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Visa Services Suspended by U.S. and Turkey Amid Growing Dispute

Posted: October 9, 2017 at 5:29 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

The United States and Turkey both declared plans on Monday to stop processing each other’s nonimmigrant visas, as what seemed at first like a minor diplomatic tiff threatened to flare into a full diplomatic standoff that could curtail most travel between the countries.

The confrontation followed the arrest of a Turkish employee of the American Consulate in Istanbul. The Turks accused the employee, Metin Topuz, of having links to Fethullah Gulen, a cleric living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania whom Ankara blames for a failed coup last year.

The United States Embassy condemned those charges as baseless, and said on Sunday that it would suspend the processing of all nonimmigrant visas while it reassessed Turkey’s commitment to the security of its staff. Students, business travelers, tourists and diplomats all travel on such visas.

Within hours, the Turkish Foreign Ministry announced similar measures in the United States, adding that the suspension included electronic visas and visas bought at the border — the way most tourists and other short-term visitors enter the country.

The quarrel is occurring against a backdrop of deteriorating relations between the NATO allies, who are at odds over American support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, Turkey’s calls for the extradition of Mr. Gullen and Ankara’s tilt toward Russia in the war in Syria.

The measures, which threaten to create chaos for Americans flying into Turkey, do not appear to have been enforced at the border so far.

Investors were spooked nevertheless: The lira dropped more than 4 percent against the dollar on Asian markets, news agencies reported.

Mr. Topuz was formally arrested on charges of espionage, trying to overthrow the government and acting against the Constitution. His address was printed in a pro-government newspaper, Sabah.

Another employee at the consulate in Adana, Turkey, was arrested in March over similar accusations, but his case has not yet come to trial. Both men appear to have been charged in part because of ties made to former security officials in the course of their work — raising questions about the safety of all local employees of American diplomatic missions in Turkey.

The country has also detained dozens of foreign nationals on similar charges, including several Americans. It has become increasingly clear that they are seen as potential bargaining chips in Ankara’s efforts to force the extradition of Mr. Gulen.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has also expressed anger over the charges brought against 15 of his bodyguards over their use of violence against protesters in Washington in May, and over court cases against a former cabinet minister and three others in a case of conspiracy to violate sanctions against Iran.

President Trump has praised Mr. Erdogan as a stalwart ally in the fight against terrorism. And he said last month after a meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly that ties between the two countries were “as close as we’ve ever been.”

Turkish officials seemed to be taking steps to ease tensions by midday Monday. The Foreign Ministry called for an end to the visa suspension since it was causing “unnecessary victimization,” the Turkish state news agency, Anadolu reported.

Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said in an interview on live television that there was no decision for any further arrests of United States employees, dismissing local news reports that prosecutors were preparing to detain another consulate worker.

Yet Turkish news outlets reported further detentions. The Istanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office was quoted on Monday as saying that a worker at the consulate in Istanbul, who was identified only by the initials N.M.C., had been invited to the prosecutor’s office for an interview. The man’s wife and child were taken into custody in town of Amasya. Two more people were detained in connection with the case of Mr. Topuz, the news channel NTV reported.

A United States official said that current visas remained valid, and that Turkish citizens could apply for visas in other countries while services in Turkey were suspended.


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