US suspends visa services in Turkey after arrest of consular staff; Turkey retaliates in escalating row
Istanbul, Turkey - The United States and Turkey on Sunday scaled back visa issuing services in each other’s countries in a deepening diplomatic row sparked by the arrest of a Turkish staffer at the American mission in Istanbul.
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 nonimmigrant visa services at all US diplomatic facilities in Turkey,” it said.
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.
Beyond its mention of “recent events”, the American embassy statement made no explicit mention of the arrest by Turkish authorities of a local Turkish staffer working at the US consulate in Istanbul.
The employee 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 against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 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”.
It also condemned leaks in the local press which it said came from Turkish government sources that were “seemingly aimed at trying the employee in the media rather than a court of law”.
But Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin has defended the arrest, saying “there must be serious evidence” and pointing to a phone call made from the consulate to a key suspect on the night of the coup.
A Turkish police officer at the entrance of US consulate in Istanbul