunition, a part of which has been carried to Turkey and used in attacks in Turkey. Turkish authorities have shown evidence to their counterparts in Washington many times, but the US administration has done nothing but ignore it so far.”PM Yildirim was also quoted by media as saying “If we are to continue as allies, the US should stop giving arms to Turkey’s enemies, the cousins and nephews of the PKK.”
– The writer is working journalist based in Islamabad.