U.S. and Turkey Try to Prevent a Diplomatic Dispute From Growing
The confrontation is taking place against a backdrop of deteriorating relations between Turkey and the United States, NATO allies who are at odds over a number of issues: American support for Kurdish fighters in Syria; calls by Turkey for the extradition of a cleric in the United States who it says was behind a failed coup last year; and Turkey’s tilt toward Russia in the war in Syria.
The visa suspension came on Sunday evening, after a Turkish employee of the American Consulate in Istanbul was arrested amid reports that another consulate employee was being sought by Turkish authorities.
The Turks accused the employee, Metin Topuz, of having links to the wanted cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who is living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.
The United States Embassy said 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 United States ambassador, in his statement, said the embassy had not been able to learn of the reasons for Mr. Topuz’s arrest or of the evidence held against him.
“The arrest has raised questions about whether the goal of some officials is to disrupt the longstanding cooperation between Turkey and the United States,” the ambassador’s statement said.
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.
“It is a pretty serious historic crisis,” said Soner Cagaptay, a research fellow at the Washington Institute and the author of a book on Mr. Erdogan, “The Last Sultan.”
“Washington gave Erdogan the benefit of the doubt for the last 15 years of his many diplomatic transgressions, but this is different,” Mr. Cagaptay said.
The United States was so upset about the arrests of its local staff members because they are vital to providing the technical and contextual support in diplomatic missions, he said.
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 developed with former security officials in the course of their work — raising questions about the safety of all local employees of American diplomatic missions in Turkey.
Turkey’s decision to welcome the leaders of Iran and Venezuela in recent weeks has also upset the United States, Mr. Cagaptay said, as has Mr. Erdogan’s abandonment of democratic standards as he imposed a state of emergency after last year’s failed coup and then sought greater powers for the presidency in a referendum in the spring.
Turkey has detained dozens of foreign citizens on terrorism charges, including several Americans. It has become increasingly clear that they are seen as potential bargaining chips in Turkey’s efforts to force the extradition of Mr. Gulen.
Mr. 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 Turkish 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. 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.”
On Monday, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said in an interview on live television that there no decision had been made to arrest any other United States employees, dismissing local news reports that prosecutors were preparing to detain another consulate worker.
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 the 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.
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the day on which the United States and Turkey declared plans to stop processing each other’s nonimmigrant visas. It was on Sunday, not Monday.
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