TURK­ISH OF­FI­CIALS CAUGHT UN­PRE­PARED BY US VISA SPAT

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page - RAGIP SOYLU

TURK­ISH of­fi­cials failed to fore­see what was com­ing, but it is now clear that Washington takes the se­cu­rity of its em­ploy­ees and cit­i­zens very se­ri­ously and won’t step back un­til it gets what it wants

The Turk­ish-U.S. visa spat trig­gered by the U.S. de­ci­sion to sus­pend its non­im­mi­grant visa ser­vices in Turkey is a his­toric low in bi­lat­eral re­la­tions. The U.S. gov­ern­ment said it took this step be­cause Turk­ish courts are is­su­ing ar­rest or­ders for Turk­ish staff mem­bers at U.S. Con­sulates on charges of aid­ing ter­ror­ist groups. How­ever, we know that the U.S. gov­ern­ment had other griev­ances that led to this show­down. Amer­i­can of­fi­cials com­plain about the fact that they can­not pro­vide con­sular ser­vice to ar­rested Turk­ish-Amer­i­can cit­i­zens. They were also both­ered by Ankara’s de­ci­sion to can­cel the oper­a­tional li­censes of Amer­i­can aid groups and re­fus­ing to re­new res­i­dence per­mits or work per­mits of U.S. aid work­ers. On top of this, there is the sep­a­rate case of pas­tor An­drew Brun­son, who has been in Turk­ish cus­tody since the failed coup at­tempt last year on charges of ter­ror­ism. U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence have asked the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment for his re­lease since their first meet­ings with Turk­ish of­fi­cials. Trump has even as­signed his per­sonal lawyer to the case. So, the wa­ter was al­ready boil­ing.

But yet, Turk­ish of­fi­cials say they were not in­formed in ad­vance about the U.S. de­ci­sion. Were they not, re­ally?

The an­swer is a bit blurred. One Amer­i­can of­fi­cial said U.S. am­bas­sador to Ankara John Bass was very clear to Turk­ish of­fi­cials last week, that he warned them there would be se­ri­ous con­se­quences if they con­tinue to ar­rest Turk­ish staff mem­bers at U.S. mis­sions. The Amer­i­can of­fi­cial be­lieves the U.S. could gain noth­ing by con­ceal­ing the visa de­ci­sion from Turk­ish of­fi­cials, there­fore Ankara were told about what was com­ing. Bass also pub­licly made clear to Turk­ish staff mem­bers last Fri­day that the U.S. was going to do ev­ery­thing it can to pro­tect its em­ploy­ees and that this would es­ca­late.

In con­trast to this, we can note that For­eign Min­is­ter Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu had a phone call with U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son on Saturday. Çavuşoğlu later told Turk­ish jour­nal­ists that Tiller­son raised is­sues re­lated to con­sular af­fairs. Three Turk­ish of­fi­cials with whom I spoke sep­a­rately told me that Amer­i­can of­fi­cials did not let Çavuşoğlu or any other Turk­ish diplo­mat know about the forth­com­ing visa step.

But they all agreed that Amer­i­can of­fi­cials had ex­pressed their deep con­cerns about the ar­rested Turk­ish staff mem­bers of Amer­i­can mis­sions be­fore the visa de­ci­sion.

One Amer­i­can of­fi­cial said on Tues­day that Un­der Sec­re­tary of State for Po­lit­i­cal Af­fairs Tom Shan­non called his Turk­ish coun­ter­part be­fore the visa rup­ture to in­form him about the up­com­ing U.S. steps. Yet, an­other Turk­ish of­fi­cial said this call was made after the week­end, mean­ing after the visa an­nounce­ment.

Clearly, Turk­ish of­fi­cials were com­pletely un­pre­pared. Some of them were baf­fled by the U.S. re­ac­tion. Even the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment, a his­toric Amer­i­can foe, did not get such treat­ment fol­low­ing their ap­par­ent at­tempts to ma­nip­u­late the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

Turk­ish of­fi­cials were able to make mid-level con­tacts with their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts after the week­end, but Ankara could not reach any high-level of­fi­cial in Washington. No doubt the U.S. State Depart­ment chose the tim­ing wisely. The de­ci­sion was an­nounced on a Sun­day, and Mon­day was a fed­eral holiday in the U.S. Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­doğan said on Tues­day that his gov­ern­ment could not reach se­nior Amer­i­can of­fi­cials. This was partly im­por­tant for Ankara be­cause there was an un­der­stand­ing that the visa spat was the State Depart­ment’s own con­duct, rather than some­thing or­dered by the White House. It seems like this sus­pi­cion may not be war­ranted.

A Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said the White House was fully briefed about the visa de­ci­sion. State Depart­ment spokes­woman Heather Nauert said on Tues­day that all was done in co­or­di­na­tion with the White House and the National Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

Lastly, there are signs that there were other fac­tors that pro­voked Washington, such as Er­doğan’s lat­est visit to Trump’s main an­tag­o­nist Iran, and later on Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s trip to Ankara. Ev­ery Turkey an­a­lyst also cites Er­doğan’s sug­ges­tion to swap Fe­tul­lah Gülen with Pas­tor Brun­son as some­thing that was very in­con­ve­nient and frus­trat­ing for the White House.

Turks failed to fore­see what was com­ing. It is now clear that Washington takes the se­cu­rity of its em­ploy­ees and cit­i­zens very se­ri­ously and will not step back un­til it gets what it wants.

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